After prisoner swap, Palestinians weigh rival strategies
An air of quiet satisfaction permeates the parliamentary offices of the militant Hamas movement in this city, the seat of the Palestinian Authority and base of the rival Fatah faction.
Israel’s release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners this month in an exchange for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive in the Gaza Strip by Hamas for more than five years, has had a powerful effect across the Palestinian territories, amplifying Hamas’s message of armed confrontation with Israel.
“People come up to us on the street and tell us what a great achievement this is,” said Hassan Yousef, a Hamas leader and legislator who was released in August after six years in Israeli jails. “It’s indescribable, an extraordinary response. People say: ‘God bless you.’ ‘We have no one but you.’ ”
The aftermath of the prisoner release is a moment reminiscent of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The pullout, which followed persistent attacks by militants on Israeli soldiers and settlers, was celebrated by Hamas as a vindication of its strategy of armed conflict with the Israelis.
In similar fashion, the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah touted Israel’s troop withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 after an 18-year presence as a retreat brought about by its assaults on Israeli forces.
The mass prisoner release came shortly after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s trip to the United Nations in September to seek membership for a Palestinian state, a move that won him a surge of popular support.
The two events crystallized the contradictory strategies advocated by Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas: diplomacy on the one hand and violence, or “resistance,” on the other — the two poles between which Palestinians have shuttled during their decades-long conflict with Israel.
As they absorb the impact of the prisoner exchange, Palestinians are again assessing the effectiveness of both strategies…