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Who Will Challenge Hamas?

Rana Baker writes that while Hamas may seem to be riding a wave of support, it is facing challenges from both other Islamic armed resistance groups and a non-partisan youth movement dissatisfied with all of the established parties.
Hamas policewomen take part in a graduation ceremony for members of Hamas security forces in Gaza City December 17, 2012. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)

I was fifteen years old when Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections. But I clearly remember the euphoria that swept the residents of the Gaza Strip who were fed up with the Palestinian Authority's corrupt governance. Although Israel claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East, the people of Gaza continue to be collectively punished for participating in a transparent democratic process.

For many, however, these elections marked both the end of Hamas as an uncompromising resistance movement and its first steps into a power-hungry compromising authority. This notion was reinforced each time the Hamas police cracked down on protestors or attempted to lull other resistance movements who sought to retaliate Israel's relentless violations of Palestinian human rights.

In light of Israel's so-called "Operation Pillar of Cloud," many political analysts, especially in Israel and the West, began to use the term "mini-Hamases" to refer to even more militant opposition, with more affinity to Iran than the present institutional leadership of Hamas.

Hamas, we are told, is ready to do anything, and they mean anything, to stay in power. This term is both misleading and far from reality, despite its limitations. It is worth pausing on what exactly are the challenges to Hamas rule in Gaza.

There are only two Hamas-affiliated groups and the line between both is not vague. Both are big enough in their respective contexts.

On the one hand, there is Hamas, the political body, the authority, that continues to be opposed by thousands of Palestinians; and on the other, there is the armed wing of Hamas, the Al Qassam Brigades, that is way more popular than the former. Other groups that disagree with the Islamist government — and not necessarily its armed extension — are not Hamas-affiliated. Examples of these groups include the armed wings of both the left-leaning Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine and secular Fatah movement. Even the Islamic Jihad has major points of disagreement with the larger Hamas and is not Hamas-affiliated. Obviously, the term "mini-Hamases" does not apply.

It is noteworthy here that the latest Israeli aggression led to an unprecedented collusion and collaboration between and among the various armed groups in the Gaza Strip. Even party-affiliated radio stations celebrated the collective effort of the resistance and not only the party with which each identifies. These sentiments of unity and solidarity permeated through the different segments of the Palestinian community inside Palestine and abroad.

These very sentiments did not exist in Operation Cast Lead. When Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh hailed the operation as a victory for the resistance and people of Gaza, a tsunami of criticism was hailed back on him. Almost 1,400 people including over 300 children were killed. Thousands became homeless and the infrastructure of hundreds of neighborhoods was completely destroyed. But this was not the case in Operation Pillar of Cloud.

For the Palestinian people, and particularly those in Gaza, it was the resistance with all its different components that forced Israel into making a deal with the very Hamas that it regards as a terrorist organization. Israel has repeatedly said that it will never engage in negotiations that include a "terrorist organization." All of a sudden, it did. Benjamin Netanyahu got the message: the road to winning the elections does not pass through Gaza. After all, it was Israel who broke the November 11th ceasefire and the consequences of this had to be borne.

Although the past few weeks attested to a rise in the popularity of political Hamas, this does not mean that it has the ultimate support of the Palestinians. The challenge Hamas is facing now is how to keep the positive image it has gained in the eyes of the Palestinians. More than ever, Hamas has to play a dual role as a government that can both manage the politics and keep the armed struggle on the agenda at the same time.

There are those who want to use the perception of the rise of more radical Islam to negate the right of Palestinians to resist occupation. These advocating this line conveniently forget that there is a UN resolution that guarantees the occupied people the right to armed struggle. UN General Assembly Resolution 3070 of November 1973 reaffirms "the legitimacy of the people's struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle." Moreover, this argument overlooks the fact that occupation and its consequences are illegal under International Law.

Even when Palestinians attempt to peacefully protest against land confiscation and settlement construction in Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli Occupation Forces respond with teargas, rubber bullets, pepper-spray and sometimes live ammunition is put into use. 

Despite readings and speculation, no one is sure about what the future will bring for the people of Gaza, the Hamas government, and resistance. No one knows how long the ceasefire will last. Everybody, however, knows very well that it cannot last forever. Israel has already violated the agreement on Nov. 24 when Israeli troops shot dead a young man near the southern border with Gaza. Although Hamas said it would complain to Egypt about the violation, this same reaction cannot be expected of the organization each time Israel violates the ceasefire.
Calls for national reconciliation circulated widely in the aftermath of Pillar of Cloud. But this not the first time such calls circulate far and wide. The Palestinian people are aware of the bad blood, rivalry, and different political programs that both parties hold for each other. An increasing number of Palestinians, especially the youth segment, want both parties out. A non-partisan young leadership is what Palestinians are increasingly demanding.

Rana Baker, 21, is a student of Business Administration in Gaza. She writes for the Electronic Intifada. Twitter: @RanaGaza

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