Israel's Assault on Gaza Only Gave It a Black Eye and Strengthened Hamas
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Finally, there's the fact that, by many accounts, Hamas emerges from Israel's assault weakened, but only in the strictly military sense. Politically, Hamas has been strengthened. As +972 Magazine's Noam Sheizaf writes, “the details of the ceasefire are not clear, but if – as some reports indicate – Israel and Egypt loosen the blockade on the Strip a bit more, Hamas could claim a meaningful achievement that benefits the population of the Gaza Strip, thus strengthening its claim as the leading party in the opposition to the occupation.”
Given that Israel does benefit from pointing to Hamas as an existential, irrational threat, the continued fact of Hamas rule in Gaza may help Israel in the short-term, in terms of explaining its position to the world. But in the long run, Hamas will reap the dividends of its rational and nimble position post-Arab Spring. Hamas' leadership has thrown in their lot with the revolutionary wave sweeping the Arab world and has left behind Syria as its main patron. In the long run, Hamas' regional legitimacy will be enhanced.
And Palestinians in the West Bank may look to Hamas now with a new eye. Hamas demonstrates an ever stronger contrast with Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. Abbas, whose rule depends on U.S. and European financial support and has suppressed Hamas' activities in the West Bank, is going to the United Nations at the end of the month to push for Palestine to be accepted as a “non-member” state. But it likely will not change anything on the ground, similar to how last year's UN bid failed because of the U.S. blocking the effort. “Hamas has provided a model, albeit a painful one, of how you get Israel to the table. Abu Mazen [the nickname for Abbas] who offers everything, meets with no one,” wrote Mark Perry, a historian and former advisor to Yasir Arafat who has had extensive contacts with Hamas, in an email. “Ironically, the biggest loss Israel suffered is they proved to the world that the only time they'll talk to a Palestinian group is when they feel pain.”
Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip has now ended, and the status quo is back. But with a new Middle East asserting itself, and backing Hamas as a legitimate political player, Israel's military victory will be fleeting. Combined with the black eye Israel's image will have received again, the world may very well look back on “Operation Pillar of Cloud” as the moment when unchallenged Israeli hegemony in the region went the way of history. Israel remains a powerful state, but its position in the region is fast-changing. Israel will have to deal with a changed Middle East and a reinvigorated Hamas, and for them, that is no victory.