Yesterday the Islamic State (better known as ISIS) released a video from its Syrian stronghold threatening to topple the current government, Hamas, and taking over the Gaza Strip. Their claim – that Hamas has not been sufficiently strict enough when it comes to religious enforcement.
For those unaware, Hamas was originally a Palestinian militant movement founded in 1987 (Official Charter, 1988) during the first intifada, emerging as the strongest form of armed resistance against Israel and its occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Following the second intifada in 2005, the U.S. pushed for open, democratic elections in 2006, in which Hamas officials were elected into power, claiming parliament majority. This shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. For decades Palestinians had witnessed their land, resources, and friends and family fall under the control and destruction of Israel’s stranglehold on the Palestinian territories. Many viewed the continuous capitulations of Fatah and the PLO during the numerous peace negotiations as weak. Hamas offered a more hardline stance against Israeli occupation and for that they garnered populist appeal.
Labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, and strongly opposed by rival party Fatah members, the U.S. and West chose not to recognize Hamas’ legitimacy resulting in a political divergence between the two ruling parties. Hamas has since exercised de facto rule over the Gaza Strip and Fatah over the West Bank.
Since it is listed as a terrorist organization, Hamas is unable to receive funding assistance from the U.S., E.U., and international bodies. The majority of funds come from Palestinian expatriates and private donors in the Gulf Region. Following the 2006 elections, both Israel and Egypt closed their borders to the Gaza Strip, effectively mounting a blockade against all external assistance and trade and essentially cutting off the Gaza Strip and its people from the rest of the world. Since then the Gaza Strip has had to rely on illicit trade and underground tunnels to acquire food, medicine, gas, building materials, and weapons to support its armed resistance, and sometimes offensive, against Israel.
The state of the Gaza Strip and its people is an extremely fragile one. Poor, cut off from the rest of world, politically unstable, and in constant fear of being killed, both by Israel rocket fire and internal jihad extremists, the Gaza Strip is open to influence. Without international support and economic relief, Hamas will remain obstinate in its opposition to Israel and Israeli allies and the population will continue to fall into disarray.
ISIS has been able to expand its influence and increase its ranks across large swaths of the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen) by appealing to the most vulnerable. They have successfully preyed on those who feel that the rest of the world has turned its back on them. By offering a renewed sense of purpose in the fight against Israeli oppression and the rest of the world’s apathy, ISIS could very well take control of the Gaza Strip by championing itself as a protector for the Palestinian people.
Now is the chance for the West to make positive strides in the quest for a two-state solution. The threat of ISIS deposing Hamas and radicalizing the Gaza Strip should be taken seriously. The current situations of isolation and hostility have not improved relations and have only further fractured an already tenuous relationship between the current power players. Putting an end to economic stagnation and building up societal infrastructures that boost education, employment, due process, and civil and religious freedoms would not only pull 1.82 million out of destitution but would also take away the means for ISIS’ incursion and takeover.