While Hamas leaders in Gaza are still afraid to come out in public unless surrounded by a protective shield of civilians, Hamas political bureau head Ismail Haniyeh, in a televised speech from his safe haven in Qatar, claimed “victory” in the latest round of fighting with Israel. “[We] defeated the settlement projects … the projects of coexistence … the projects of normalizing [relations] with the Zionist occupation … [we] will yet see many [diplomatic] contacts and successes.”
Conspicuously absent from Haniyeh’s bravado was any reference to the number of casualties inflicted by Hamas on Israelis by thousands of rockets and several infiltration attempts, which was no greater than those that might have been caused by ordinary traffic accidents. He obviously did not take responsibility for the deaths of Palestinians, indirectly by the placement of launchers and ammunition among civilians and directly because about a third of the rockets launched into Israel actually fell inside Gaza.
The points that he did proudly raise are belied by reality.
There is simply no evidence that the construction of new houses or the development of new Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria have been, or will be, reduced because of Hamas’s terrorist activities.
The UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco did not freeze their recently normalized relations with Israel. Palestinian supporters complained that “[these countries], the Emiratis in particular…have not uttered hardly a single criticism [of Israel].” After the ceasefire, Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani sent a personal message congratulating Hamas on the “victory” over the “Zionist entity.” He had strongly opposed normalization but could neither prevent it earlier nor reverse it during the recent fighting. The letter does not represent any change in Moroccan policy – at least for now.
To judge by the readout of King Salman’s phonecall to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (“[Saudi Arabia] will continue its efforts…to stop the Israeli attacks on Al-Quds by communicating with all relevant parties to exert pressure on the Israeli occupation government, wishing the Palestinian people security and peace”) and by Al-Arabiya’s relatively restrained coverage of Israel’s military response (especially in comparison with Al-Jazeera’s), Saudi-Israeli security cooperation remains on track. Significantly, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has refrained from making any public comment on the hostilities.
The Biden administration, despite its earlier reluctance to engage with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, had to interact intensely with him and other Egyptian government officials in order to secure a ceasefire. President Biden publicly “extend[ed] [his] sincere gratitude to Al-Sisi and the senior Egyptian officials who played such a critical role in this diplomacy.” If anything, relations between Israel and Egypt are now even stronger than before.
Unlike on previous occasions of confrontation on the Temple Mount and forceful Israeli response to barrages of Hamas rockets, King Abdullah of Jordan did not recall his ambassador to Israel, disregarding a unanimous resolution by the Jordanian parliament and demands by angry pro-Hamas demonstrators that he do so.
Bangladesh, one of twenty-eight United Nations member states that do not recognize the State of Israel, denounced “the abhorrent acts of violence against innocent civilians of Palestine, including women and children.” Nevertheless, the day after the ceasefire, it announced that its passports will no longer bear the caveat “valid for all countries of the world except Israel.” While it is possible that the timing of the announcement may have resulted from a bureaucratic snafu, it should be kept in mind that Bangladesh exports products to Israel through third countries and, like Morocco, has reportedly purchased Israeli-made surveillance technology.
The European Union did not issue any unified communique criticizing the Israeli military response, and the Arab Parliament (the legislative body of the Arab League) condemned the European Parliament for its silence. What is more, several European envoys visited Israel while it was being attacked to express their countries’ solidarity, and the Israeli flag was hoisted on government buildings in Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, for the first time, designated Hamas a terrorist organization for “sowing terror among innocent populations, be they Israeli or Palestinian.” Only five of the thirty-five member countries dissented.
Despite the shift of many Democrats in favor of the Palestinians, President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken expressed their “unwavering support for Israel’s security and for its legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians.” The president ignored pressure from progressive Democrats to block the sale of precision-guided weapons to Israel and publicly assured Prime Minister Netanyahu of his “full support to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome system.”
The pundits that now point out that Hamas managed to establish itself as the “bearer of the Palestinian national cause” by “defending Jerusalem” were the same that had affirmed three weeks ago that Abbas canceled the Palestinian legislative elections scheduled for this month because he realized that Hamas was going to beat his own Fatah movement by a wide margin.
If Hamas can claim any demonstrable success, it is for unmasking the significant resentment among a greater number of Arabs of Israel than previously recognized, instigated by the northern branch of the Islamic Movement. This organization had been officially banned by the Israeli government in 2015 but was not given adequate attention by the security services. Israel will now have the opportunity and the obligation to address both the roots of the discontent and the neglected incitement.
After so much suffering and so little to show for it, the real question is: how many more “victories” like this one can the Palestinians survive?