Imad Alsoos, a Palestinian researcher on social movements and Islamic movements and a PhD candidate at the Free University of Berlin.
Although the military and the economic siege faced by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in Gaza failed to disintegrate it or to overthrow its rule, it has succeeded in weakening its ability to mobilize popular support. Consequently, it significantly reduced Hamas’s ability to maneuver politically. However, the current protests against Israeli violations and the settlers’ extra-judicial acts in Jerusalem and the West Bank created an array of opportunities for Hamas to mitigate the pressure on its rule in Gaza. This gives it a chance to regain its political importance in the West Bank vis-à-vis its internal rival, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. But will Hamas succeed in turning these protests into a third intifada? And what type of confrontations does Hamas aim to produce?
Despite the limited geographical spread of these protests compared to the first (1987-1993) and the second (2000-2005) Palestinian intifadas, Hamas officials and media outlets have already named the protests the “Jerusalem intifada.” Hamas is organizing popular events, and some of its members participated in what it dubs “heroic operations,” such as those that occurred in the village of Beit Furik on October 1 near the city of Nablus. Likewise, Hamas is currently facilitating the arrival of protesters to Gaza’s border and did not impede clashes involving stone-throwing with the occupation soldiers. Despite that, Hamas’s official position in its statements does not indicate the start of a third intifada and does not adopt that label. It seems that Hamas fears that the Israeli military occupation and the Palestinian Authority would use Hamas’s role in the protests to justify harsh repression against its activists and other protesters, ending this popular uprising.
Hamas aims at gradually turning these protests into a popular intifada by which the Palestinian cause can regain its popular momentum—far removed from the armed wings’ monopoly over the second intifada, when they hijacked its mass character and undermined its goals. Hamas is not currently interested in open military confrontations. Rather, it aims to create space for popular protests and limited “heroic operations” while avoiding the militarization of this popular uprising. These tactics are apparently in line with those of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, but the two sides differ over the intended scale and growth of the uprising. Hamas sees them as the beginning of an intifada as widespread as the previous intifadas, by which the movement would impose its “resistance project” and ease the restrictions it faces in Gaza and the West Bank. Meanwhile the Palestinian Authority aims to limit and govern these popular protests so they do not escape its control. Its goal is to improve its position in the negotiating process with the Israeli government and revitalize the political part of the Oslo Accords—currently limited to their military component (or so-called security coordination)—so it can achieve political gains that will necessarily lead to a two-state solution.
The current protests are still in their beginning, characterized by popular action arising from individual grievances. To sustain and expand as Hamas wishes, organized efforts and a consensus-based national program are crucial.