HAMAS RECENTLY launched what the AP described as a “charm offensive’’ in Gaza, which it controls, to celebrate the anniversary of its founding. It has swept streets, had its security forces visit homes and schools to build friendly relations with citizens, and even handed out cards signed “from Hamas with love.’’
But all this PR is unlikely to change a fundamental fact about Hamas: It has never been a particularly popular movement among Palestinians. Even under what can be described as favorable polling conditions for Hamas (not everyone feels safe speaking out against a violent militant movement), at its peak the group only garnered an approval rating of a tick over 50 percent, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research — and this number has since dropped precipitously. Three and a half years after Hamas won sole control over Gaza, ousting Fatah following the dissolution of the newly elected Hamas-Fatah unity government, the citizens there don’t seem particularly thrilled about Hamas’s imposition of conservative Islamic stances on social issues, its repression of its political enemies, or the extent to which it has hampered the chances of a peace deal with its militant anti-Israel rhetoric.
Hamas isn’t the sole cause of Gazan suffering — the restrictive Israeli and Egyptian blockades continue to wreak havoc, months after both nations said they would be loosened — but the group has proven it doesn’t deserve much respect from its people. Candy and cleaning won’t elevate Hamas in the eyes of Palestinians. A reformation of the group’s hardest-line tendencies, however unlikely that may be, would be a much better approach.