Hamas’ militancy gains support in West Bank

Ernesto Londoño / The Washington Post /

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Hamas’ latest battle against Israel sparked feverish Palestinian pride that spread beyond the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority-led West Bank. But it has also deepened a sense here that the authority’s nonviolent, diplomacy-based approach to winning a Palestinian state is increasingly futile.

It is a commonly held view in both territories that the Islamist militants of Hamas — which refuses to recognize Israel — defeated their enemy and that they did it with weapons, not words.

“They put Israel in its place. They forced Israel to withdraw,” Amanda Izzat, a 23-year-old university student who was shopping in Ramallah on Saturday, said of Hamas.

The eight-day conflict also underscored the stark differences between Hamas and its rival Fatah, which leads the Palestinian Authority. In a region where Arab Spring uprisings pushed political Islam to the forefront, some analysts say Fatah’s secular nationalism looks more anachronistic by the day and that Hamas’ sudden strength has fueled momentum for a more aggressive, even radical, posture in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Fatah member, dismissed Islamism as a fad. But she said she is increasingly worried that Palestinians will see armed resistance, which Fatah renounced in 1988, as the only mechanism that appears to win concessions from Israel.

“It would be easy to get the world’s attention by unleashing violence,” Ashrawi said. “But that’s not a tool we want to use. There’s so much tragic loss of life.”

Hamas’s rising profile has posed the most immediate challenge to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who played the role of bystander throughout the crisis. As Hamas’ leader-in-exile, Khaled Meshal, negotiated the cease-fire under the mediation of Cairo’s Islamist-led government, Abbas envoys traveled to Gaza, but he did not. Abbas has not been to the strip since 2006, when Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections. Hamas, which Israel and the United States deem a terrorist group, seized control of Gaza one year later.