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Will Another Radical Faction Challenge Hamas?

Jonathan Schanzer

With this summer’s violent coup in the Gaza Strip, Hamas became a government overnight. They now have an army (being trained by Iran), social infrastructure (thanks to Saudi Arabia) and a territory the size of Washington, DC, packed with 1.4 million people (mostly refugees).

By replacing the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Gaza, Hamas instantly put itself in a bind. It may become increasingly difficult to call itself both an Islamist resistance organization and a government. Specifically, Hamas will be forced to reconcile the fact that Gaza’s fate is tied to Israel. Hamas needs Israeli water, electricity and goodwill. Hamas will also need to work with Israel, much as the PA did, if diplomats, aid organizations and journalists are to enter the territory. Hamas will have to recognize Israel in some way or another.

Here’s where it gets complicated. Soon after Hamas shows even minimal signs of cooperation with Israel, hardline Hamas members, or a Hamas rival, could emerge to “out-Hamas” the new governing power in Gaza.

In other words, forget about the challenge of dealing with Hamas in Gaza. It’s the next generation of Gaza radicals that we may need to brace for.

There is a precedent for this prediction. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a terrorist organization that rejected Israel, became a governing power in 1988. As soon as the PLO went about the business of state building, Hamas challenged the PLO’s credentials as the “liberators of Palestine.” Hamas soon became the hardline terrorist organization while the PLO, terror group turned government, struggled for a new identity.

The PLO covenant of 1968 stated that, “Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine.” It called for steadfastness and Arab unity, insisting that Israel did not have a right to exist on what it saw as Palestinian land. Two decades later, when the PLO recognized Israel, Hamas published its own covenant, calling for a synthesis of Islamism and Palestinian nationalism. It envisioned Palestine as a state run according to the shari‘a (Islamic law) and declared that when “enemies usurp some Islamic lands, jihad becomes a duty binding on all Muslims.”

Once Hamas starts working with Israel to ensure that Gaza functions, a new Islamist group will likely begin to hammer at the Hamas government, alleging that it has lost its position as the defender of Palestinian rights in Gaza, and draft a new hardline covenant.

While hard to believe, Hamas could one day be viewed as the “moderate” organization in the Islamic Republic of Gaza.

Jonathan Schanzer, a former Treasury intelligence analyst, is the director of policy for the Jewish Policy Center.