Jerusalem’s Old City was bustling as usual on Thursday afternoon. Arab school children in uniform were rushing home, groups of tourists with cameras hanging from their necks were peeping into gift shops; and elderly Arab women from the countryside were sitting on the ground selling fresh bundles of coriander and sage.
In the Muslim Quarter, Gaza was the talk of the day. Inside a falafel shop, three men watched Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh deliver a victory speech on a TV latched to the ceiling.
“We want a final resolution of the Palestinian issue,” said one of the men, as he glanced away from the screen. “These temporary solutions that drag on for years while the West Bank is swallowed up by settlements are unacceptable.”
The man was referring to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his continued advocacy of peace negotiations with Israel. Twenty years of talks have left West Bank Palestinians with little, many East Jerusalem residents say today, and Hamas’s steadfastness during operation Pillar of Defense has provided them with a new source of inspiration.
After weeks of deriding Abbas for his bid to win limited UN recognition next week, Hamas and Islamic Jihad seemed to magnanimously change their tone. Ismail Haniyeh and two Islamic Jihad leaders each called Abbas on Thursday, the official WAFA news agency reported, telling him they would support his bid to have “Palestine” join the UN as a non-member state. Later, though, a Hamas spokesman denied the conversation ever took place.
Nevertheless, celebratory rallies in Gaza called for national unity and an end to the political divide which has pitted Fatah against Hamas since 2006.
“If someone presents you with a clear agenda, you respect him even if you disagree with his ideas,” says Abu-Ahmad
Any report of Hamas overtures towards Abbas, true or not, would not have been credible just eight days ago. The perceived victory of Gaza’s armed resistance over Israel has given fighting spirit to many Palestinians, new Israeli data shows.
The IDF reported a steep rise in violent activities in the West Bank during the week of fighting in Gaza. Rocks and Molotov cocktails were thrown at civilian cars and a bus was shot at from a passing car near Gush Etzion junction, south of Jerusalem. In Jerusalem’s Old City, a young woman stabbed a soldier on Thursday.
The Palestinian street is quickly slipping into combat mode, inspired by the fighting words emanating from Gaza. Jibril Rajoub, a former Palestinian security chief who speaks fluent Hebrew, appealed to Israel on Channel 2 News Thursday to stop that process by re-engaging the PA, which has favored negotiations over violence.
“For eight years, we’ve not thrown a stone at you from the West Bank,” he said. “What have we gotten from you? We want our state on the 1967 borders … to live in peace alongside the state of Israel.”
‘My brothers, if the death of 163 martyrs including the leader Ahmad Jabari, with thousands of wounded and all [government] institutions destroyed is considered a victory, then by God what is defeat?” Zakarneh wrote on his Facebook page
As demonstrators flocked to the main squares of Ramallah and Hebron to celebrate Hamas’s victory Thursday, Fatah official Bassam Zakarneh was incredulous.
“My brothers, if the death 163 of martyrs including the leader Ahmad Jabari, with thousands of wounded and all [government] institutions destroyed is considered a victory, then by God what is defeat?” Zakarneh wrote on his Facebook page.
But Abu-Ahmad, a 40-year-old hotel employee, sitting on a bench outside Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, had no hesitation when asked who is the big winner of the latest round of violence.
“Of course Hamas won this round,” he said. “Israel certainly came out as the loser. Hamas achieved almost all of its demands, and all Israel got was missiles.”
And the big loser? That’s the Palestinian Authority, which he said won’t be able to recover from the blow it received with the rise of Hamas.
“The Palestinian Authority is out of the picture and will stay out,” said Abu-Ahmad, explaining that the PA has not managed to present a clear vision to the Palestinian people, unlike Hamas. “If someone presents you with a clear agenda, you respect him even if you disagree with his ideas.”
Izz A-Din Sheikh Qassim, bearded and with a white cap traditionally worn by religious Muslims, owns a small shop in the Muslim Quarter where he sells spices and oil. He presented himself as a “a native of Lydda,” (Israel’s city of Lod) although he was born in Jerusalem five years after the war of 1948.
“We are weak and can’t attack them too much, so we agreed to a ceasefire proposed by Israel,” said Qassim. “But if someone is to attack us, we will respond … This is only a ceasefire, we will never recognize Israel.”
For Qassim, who spent three years in an Israeli prison in the late 80s, the choice between the PA’s strategy of a negotiated settlement with Israel and Hamas’s strategy of armed struggle is clear.
“Forget about institutions. Do I need institutions or do I want my land? Why should I go begging from the West for food when I have my own land I can sow?”
Even the language of Al-Quds, a privately-owned daily read by the Palestinian intelligentsia, is beginning to change. An op-ed published by the Jerusalem-based daily Thursday expressed the second thoughts of many Palestinians regarding the possibilities ahead.
“Yes, the blood has triumphed over the sword, and the nation has triumphed over occupation,” wrote columnist Ibrahim Mulhim.
“Hamas may receive funding from abroad, but they produce their weapons themselves. Thank God, they’ve proven their strength”
Um-Issa, waiting for her shoes to be fixed by a local cobbler, considered Hamas’s resilience in the face of Israel’s superior military technology a victory, even if no tangible goals were achieved.
“Hamas may receive funding from abroad, but they produce their weapons themselves. Thank God, they’ve proven their strength,” she said.
She said that Abbas’s negotiations are pointless if they result in giving up the Palestinian right of return — the demand for millions of refugees and their descendants to return to live in Israel.
“Abu-Mazen and Israel come and go negotiating, with no result,” she said, using Abbas’s nom de guerre.
Qassim, the spice vendor, said he is sick of symbolic actions on the part of the Palestinian Authority.
“Abbas’s people put some candles at the Damascus Gate in solidarity with Gaza,” he said with scorn. “Gaza needs you to stand with it! Send it doctors, send it food, cook for the warriors.”