Hamas Blinks: 3,000-Man Militia Withdrawn
Perhaps in an effort to salvage popular support rather than as a backing down to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas has sent their new 3,000-man militia from the streets and into bases, instantly reducing tensions in Gaza City and throughout the Strip. Whatever the move is in reaction to, the quiet is welcome.
It is more likely that Hamas is seeking to avoid a referendum vote that was threatened by Mahmoud Abbas rather than avoid direct conflict with Fatah forces. The very creation and original street deployment of the opposition force belies that logic. If Hamas did not accept the Fatah position on negotiations with Israel within ten days, Abbas threatened a public July Palestinian referendum taking the issue directly to the Palestinian people.
The significance of this is important to acknowledge, as it shows Abbas and his Fatah flexing muscle derived from perceived popular support on the issue. While Hamas may have won the majority of seats in the parliamentary elections in January, much of the support they once held has been eroded by hardships, violence and ineffective governance. It should also be noted within context that Hamas’ victory itself was less out of support for Hamas than a collective punishment for a corrupt Fatah.
Hamas sees only bad news in any referendum and/or elections in the short term, and this move was most likely made with precisely that in mind: political survival. In that sense, Abbas caused Hamas – and their 3,000-man street militia – to blink.
Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said of Abbas’ threat regarding dealing with Israel, “This is not a substitute for the political program of the government that was approved in parliament.” It is, however, indicative of a shift of popular support within the Palestinian Territories.
In another development today, in response to Israel’s approval yesterday of sending arms to Mahmoud Abbas’ presidential security forces in the face of assassination threats, Abbas’ office issued a statement denying that his office had asked Israel for the weapons. This is likely quite true, as Israel firmly believes they can work with Abbas and have absolutely no interest in his death. That would be a disaster and likely the end of any constructive efforts at discussion-based resolution.
As Abbas gains political capital through increasing public support, Israel has every interest in supporting him and assisting him in self-protection.