Hamas and the Arab Uprisings

Speaking of Palestine as we were (we can fight about calling it Palestine vs The Palestinian Territories if you like, but I think it’ll be more tiresome than anything else), it seems like a good time to mention International Crisis Group’s latest report on Israel/Palestine. ICG is an organization that I love and adore with a fervor usually reserved for select humans, large animals, and novels about girls with deadly weapons, and their reports have been absolutely essential to me in the past. They are very much worth your time.

Yet, regional changes also have come at a cost. Above all, the uprising in Syria,where its political bureau had been based for more than a decade, presented the movement with one of the greatest challenges it has faced, tearing it between competing demands. On the one hand, the movement had to weigh the gratitude felt to a regimethat hadsupportedit when nearly all other Arab countries had shunned it; the cost of breaking relations witha regime still clinging to power; and the risks entailed in alienating Iran, its largest supporter and supplier of money, weapons and training. On the other hand, Hamas considered its connection to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Sunni Arabs more generally, as well as its indebtedness to the Syrian people, who had long stood with the movement. Hovering over these were its obligations to Syria’s hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees,who could pay with their homes and lives for the decisions made by some of their political leaders.

Difficult as the external balancing act has been, the Arab uprisings also have forced upon the movement a no less trying challenge by bringing to the surface and exacerbating internal contradictions and rifts among its varied constituencies. The impasse at which Hamas had been stuck before the Arab upheavals allowed the movement to keep its many differences largely beneath the surface; with few significant opportunities before it, no contest among visions needed take place. But once Hamas found itself in a dramatically altered environment with novel challenges and possibilities, longstanding tensions came to the fore and new forms of friction emerged. Broadly speaking, these reflect several interrelated factors: the group’s geographic dispersion and its leadership’s varied calculations, caused by differing circumstances (in Gaza, prisons, the West Bank or outside); ideological distinctions, particularly albeit not exclusively related tovarying assessments of the impact of the Arab upheavals; roles in the movement’s political, military, religious and governance activities; and pre-existing personal rivalries.