Hamas, Israel and the 'Islamic Winter'

Article Summary
The Israeli operation in Gaza may have strengthened Hamas’s legitimacy within the region and increased the marginalization of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,  writes Dr. Shaul Bartal.

The elimination of Ahmed Jabari (Abu Mohamed) caused shock waves within the ranks of the Hamas organization. High-level Hamas members are now in hiding, and no final decision has yet been made regarding Jabari's replacement as Hamas' military head.

Pictures of Jabari and family members such as grandchildren and children have been displayed on the various Hamas sites. Jabari's familial connection to Salah Shehadeh is emphasized; Shehadeh, founder of Hamas' military wing, was eliminated by a one-ton bomb that exploded on his house in July 22, 2002. Videos about Shehadeh show Jabari in the company of his grandchildren, who are also Shehadeh's grandchildren (Jabari's son married Shehadeh's daughter). In the clips, Jabari promises to continue the struggle.

Hamas higher-ups competed among themselves in their denunciations of Jabari's assassination. Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said in an interview with the Arabs Today site that "this is about a cowardly Zionist action, an action severely harming a great man and the resistance. This is a dastardly crime. But the enemy and those responsible for this deed must understand that this aggression and threats will not weaken us nor prevent us from continuing to defend our nation with all the means at our disposal. The Zionist enemy will not evade our retribution."

The emir of Qatar

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But it seems that the most worrisome phenomenon from Israel's point of view is the implication of the visits of ministers and prime ministers of Arab countries to the Gaza Strip. In the course of the "Arab Winter," the governments that rose to power are affiliated with the world Muslim Brotherhood movement under Mohammed Badie. This has changed political attitudes toward the Hamas Muslim Brotherhood government — especially now, when Gaza's Hamas is under attack.

The forerunner was Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who committed himself to donate funds to the Gaza government during his royal visit to Gaza. During the weekend [Nov. 16] it was the turn of Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil to express support of the Palestinian nation and declare, "Palestine is the only country in the world under conquest and siege."

Qandil told his hosts that his country aligns itself with their cause until the establishment of a Palestinian state whose capital will be Jerusalem. He made no reference at all to the issue of borders — neither the 1948 borders nor the 1967. This was on purpose. The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas hold that Israel has no right to exist as a state on any portion at all of Palestinian land.

The Egyptian prime minister, of course, praised the shahids (martyrs) and the staunch resistance of the Gaza residents, while luridly portraying the crimes of the Zionists, saying, "The blood of the shahids is our blood, and the suffering of the Gaza Strip residents is our suffering as well." The Islamic countries have shown clearly and unequivocally that they have closed their ranks. Egypt's absolute identification with the Hamas government shows that it views that government, and not Abu Mazen's, to be the legitimate government of the Palestinian nation.

Jabari's death

At a press conference held over the weekend [Nov. 16] in the Shifa hospital in the Gaza Strip , Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh cited the Egyptian prime minister's presense as a historic visit of a high-ranking Egyptian to the Gaza Strip. He claimed that this visit would open a new era demonstrating the new regional alliance.

Meanwhile, another royal visit has taken place in Gaza: that of Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem representing Rashid al-Ghannushi's government. Al-Ghannushi himself participated in the assembly in Sudan, which featured the following speakers: Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Muhammad Badie and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who heads the Syrian branch of Hamas' political bureau. Their speeches included support of Hamas, denunciation of the Zionist occupation and calls for a continuation of resistance by any means possible.

Due to the recent Israeli operation, Hamas enjoyed unprecedented political flowering. Ismail Haniyeh's government has been officially recognized by Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Sudan, Qatar and Morocco — all of which view him as the representative of the Palestinian nation. Jibari's death now constitutes an impressive show of force for the events of the "Islamic winter" originally known by the deceptive label of "Arab Spring." What significance does all this have for Abu Mazen's continued relevance? Only time will tell.

The author is a lecturer in Bar Ilan University's Middle East department and an expert on Hamas.

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Found in: tunisia, qatar, pa, israel, gaza, ennahda, egypt, assassination, ahmed jabari, abbas
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