I have been pushing the idea lately that Hamas, since taking political control in 2005, has moderated its political view substantially. In addition to forgoing the use of suicide bombers as a means of resistance some years ago, Hamas recently arrested members of Islamic Jihad who were planning an attack on Israeli forces and might even have a secret cease-fire agreement with Israel. Senior Hamas officials (Mahmoud al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh) have even said that the rockets shot into Israel are hurting the Palestinian cause. The moderation of Hamas certainly has to do with its new role as political player; Hamas now needs to worry about the reaction of the Palestinian population to its actions.
The Guardian reported last week that Hamas has begun to raise taxes in Gaza to pay for the expenses of running the government. In fact, in January Hamas failed to pay some of the over 30,000 public servants working for the government (a report that was denied by Hamas). As the Majlis points out, the financial crisis in Gaza is a result of not only the crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade (Palestine contends that only 114 different items are let in and most exports are denied), but also Egypt’s crackdown on the tunnels into Gaza (see the video after the break). The lack of international business opportunities had led Hamas to begin taxing the tunnels. Even with open tunnels, the majority of money in the Hamas coffer comes from foreign powers (only $60 million of the $540 million budget for this year is not coming from abroad). Thus, the Egyptian underground wall has cut access to tunnels and severely reduced the money coming to Hamas.
[tweetmeme] At first glance, this seems like a win for Israel: a financially stressed Hamas is a weak Hamas. However, the always-present unintended consequence of the devastating blockade of Gaza is the further radicalization of its people. As Hamas moves closer and closer to mainstream politics, frustrated (and perhaps unpaid) members have been leaving Hamas for more radical splinter groups, which are starting to get serious attention in Gaza. As the Majlis notes: “These off-brand groups still have small memberships, but their ideological reach appears to be growing: Erin Cunningham reported last month on anti-Hamas preachers in Gaza, and Jihadica recently published a detailed analysis of the ‘jihadi-salafi case against Hamas.'”
If there is indeed a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, its success will depend on Hamas’ ability to control the splinter groups operating in Gaza. As more than half of the public officials in Gaza are part of the security arm of Hamas, the alleged inability to provide salaries is striking. The lack of a paycheck has two severe consequences: firstly, Hamas will not be able to control the actions of the splinter groups as well and, secondly, more Hamas members might be tempted to join the splinter groups.
Though the financial crisis within Hamas is an important development and one that can be considered an Israeli victory, the side-effects of the blockade must be exposed. There are many moral and legal reasons to lift the blockade of Gaza as well as pragmatic reasons (peace without the inclusion of Hamas will not work). As it turns out, the blockade is turning into a security issue for Israel itself. While it is easy to point at Hamas as a terrorist group (and indeed it was), the time has come to admit the moderation of the group as well as its role in preventing more radical groups from forming.
The blockade has giving Palestinians incentives for resorting to more violent and extremist groups such as Jaish al-Islam and Jund Ansar Allah. Perhaps more importantly, by achieving it goal of weakening Hamas, the blockade is bankrupting the one power that can control these dangerous splinter groups.
Photo from The Guardian