Between Taiwan and personal obligations, I’m just getting caught up with what has been going on in other parts of the world over the past week. On the surface, the weekend conflict in Gaza seems to have had the earmarks of conflicts in the past. Dozens of civilian casualties, residents and businesses damaged or destroyed, and militant Palestinian leaders killed. Yet on closer examination, the weekend’s clashes between Israel and Palestinian militants was distinctively different in one way which could change the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in the future. Hamas largely remained on the sidelines while Islamic Jihad handled the bulk of the fighting. Hamas serves as the de facto civilian government in Gaza. By not joining the fight and allowing Islamic Jihad to take the lead, Hamas will undoubtedly score points among a Palestinian population exhausted by years of rocket attacks that lead to heavy and destructive Israeli military responses. Israel’s policy of issuing more work permits to Palestinian residents in recent months appeared to have played a major part in Hamas restraining itself in the latest round of fighting. There is hope that this trade off, and the overall more pragmatic relationship forming between Israel and Hamas will reduce the likelihood of more violence in the future.
Of course, there is also talk of a possible rift having formed between Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It’s unclear if there is any truth to this. On the surface, both groups share the same ideology and goals. But their priorities have become divergent. Islamic Jihad is concerned with violent opposition to Israel. It has little taste for joining the political structure of the Palestinian state, and this is where the group differs from Hamas. Hamas is a social and political movement as much as it is a militant one. This is evident from the roles it has played in both Palestine and Lebanon. Therefore, Hamas needs to pay close attention to public opinion in Gaza and conform its actions and priorities to prevent a wedge from developing between it and the people it serves. Right now Israel’s economic incentives are a valuable tool in this regard and Hamas appears dedicated to using them to its advantage.
It does not mean the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is over or that Hamas is seeking a permanent rapprochement with Israel.