Talal Okal was for many years among the leaders in Gaza of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a secular left-wing organization, decidedly different to Hamas.
“I am anti-Hamas. I am democratic. I am secular. But I admire what Hamas has done because they showed they were working underground secretly to challenge the Israelis,” he said. “Now we are facing Israel from a better position. We don’t have a balance of power with Israel. But now, because of Hamas, we have influence in the region and that makes a better situation.”
However, Okal said Hamas was still divided over how to take advantage. Its external leadership, led by Khaled Meshaal, has embraced the Arab spring as an opportunity for Gaza to declare autonomy. Hamas leaders in Gaza, led by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, remain allied with Iran and Syria, with an eye on extending power to the West Bank.
Okal said that from his conversations with Haniyeh, he thought there was growing confidence in Hamas that it could widen its support among Palestinians.
“I used to think Hamas is going to have a state in the Gaza Strip, but now I think Hamas is headed toward reuniting the Palestinian establishment pushed by the hope it will be in control [of Gaza and the West Bank],” he said.
That may be wishful thinking, given the growing disillusionment among many people in Gaza with Hamas before the latest fighting.
“Before the war erupted, Hamas was under a lot of criticism,” Abusader said. “Hamas was accused of corruption, smuggling, mismanaging revenues, issues of land management. That’s why Hamas had a government reshuffle a month ago.”
However, that criticism has been silenced for now and there was open support in the West Bank — where the Palestinian leadership there is often seen as weak for its emphasis on negotiation — for Hamas for fighting back against Israel.
Hamas’ political gains are at the expense of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also the leader of Hamas’ rival, Fatah. He was all but irrelevant in the recent crisis, with Hamas center stage in the Arab world. On Thursday last week, Abbas was forced into a humiliating telephone call to Haniyeh to congratulate him on his “victory.”
The past week has been a severe blow to Abbas’ strategy to bring about a Palestinian state. He has renounced violence and committed to a negotiated peace with Israel. He has followed the obstacle course laid out by the US and Europeans, and supervised by former British prime minister Tony Blair, of “institution-building” and security cooperation with Israel, with the promise of a Palestinian state dangling at some undefined point in the future.
The result, as many Palestinians see it, is that Netanyahu has ignored and humiliated Abbas, and continued Israel’s expansionism with yet more Jewish settlement construction and measures to reaffirm Israeli control over all of Jerusalem and great chunks of the West Bank.
The lesson many in the occupied territories have taken away from the past week is that standing up to Israel brings results.