But with Hamas firmly entrenched in Gaza — and Israel preferring to let things stay that way rather than see Gaza and the West Bank reunited — Islamic Jihad has increasingly taken on the role of the ideological purist agitating for violent conflict with Israel, not compromise.
As Gaza’s ruler, by contrast, Hamas is responsible — like it or not — for keeping the peace, a twist from its past role.
In its early years, when Yasir Arafat’s Fatah movement was the dominant Palestinian power in Gaza, Hamas itself played the same sort of tormentor’s role, attacking Israeli soldiers and civilians and making itself look fierce compared to Fatah, which, through the Palestinian Authority, sought to achieve a negotiated settlement with Israel. Back then, Israel would often punish the authority for Hamas’s actions.
Even today, while Hamas ridicules the Palestinian Authority for its security cooperation with Israel on the West Bank, Islamic Jihad’s roughly 6,000 militants often accuse Hamas of doing much the same thing. Hamas, which is largely held responsible by Gaza residents for the awful conditions there, has been seeking a long-term cease-fire with Israel to ease the Israeli-Egyptian blockade and rebuild Gaza’s economy.
This week, it was Islamic Jihad, for a change, that broached a cease-fire: In a televised interview on Wednesday night, Ziyad al-Nakhalah, the group’s Lebanon-based leader, laid down terms including swearing off future assassinations and stopping the use of live ammunition against Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border fence.
On Thursday morning, Israel confirmed a cease-fire had gone into effect, and there were reports that it had agreed to spurn live fire at the Gaza fence — suggesting Islamic Jihad could earn new bragging rights: Hamas has been sending protesters to be killed at the fence for 19 months, but Islamic Jihad was finally protecting them.