As I noted earlier today, much of the debate about who won or lost the lingering conflict in Gaza centers on the question of whether Palestinians in Gaza are ready to shuck off the despotic and destructive rule of Hamas. The assumption is that Gazans will draw the only logical conclusion from the Islamist terrorists’ mad decision to launch a war that only increased their suffering. But as in much else that characterizes the Middle East, logic doesn’t necessarily apply here.
We’ve heard a great deal recently about the likelihood that Hamas’s weakened military state due to Israel’s successful military action must mean that the group’s hold on Gaza must be slipping. Given that Hamas has achieved none of the principle goals it stated for the conflict, including the release of terrorist prisoners and the end of the international blockade of Gaza, it stands to reason that Palestinians must be thinking seriously about replacing the movement that has ruled over them since taking power in a 2007 coup.
But despite all the talk about the imminent demise of Hamasistan, there is actually no sign whatsoever that its grip on power is slipping. The reasons for that have every thing to do with the peculiar dynamic of Palestinian politics and a basic rule of history. As the Times of Israel notes in a feature today, support for Hamas’s goals and fear of dissent provides the terror group with a strong insurance policy.
Though no one in Gaza had to like the results of the fighting, Hamas’s political stock may actually have gone up due to the perverse culture of Palestinian life. Throughout the last century Palestinians have always given the bulk of their support to whichever faction proved to be the most violent. That dynamic kept Yasir Arafat at the top of the Palestinian pyramid and has inspired the ongoing competition between Hamas and Fatah in the last generation. Since Palestinian national identity has always been inextricably linked to their war on Zionism, peacemaking has always been political poison. Instead of concentrating on development or providing services for their backers, Hamas and Fatah have both concentrated on demonstrating their belligerence, with even moderates like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas understanding that agreeing to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state is simply impossible. That’s why no matter what Hamas does it appears that Gazans will blame their suffering on Israel.
As for possible dissent, it should be noted that the one demonstration held in Gaza against Hamas was met with a stern response. Those involved were executed. That is where the iron rule comes in.
Throughout history, tyrannies have only fallen when they are ready to liberalize, not when they are still prepared to spill the blood of their people. The French revolution happened during the reign of the least tyrannical of the Bourbon kings, not under that of the most bloodthirsty. The Soviet Union fell after glasnost and perestroika, not during the era of Stalin’s bloody purges that took the lives of millions.
Hamas is isolated, militarily defeated, and bankrupt. But so long as it is prepared to use its weapons to suppress possible dissent, intimidate the press, and/or to ensure that Fatah is not in a position to retake Gaza, the odds of it losing power are slim and none.