Imad Alsoos, a Palestinian researcher on social movements and Islamic movements.
Following the December 6 announcement, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas Political Bureau, called for the cancelation of the Oslo Accords and the start of the “Intifada of freedom of Jerusalem.” How Hamas acts on this opening affects its attempts to achieve reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and to end the siege of Gaza.
Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah visited Gaza on December 7, classifying his visit as a “response to the U.S. declaration.” He was careful to adopt less hardened positions toward Hamas and renewed the PA’s promises to implement reconciliation and ease the siege on Gaza, indicating Fatah sees an intifada as more costly than reconciliation and compromise with Hamas. Israel shares the PA objective of preventing the outbreak of a popular intifada. Since the start of the protests last week, one Palestinian has been killed at the hands of Israeli soldiers. Compared to the start of the second intifada—which broke against then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s intrusion to the al-Aqsa Compound in Jerusalem—the death toll was 12 by the end of the first week. It seems Israel wants to avoid mass funerals, which in the past intifada turned into mass protests that led to more causalities. Instead, Israel would prefer a military confrontation with Hamas. Despite the Israeli air strike against Hamas targets that killed two Palestinians in Gaza on December 12, Hamas is determined to keep its approach focused on popular protests and avoid any militarization, recalling the failure of this approach in the second intifada.
On the same day of Hamdallah’s visit, Haniyeh announced that he had given “instructions to all Hamas activists to be steady and ready in all places, in the inside [Palestine] or the outside, to prepare themselves for the next stage.” Hamas’s ability to translate these moves into a “renewed” intifada, as Haniyeh described it, will impose popular pressure on the PA to achieve reconciliation without Hamas having to make strategic concessions such as its preferential status in Gaza. This will necessarily strengthen the position and role of Hamas in the Palestinian political arena and restore its popular support, recalling the movement’s position and popularity on the eve of the 2006 Palestinian general elections.
Although Hamas’s resources are too limited to start a popular intifada on its own, its internal structure is more than capable of leading and maintaining the momentum of a popular intifada. Already, Hamas has shown it can tap into popular resistance as shown by the December 8 “day of rage,” seeing Friday protests as an opportunity to regain its political role. Popular protests could end the public’s demobilization that has limited Hamas’s ability to launch a popular uprising in recent years. This could empower Hamas not only with regard to the reconciliation with Fatah but also to heavily reconfigure Palestinian leadership as a whole.