Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday reported on what the outlet described as a “massive show of force” by Hamas in the Ramallah stronghold of the rival Palestinian Fatah faction, a development likely to deepen emerging analyst concerns that a recently announced unity agreement between the two organizations may end up functioning as a lifeline for the Iran-backed terror group.
Yedioth described the demonstration as “one of the largest gatherings by Hamas in the West Bank since the two parties came to blows in 2007″:
Over a thousand supporters of the Islamist group Hamas marched through the streets of a West Bank stronghold of its rival Fatah party on Wednesday, testing a surprise Palestinian unity pact the two signed last week.
Hamas had until very recently been widely perceived as trapped in an economic and diplomatic spiral, after a series of bad geopolitical gambles – most dramatically its assistance to Egypt’s eventually ousted Muslim Brotherhood-linked government – had left it isolated and subject to Egyptian hostility. Cairo subsequently undertook a systematic campaign to destroy the smuggling tunnels between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula, functionally cutting off the Palestinian territory from the outside world. A top Hamas official had last October already described the result as a “death sentence” for the organization.
Veteran Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff assessed Monday that Hamas was aiming to use political concessions in the context of a unity agreement to boost its status and reputation:
This latest Fatah-Hamas, it would appear, is not a political or tacticalmaneuver by the Islamist organization. Rather, it is a sophisticated strategic move involving quite a large gamble, taken with an understanding of the new reality of the Middle East. The gamble shows that Hamas understands that it can no longer rule the Gaza Strip on its own, and so has decided to give up the comforts of government – even if temporarily – in order to win over Palestinian public opinion. Eventually, it could win the parliamentary, and possibly even the presidential, elections and gain overall Palestinian primacy.
Turkey and Qatar – two of Hamas’s most significant foreign supporters, Iran being the third – hailed the deal. Some analysts had hoped that the organization, coming into unity negotiations from a position of weakness, would be forced to accommodate Fatah’s less rejectionist approach to Israel. Statements by top Hamas leaders – Mahmoud Al-Zahar on Tuesday and Khaled Mashaal on Wednesday – were explicit in emphasizing that the group would remain committed to the eradication of Israel.
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