In September, Hamas officially disbanded its civil government in a concession to the PA and tacit acknowledgement that day-to-day governing is not for them.
“Hamas has shown either no interest or no capability for acting like responsible local government,” says Howard Sumka, former USAID director for the West Bank and Gaza. “They have gone from one cycle to another of building up militarily and building up action against Israel. Things are defused for a while, and then there’s an effort at reconstruction. It’s a very depressing cycle.”
Earlier this year Hamas elected Yahya Sinwar as its new leader in Gaza. A founding member of Hamas’ military wing who spent 20 years in Israeli prison before being released in a 2011 prisoner swap, Mr. Sinwar has a reputation as a hardline but shrewd character capable of making tough, pragmatic decisions.
Assessments of Sinwar’s strategy differ. Some Gaza observers say he has decided Hamas should return to its resistance roots and become less involved in politics, letting the PA handle daily problems. But there is also a sense that after three wars with Israel that have brought more hardship to Gaza, he has decided to put military efforts on the back burner to focus instead on gaining a political foothold in the West Bank.
“That was a tough lesson for Hamas over the past 10 years. You can raise the slogan of resistance forever, but the outcome is a devastated population, infrastructure, and daily life,” says Prof. Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza.
Hamas wants to focus on protecting Gaza from Israel, Professor Abusada says, and views Israel’s relatively free hand in Palestinian areas of the West Bank as a cautionary tale.