Hamas will likely survive as long as Israel’s occupation persists

Hamas's tactics won supporters among the many Palestinians who lost hope of ending Israel's occupation and oppression through peaceful means

For decades, Israel has been trying to defeat Hamas without success. After seven brutal months of war, it still exists. There is reason to think it always will.
Nathalie Lees
For decades, Israel has been trying to defeat Hamas without success. After seven brutal months of war, it still exists. There is reason to think it always will.

Hamas will likely survive as long as Israel’s occupation persists

Israel’s rationale for its war on Gaza has been stated often: to eradicate Hamas. This means killing its fighters, destroying its weapons and infrastructure, terminating its governance, and preventing any future resurgence.

Seven months in, this has been Israel’s lengthiest continuous and direct military engagement and undoubtedly the most devastating for Palestinians—particularly in Gaza and across historic Palestine. With most of the Gaza Strip now occupied by Israel’s military but with Hamas leaders still at large and its fighters still firing, observers and even some Israeli politicians are reassessing the stated objectives of war.

For the first time, many are publicly acknowledging that the complete eradication of Hamas may not be feasible and that it could persist beyond the war in some form—even with full Israeli control over the territory after Rafah is stormed.

This may not be a complete surprise. For more than three decades, Israel has tried to uproot and dismantle Hamas, but its efforts have always proved futile. Weakening it in Occupied Jerusalem, for instance, did not erode its influence in the Occupied West Bank, so weakening it in Gaza may not diminish its impact in other Palestinian territories.

Under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas (an 88-year-old veteran of Fatah, a rival group), the Palestinian Authority (PA) has also tried to hobble Hamas, including by arresting its activists. Again, this has proved unsuccessful.

Hamas has accused Abbas and the PA of corruption, working with/for Israel, and doing its bidding. These accusations have resonated with Palestinians and reinforced Hamas’s support base.

Memories are long. In 2006, after Hamas won the Palestinian elections, the PA in Ramallah collaborated with Israel and the West to orchestrate a coup against it. The result was Hamas’s forced takeover of the Gaza Strip, kicking the PA out.

To make matters worse, the PA then seemed to justify Israel's bombing of Gaza in 2008-2009 and 2014. In other wars, including the 2023-24 one, the PA did not confront Israeli aggression, either in Gaza or in the daily attacks by settlers. Instead, the PA has preferred to wait until the bombs have finished falling before asserting its role in the post-war arrangements, including reconstruction.

Some PA leaders have seen reconstruction efforts as opportunities for personal gain while promising political progress and the establishment of a Palestinian state. As demonstrated over decades, these aspirations are illusory. They serve only to silence Palestinians, for whom the PA and PLO lack any legitimacy.

Hassan Moharam

Read more: 30 years after Oslo, Palestinian state elusive as ever

Origins and support

Hamas sits within the broad spectrum of political Islam and is considered to be a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (there are two other Palestinian branches inside the Green Line). Historically, Islamist movements have challenged authorities and faced prosecution or restrictions on their activities, yet this has not necessarily ended their influence. Often, they emerge stronger.

The experiences of Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Morocco, and Tunisia offer valuable insights into this phenomenon, including instances where these movements have engaged with former adversaries upon assuming power.

Hamas came to prominence with the First Intifada (1987-92) and subsequently came out against the Oslo Accords. Its campaign of suicide bombings deep inside Israel contributed to the rise of the Israeli right. Yet Hamas's tactics won supporters among the many Palestinians who had begun to lose hope of ending Israel's occupation and oppression by peaceful means.

The lack of a political solution—together with its perceived defence of Occupied Jerusalem—only enhanced the view of Hamas in Palestinian eyes. Still, the movement showed pragmatism by engaging in the political process within the Palestinian Authority, which was established after the Oslo Accords of 1993, even though it was critical of the premise.

In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections. A senior Hamas figure, Ismail Haniyeh, was elected prime minister, but his tenure was short. Security forces within the PA, in coordination with Israel, orchestrated a coup in 2007. This confined Hamas to the Gaza Strip, where it effectively established itself as an alternative Palestinian Authority in the coastal enclave.

Hamas rule in Gaza has been marked by military clashes with Israel but also practical cooperation in several fields, resulting in a kind of flexible acceptance of one another.

Nathalie Lees

Read more: Hamas and Islamic Jihad: Origins and future

Elements of the Israeli right even saw cooperation with Hamas as a strategic asset and a security and political achievement for Israel. However, all this ended on 7 October, triggering the current war and its devastating effects.

Yet despite having brought the most horrific pain and suffering to the people of Gaza, opinion polls indicate a rise in Hamas's popularity among Palestinians and a loss of support for Fatah, whose representatives are particularly disliked.

Its standing among Palestinians could rise further if Hamas achieves one of its stated aims: the release of Palestinian prisoners. As a result, free Palestinian elections—if held tomorrow—could see Hamas win again and reclaim the leadership of the PA, which it held until the coup.

Imperfectly indestructible

Yet, as the devastating war in Gaza shows, Hamas failed to effectively govern Gaza or adequately prepare it for such a serious wartime scenario as has been seen. Gazan society suffers from weakness and stagnation, with little planning or coordination, suggesting that Hamas did not fulfil its governing role to the extent it needed to prior to the onset of the current war.

The future of Hamas—or an Islamist successor under a different name—remains uncertain until the dust settles and the aftermath is fully assessed, since its popularity and trajectory is shaped by developments across various levels.

It is hard to imagine a political future for Palestinians without Hamas because its belief in the need for armed resistance represents the belief of such a significant portion of the Palestinian population. Its survival, then, seems tied to the persistence of the occupation, which shows no signs of ending any time soon.

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