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Gaza: Strength After the Disaster

Despite the human disaster the Gaza conflict has caused, the recent events might have a positive impact for Palestinians in the territory.

The recent conflict between Israel and Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip — its most violent phase having been ignited by Israel's assassination of Ahmed Jabari on November 14 — undoubtedly caused significant destruction: 166 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed with many more wounded. Widespread damage has been inflicted upon Gaza's infrastructure which had already suffered in 2008/09 when Israel invaded the Palestinian territory as part of “Operation Cast Lead”. Nevertheless, there might be a glimmer of hope emerging.

On November 21, at 1900 GMT, a ceasefire, mainly brokered via Egyptian mediation, came into effect. It called upon Israel to “stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip”, including the “targeting of individuals”, and stated that “all Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel”. It also raised the issue of “opening the [border] crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas.” The last point refers to the controversial buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and Israel. At the time of writing there were no reports of military strikes from air or sea against Gaza. Although, there were reports of Israeli soldiers firing into the buffer zone, killing one Palestinian. Apart from the much needed (at least temporary) end to bombing, certain events in the last week or so might signal a positive medium to long-term change with regard to the dire situation in Gaza.

One of these signs was the visibly strong support for Gaza from the Arab and Muslim world. In contrast to the conflict almost four years ago, high-profile visitors at an unprecedented level came to Gaza while the armed conflict was ongoing. The most prominent visitors were the Egyptian prime minister and the foreign ministers of Tunisia and Turkey. Furthermore, an Arab League delegation, including ten foreign ministers, made a trip to Gaza as well. Strong vocal support for the Palestinian cause is far from unheard of in the Arab and Muslim world. However, broadcasted visits by these statesmen during the military campaign against Gaza was another level of showing support for both the population under bombardment and to Hamas. Gaza is not isolated anymore.

This was combined with strong rhetoric condemning Israel's airstrikes. The Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, for example, stated, referring to Israel's military strikes, that this “vicious attack must not go unpunished”.

In this case it is crucial to look at the change in the Egyptian stance after Hosni Mubarak's ouster. Whereas Israel was able to count on Egypt to put pressure on Hamas in the past, President Mohammed Morsi called Israel's military campaign an act of aggression. It was not that Morsi acted in open defiance of Israel and the United States; having been under pressure by Washington to negotiate an acceptable ceasefire by both sides, Morsi struck a pragmatic deal balancing “public support for Hamas with a determination to preserve the peace with Israel”. In comparison to the Mubarak era, this means a significant push in favor of Hamas and the Gaza population.

After the ceasefire announcement, Hamas' press conference in Cairo showed that the Islamist group gained international media attention at an unprecedented level. Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas´ political bureau, spoke of a “great defeat for Israel” at the widely broadcasted news conference which the group dubbed as “triumphal”. Speaking of a defeat for Israel is definitely a skewed analysis of the recent events. However, it is quite likely that Hamas will be able to profit from this situation as the Islamist group has gained a lot of media attention. This is also related to the fact that, in contrast to the conflict in 2008/09, global media was very present in the Gaza Strip and able to deliver first-hand accounts of the conflict.

One can hardly expect a sudden change in Western governments' stance towards Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by the EU and US. Barack Obama repeatedly stressed “the necessity of Hamas ending rocket fire into Israel” and Israel's right to self-defense. However, the visits to the Gaza Strip by regional players have the potential to increase Hamas' international standing which could be crucial for future peace talks with Israel. Moreover, Hamas' move to Cairo and the support they received from Morsi despite his constraints, herald a strong partnership after years of antagonism under Mubarak. This change, also in light of the Tunisian foreign minister's visit, has to be understood in the context of the Arab Uprisings and the popular support for the Palestinians, along with the rise to power of several Islamist movements. Given that Hamas originated from the Muslim Brotherhood, there is a strong possibility for a close relationship between the Palestinian faction and Egypt.

With all its facets, through the Gaza conflict, Hamas is likely to be strengthened in comparison to its secular counterpart Fatah. Pro-Hamas-rallies in the West Bank are an indicator of how the Islamist group's leverage over Fatah will increase. Whether this dynamic will lead to greater efforts to achieve inner-Palestinian unity is unclear. Advisors of President Morsi stated that they will work towards “reconciling the rival factions.” In combination with the media attention and the emerging partnership with Egypt, Hamas could become a force the West cannot ignore anymore. Hamas, often silenced by Western governments and media as I have argued in a previous article for Fair Observer, might be heard now. The attacks on Gaza in this changed regional environment could have brought this much needed change. Indeed, Hamas' leadership in Gaza is not unchallenged and firing rockets into Israel will not bring about a solution, but giving Gaza a stronger voice after years of being muted would have a positive effect.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.