OpinionIsrael at War

Hamas represents a very important part of the Palestinian people

The massacre has been vocally supported by most Muslims around the world, including in the West’s most populous cities.

A pro-Hamas rally in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Oct. 27, 2022. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
A pro-Hamas rally in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Oct. 27, 2022. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser
Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is the director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly director general of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.

We hear repeatedly from Western leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden himself, that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people. I beg to differ. There’s a big part of the Palestinian people who consider Hamas their representative—not only in the Gaza street but even in Judea and Samaria. Hamas represents a very important part of the Palestinian people, something to bear in mind when we speak of “the day after” the war. On the ground, many civilians in the Gaza Strip followed Hamas operatives into Israel to loot and murder, while in the streets of Gaza, the attacks were celebrated.

For these reasons, Fatah—the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority—has avoided elections for the last 18 years since Hamas is likely to be victorious. P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas’s advanced age of 87 (he turns 88 next week) makes his rule fragile and precarious. He has already lost control of Samaria, and Hamas also enjoys the support of student unions at leading Palestinian universities. Since the Oct. 7 massacre, Hamas’s support has grown in the West Bank from 44% to 58%.

As evident on Arabic social media, the Oct. terrorist attacks were seen as a historic victory for Islam. For years, both nationalistic, “secular” Fatah and Muslim Brotherhood, Islamist Hamas have used similar Quran-based, anti-Jewish rhetoric. Hamas’s late religious leader, Sheikh Yousef Kardawi, encouraged terrorist acts against Jews in Israel, such as suicide bombings. Hatred for Israel and the Jews has kept Hamas popular despite its corruption and oppression of its citizens.

Both Hamas and Fatah share the same narrative: the denial of a Jewish identity and an opposition to Zionism— or Jewish sovereignty in nation-state form. They see Jews negatively and hope to replace Israel entirely. Hamas’s aggressive, Islamist interpretation of Islam glorifies murder and cruelty towards those it considers enemies of Islam.

An Israeli victory over Hamas also poses a theological challenge since it will be perceived as a humiliating blow to Islam, increasing bitter hatred of Israel. The massacre has been vocally supported by most Muslims around the world, including in the West’s most populous cities. Muslims who oppose Hamas run the risk of being considered traitors by their co-religionists, so they remain silent.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashal recently stated that the suffering, devastation and destruction of Gaza are necessary sacrifices to win the war against the Jews.

Concurrently with this aggressive rhetoric, Hamas and the P.A. market a component of Palestinian victimhood that demonizes Israelis to both their public and the West.

On their part, the West and the international community share a willful blindness in recognizing that Hamas represents a large part of the Palestinian population, and that Fatah’s ideology is similar to that of Hamas. Admitting this would mean the West must accept Israel’s claims about the difficulty of making peace with the Palestinians. The West prefers to believe that the defeat of Hamas will meet a cooperative population that would welcome a moderate leadership.

Who are the potential future Palestinian leaders after the Israel Defense Forces operation and after Abbas? The candidates are not promising. The once important PLO leader Muhammad Dahlan, originally from Gaza and now living in Abu Dhabi, is virulently anti-Israel, much like his corrupt and duplicitous mentor, Yasser Arafat. Salam Fayyad is another leadership option but is considered too weak to prevent terror in Gaza. Both are committed to the anti-Israel narrative.

Will other Arabs intervene? It is unlikely that the Gulf will intervene politically, but they probably will assist Gaza economically. On their side, the P.A. said through Prime Minister Mohamed Shtayyeh that the PLO is not interested in returning to Gaza unless it means the establishment of a permanent Palestinian state, an upgrade in the international community.

Without demanding that the Palestinians change the Israel-negative narrative, not much will come out of Israel’s expected victory in Gaza politically. Any leadership imposed upon Gaza is destined to fail, as it did during the Oslo period and the Gaza disengagement.

Changing a narrative takes many years, at least a generation. Rebuilding Gaza is not just about the construction of buildings or infrastructure; it’s about Palestinian narratives that have to be changed and reconstructed. This includes anti-Israel indoctrination in the educational system and incitement to terror, including payments to families of terrorists. Without first priority given to this fundamental change, Israel will have to unwillingly govern Gaza for a long period.

This piece was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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