x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Five years later, Hamas has lost its way in Gaza

Five years after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, its legacy of government is mixed, at best.

In the half-decade since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, Israel has attempted to destroy its support, first economically, then militarily. Yet what has really sheared away Hamas's political base among Palestinians has been its own actions, first in governing Gaza, and then in reacting to the unprecedented events of the Arab uprisings.

Support for Hamas has collapsed since its assumed power following the brief battle of Gaza, which ended five years ago last Friday. The group, once seen as an Islamist alternative to Fatah, has become a political liability to the wider Palestinian movement.

Hamas has always governed under fire. Since winning the Palestinian parliamentary elections of 2006, the organisation has been hit with a series of attempts to minimise its influence. The United States and the European Union halted financial assistance to the Gaza Strip, effectively imposing collective punishment for Hamas's election victory. Moreover, since Hamas's conflict with Fatah in June 2007, the whole of Gaza has been under a complete blockade by Israel, imposing hardships on daily life.

But while this illegal punishment of an entire population continues, and political activists from the West and the Middle East draw attention to the situation, Hamas has failed to garner much sympathy abroad. Nor has it they managed to draw sympathy at home. As The National reported last week, many see Hamas's leadership as more interested in crony capitalism than in peace or progress.

Israel is far from blameless in Gaza's suffering. On Thursday, 50 international aid groups called Israel's border policies a violation of international humanitarian law, and basic needs like clean water and food continue to be poorly met. Yet Gazans seem to understand that the poverty and pain of daily life is also attributable in part to their leadership. Hamas has struggled to overcome an image of corruptibility and to square the circle between resisting the occupation and governing effectively.

The Arab uprisings offered Hamas an opportunity to bolster its image as an Islamist political power. But instead of working to make peace with Fatah it talks only of resistance. Its political leadership under Khaled Meshaal, long based in Syria, has finally abandoned that troubled country, but Hamas was undeniably slow to condemn the slaughter of Syrians.

Hamas could learn from Fatah's efforts to build international support through peaceful means. Instead, Hamas simply talks. Five years on, as the Arab Spring works itself out in various countries, Hamas seems like a spent force.