Hamas Rising

GAZA CITY – Hamas, the militant political movement that has ruled Gaza since 2007, has emerged from the latest round of fighting with Israel with its regional status significantly enhanced. At the same time, the movement faces new questions about its ability to take advantage of the diplomatic opportunities that it has gained.

Hamas’s forceful response to Israel’s military operation in Gaza in November, which included landing rockets near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, demonstrated its commitment to its core value of steadfastness. Moreover, in the wake of the eight-day clash, Hamas’s long-exiled leader, Khaled Meshal, who had never before dared to show himself openly to Israel, entered Gaza from Egypt. Parading triumphantly through the streets, he reinforced the idea – at home and abroad – that Hamas had been victorious.

Beyond Gaza, the rise of political Islam in the Arab Spring countries, particularly Egypt and Tunisia, has created a more Hamas-friendly neighborhood. Crucially, the negotiations in Cairo that produced a cease-fire with Israel involved direct, high-level diplomatic contact between Egypt and Hamas – a fundamental shift from former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s avowedly anti-Hamas stance.

Visits to Gaza by the Emir of Qatar and Turkey’s foreign minister, as well as by other regional leaders, have further buttressed Hamas’s new stature. Demonstrating support for Hamas now means building credibility at home, which creates an opportunity to elicit large donations from Arab and Muslim countries to finance Gaza’s reconstruction.