“Hamas made one really truly fateful decision, which was to side with the Syrian people against the Assad regime,” Frankel said. “In the end they made the right decision and are now reaping the benefit.”
Last December, senior Hamas leaders confirmed that they’d begun moving their base of operations out of Syria, where they’d been headquartered since 1999. Citing growing unrest in Syria, Hamas has since spoken out openly against Syrian President Bashar Assad and called the ongoing violence in Syria a “massacre.”
The break from Syria also meant a distancing from their alliance with Iran. As the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power in Egypt, Hamas had a natural friend and ally on the border with the Gaza Strip, Frankel said.
“Hamas self-identifies as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. So it’s natural for their support base to be there,” Frankel said. “Their success right now is based on the fact that the Islamists are rising across the region, and Hamas by virtue of that is rising with the tide.”
In the West Bank, where Hamas still hides many of its activities and faces constant crackdowns by Israeli and Palestinian security officials, many think that Hamas could easily secure a wide majority in future elections.
“There is no doubt, if you walk through the Palestinian street, that they want Hamas to lead them,” said a Hamas organizer in the West Bank city of Hebron who asked not to be quoted by name in order to protect his identity. “No matter how often Israel or the Palestinian thugs from Fatah arrest us, our numbers continue to grow.”
Hebron, with its proximity to southern Israel and Gaza, has always been a bastion of support for Hamas, but officials there said recent developments had made the movement popular even among moderates.
“What does Fatah accomplish? Nothing. What does Hamas accomplish? Everything the people demand,” the organizer said.
He listed as one such accomplishment the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Gaza militants held until Israel agreed to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for his return. Another: the ability to fire rockets from Gaza that struck near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during the most recent battle with Israel.
“For each rocket that hit at central Israel, we won the support of another million people,” he said, admitting that the number “could be inaccurate.”
“We brought Israel to its knees,” the organizer said, crediting Israel’s willingness to negotiate a cease-fire to the rocket threat to central Israel, where 40 percent of Israelis live.
Some Israelis agree. “Is this a gift for Hamas?” asked an editorial about the cease-fire in one of Israel’s most prominent daily newspapers, Yediot Ahronot.
Only a few weeks later, Israel lashed out at Fatah’s West Bank government over its new status before the United Nations with a series of punishing measures, including the announcement of plans for new settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“What is the final lesson here? Reward Hamas with a cease-fire and punish Fatah for an internationally supported initiative at the U.N.? Israel needs to question its endgame,” one European diplomat said in a news briefing. Under the briefing’s rules, the diplomat couldn’t be identified further. “If you didn’t know better, you’d say Israel was supporting Hamas.”