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Hamas’ Surprise Electoral Victory, 10 Years on

Ola Atallah | Anadolu Agency

GAZA CITY: In January 2006, Palestinian resistance movement Hamas swept Palestinian legislative elections, taking most political observers by surprise.

Although the Islamist group won 76 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, the U.S., the EU and Israel — along with the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — all refused to recognize the results of the elections.

Following Hamas’ electoral victories, Israel began imposing a strict embargo on the Gaza Strip, the coastal enclave in which the group is based.

Over the course of the last 10 years, the embargo — which, with Egypt’s help, remains in place to this day — has largely destroyed Gaza’s economy and made life miserable for the strip’s roughly 1.9 million inhabitants.

Abdel-Sattar Qasem, a political science professor at Birzeit University (located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank), told Anadolu Agency that, while Hamas had managed to reinvigorate the Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation, it had largely failed to achieve any “political” successes over the past 10 years.

According to Qasem, Hamas’ main achievements having been strengthening the Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades, the group’s armed wing, and restoring the notion of armed resistance against Israel.

“Hamas has managed to combine the notion of resistance and politics; for example, by capturing [Israeli] soldiers and exchanging them for [Palestinian] prisoners,” Qasem said.

Hamas has weathered three major Israeli military onslaughts against Gaza — in 2008/9, 2012 and 2014 — while achieving the “noticeable development” of its military wing.

On the political front, though, Qasem believes Hamas has not recorded any major successes, saying that the group “should have shown more political flexibility and been better at learning from the mistakes it has made in recent years”.

Waleed Modallal, a political science professor at Islamic University of Gaza, believes it is unfair to say that Hamas has failed politically.

“International, European and even Arab parties have refused to recognize Hamas [as the legitimate ruler in Gaza],” he said, also noting that the group continued to face Israel’s crippling embargo.

“It cannot be asserted that Hamas has failed politically, but rather that it has failed in certain areas while succeeding in others,” Modallal added.

In mid-2007, clashes erupted in the Gaza Strip between Hamas and Fatah, which resulted in the total defeat of the latter and the establishment of de facto Hamas rule throughout the territory.

Ever since, Hamas has consistently accused Fatah — which “governs” the West Bank under the shadow of the Israeli occupation — of attempting to undermine its control of the strip.

The differences between the two groups are largely ideological.

Islamist Hamas supports armed resistance against Israel and demands the return of all of historical Palestine. Secular Fatah, for its part, continues to call for negotiations with the Jewish state — even though previous peace talks have failed to produce any positive results for the Palestinian people.

In April 2014, Hamas and Fatah signed a “reconciliation” agreement, which led to the formation of a Palestinian unity government two months later.

The Ramallah-based unity government, however, has yet to assume formal control of the Gaza Strip due to ongoing political differences between Hamas and Fatah.

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