WASHINGTON, DC –For generations to come, the Palestinians will remember the horrific war in Gaza with pain and bitterness. But what cannot yet be seen is how Palestinians will view Hamas. Whether Hamas can claim a victory – and whether Palestinians will believe them will be determined by the type of ceasefire that is eventually agreed, if a formal one is eventually agreed. The end game – for both Israel and Hamas – is thus crucially important.
For the moment, Hamas is perceived by the majority of Palestinians as the victim of a war intended to gain its surrender. After all, Hamas was democratically elected, but was forbidden from ruling and besieged in Gaza. At the same time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is accused of siding with Israel in order to restore his lost authority in Gaza.
The war exposed flaws in Hamas’ judgment. Hamas apparently did not envision a full-scale confrontation with Israel when it refused to renew a six-month truce. With Gaza suffering under a lengthy siege, Hamas leader Khalid Mashal said that there was no point in a new truce, since the old one had “failed to lift the siege on Gaza.” Other leaders were quoted as saying that Hamas would “lift the siege by force.”
If Hamas is to survive the war, it must demonstrate that its resistance resulted in a permanent opening of Gaza’s border crossings, especially in Rafah. For Palestinians, these are signs of victory. With open borders, Hamas would secure its regime in Gaza and build its popularity in the West Bank, putting enormous pressure on Abbas, the leader of the rival Fatah movement, to accept a national unity government on terms set by Hamas.