Hamas popularity hits a new low after opposing UN statehood bid
The UN statehood bid, led by Hamas rival Mahmoud Abbas, has deepened the rift between Gazans and their Islamist rulers.
Gaza City, Gaza
Of the many complaints in Gaza, one has become a popular refrain: the increasing taxes levied by Hamas. Fathi Abu Gamar, a gas station owner in Jabaliya refugee camp, readily joins the chorus: The Islamist movement that rules this tiny coastal territory takes more than half his revenue from gas sales, he says, leaving him with a tiny profit.Skip to next paragraph
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But he quickly becomes quiet when a man, whom neighbors identify as a Hamas informer, begins hovering nearby, listening intently. Above him, the green flags of Hamas flutter in the strong sea breeze. Like Hamas's popularity, they are faded and tattered.
Hamas has been steadily losing support among Gaza's 1.6 million residents after winning elections in 2006 and violently ousting its secular rival, Fatah, the following year.
Now, however, its popularity has fallen to a new low due because of its opposition to a bid for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations – a move spearheaded by Fatah leader and Hamas rival Mahmoud Abbas – or Abu Mazen, as he's known here.
"Hamas is against Abu Mazen," says Yasmine Al Nabeeh, a young Gazan woman who supports the statehood bid now under consideration by the United Nations Security Council. "So any step he takes, they are against it, even if it's for the benefit of Palestine."
Hamas loses its luster as true defender of Palestinians
The statehood bid, if successful, would give Palestinians full membership in the UN – and, Palestinian Authority President Abbas has argued, greater leverage against Israel. But it would also require his people to renounce their claims to land conquered by Israel in its war of independence with Arab neighbors.
Hamas has positioned itself as the true defender of Palestinian rights in the face of Israeli aggression and has cast the UN play as an unsavory compromise. But Gazans, who have faced a brutal war with Israel and tight Israeli sanctions since Hamas took over, appear increasingly tired of a government that they see as just as corrupt as the Fatah one it replaced.
Many see Hamas's opposition to the statehood bid as being motivated by self-interest at the expense of the national good and think it does not bode well for reconciliation between Hamas in Gaza and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. Such rapprochement would be essential to creating a functional state on the two Palestinian territories.
Abbas's statehood bid, however impractical, is seen by many as a bold new approach after years of stalled talks with Israel. For that, it has won the respect of many Gazans, even those who are Hamas supporters. (See sidebar, next page.)