Israel-Palestine conflict: the role of Hamas and Fatah rivalry in latest violence
By Julie M Norman* – The Conversation
The deadly escalation of violence across Israel, the West Bank and
Gaza, in which at least 40 people have been killed and hundreds injured, has
demonstrated how the core fault-lines of the conflict between Israelis and
Palestinians still run deep. But the dynamics of the violence also
underscore internal divisions and crises of leadership on both sides.
For Israelis, this has manifested itself in four
elections in two years that have so far failed to end in the formation of a
stable government. The most recent election, held on March 23, is still mired
in wrangling between various parties and factions. Coalition talks were frozen
on Monday after violence exploded in Jerusalem and Gaza.
For Palestinians, meanwhile, the ongoing crisis of
leadership has been encapsulated in Hamas commandeering the resistance, further
sidelining Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority, of which
he is president.
Tensions between Fatah and Hamas have dominated Palestinian
politics since 2006, when Hamas was victorious in the Palestinian Authority’s last
parliamentary elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, ending the
era of Fatah’s dominance. After armed conflict between the two factions and the
failure of an attempted unity government, the Palestinian leadership has been
divided since 2007, with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority governing the West
Bank, and Hamas governing the Gaza Strip.
numerous reconciliation efforts over the past 15 years, rifts have remained. Both
in autumn 2020 to new elections, but these were postponed
“indefinitely” by Abbas at the end of April. While the Palestinian Authority
cited Israeli restrictions on Jerusalem residents voting as the cause for this
surmise that it was more due to Abbas’ low popularity in recent polls, with
challenges not only from Hamas, but also two Fatah splinter groups.
In the lead-up to the election, Hamas cleverly sought to
link its movement with protecting Jerusalem, an issue with high political and
religious resonance, especially during the month of Ramadan. They planned to
run an electoral list of candidates named “Jerusalem is our destiny”, and fired
rockets as a show of force and solidarity with Palestinians who were
protesting against Israeli police restricting access to Damascus
Gate. Damascus Gate is one of the main entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City,
and a popular meeting place for Palestinians, especially during Ramadan after
the evening prayer.
Later, Mohammed Deif, the leader of Hamas’ military wing,
issued a warning to Israel over the eviction of Palestinians from the Sheikh
Jarrah neighbourhood. Ongoing attempts to alter the demographics of this
majority Arab suburb have mobilised widespread
popular demonstrations in recent weeks.
These shows of solidarity by Hamas were in sharp contrast to
the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which had failed to respond directly to
the tensions in Jerusalem. It doesn’t help that the Palestinian Authority
cooperation with Israel earlier this year.
Face of the
Without the ballot box to prove its legitimacy, Hamas has
now doubled down on projecting its image as the face of resistance to the
occupation. Since the storming
of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque by Israeli police on Monday May 10, Hamas has
launched more than 1,000 rockets into Israel. These have been largely neutralised
by Israel’s “Iron
Dome” missile defence system and Israel has retaliated with airstrikes on
Gaza. Dozens of civilians have
been killed and scores wounded, seemingly setting up another “Gaza war”
like those of 2009, 2012 and 2014, which resulted in thousands of casualties.
Hamas doesn’t need to “win” wars in the traditional sense to
be victorious. By simply resisting, it affirms its legitimacy and popularity,
which has tended
to surge after such escalations in the past. This is especially in
comparison to the Palestinian Authority, which is seen as weak at best and complicit
at worst in terms of relations with Israel.
This doesn’t mean that Hamas’ ideology or governance is
popular; there is widespread
dissatisfaction with conditions in Gaza that some
blame on Hamas as well as Israel. But Hamas is wasting no time in seizing
the moment in the current crisis to bolster its standing, both in Gaza and
Nonetheless, the question remains whether the activists and
organisers leading the popular uprisings in Jerusalem and elsewhere will
continue to see Hamas as an ally or a leader – or simply another faction
exploiting the crisis and hijacking
Disclosure statement: Julie M Norman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive
funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article,
and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.