The latest round of fighting is remarkable in what did not happen. There weren’t automatic mass demonstrations against Israel and the West. No major riots or countless photographs of Israeli and American flags on fire across the region. No violence against diplomatic facilities. Even though Fatah fired missiles, there was no large-scale uprising in the West Bank.
The Islamists were unable to whip up the masses with the ease of flicking a light switch. Instead, flickers of the truth are penetrating minds saturated with anti-Western propaganda.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas even publicly criticized Hamas on Palestinian television, accusing the group of provoking “unnecessary deaths” and “trading in Palestinian blood” by firing rockets at Israel. Hamas responded by accusing him of “aiding the enemy” and acting like a “criminal.”
The Palestinian Authority’s representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council even acknowledged that Hamas is committing war crimes by targeting civilians and contrasted that with how Israel is following international law by warning residents before strikes so as to minimize civilian casualties.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, a non-profit organization based in Gaza City, is no friend to Israel by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, even this group reported on how Israel is giving civilians in targeted structures time to flee by giving them advance notice through warning shots and even calling their phones.
Hamas is being held responsible for its provocations and Islamists' calls to action are being ignored (at least for now). This is a huge development.
The change is most apparent in Egypt, now led by President El-Sisi, who is stridently anti-Hamas.
El-Sisi has done the bare minimum required of an Arab leader to protest Israel’s actions. His government’s light condemnation told Israel to “contain the situation by ceasing all military operations, showing maximum self-restraint.” There was no stoking of the anti-Western flames or defense of Hamas.
El-Sisi did not bash Israel even on the anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, an inherently anti-Israel event. By contrast, Egyptian television hosts are raging against Hamas, with one emphasizing that you can support the Palestinian cause without supporting Hamas.
The assistant-editor of Egypt’s largest newspaper, Al-Ahram, thanked the Israeli Prime Minister on Twitter for his “good deeds” and said, “May our Lord make lots of people like you to eliminate Hamas—the Muslim Brotherhood’s source for corruption, betrayal and treason.”
Another Egyptian journalist, Hayah al-Dardiri, railed against Hamas, saying, “The Egyptian people want their armed forces to hit the nests of terror in the Gaza Strip and destroy Hamas through harsh military actions.”
Skeptics will question the genuineness of these comments and argue that they are reflective of an editorial line set by El-Sisi’s government. That misses the point.
The point is that the dialogue has changed in a much more positive direction. The Islamists are no longer automatically supported. This critical examination of the Islamists’ narratives can start cleansing the toxic environment that perpetually fuels the conflict.
Poll numbers show an opening for a vital contrasting of views to take place.
Although 60% of Palestinians oppose permanent recognition of Israel’s right to exist and want their leaders to pursue its elimination, that number is relatively low when you consider the propaganda the Palestinians have been inundated with. Forty percent is enough for a real debate to occur.
While 60% of Palestinians will only accept Israel’s destruction, the same exact percentage of Israelis say they would support a peace agreement creating a Palestinian state. Only 32% oppose of Israelis would not.
Fortunately, polls show that Hamas is on a downward track. Hamas originally won the Palestinian elections of 2006 with 44%. The terrorist group’s popularity among Palestinians heightened to 62% in 2007.
Now, the latest Pew poll shows that only 35% of Palestinians have a favorable view of Hamas. About 63% of those in Gaza and 47% of those in the West Bank have an unfavorable view. That means that the political position of Hamas has done a 180 degree turn.
The survey also found that 65% of Palestinians worry about Islamic extremism, consisting of 79% of those in the Gaza Strip and 57% of the West Bank. Notice the correlation between this statistic and unfavorable attitudes towards Hamas. This indicates that opposition to Hamas is driven by the group’s ideological extremism and not governmental issues like economic policy.
Unfortunately, while a majority of Palestinians now reject Hamas, a majority still supports one of Hamas’s main terrorist tactics: Suicide bombing of civilian targets. About 46% of Palestinians say that suicide bombing civilians is always or sometimes justified. Another 13% said it is rarely justified.
Approximately 32% of Palestinians say that suicide bombings of civilians is never justifiable, consisting of 21% of those in Gaza and 38% of those in the West Bank. This is a sizeable minority, especially when you consider the level of indoctrination that has taken place.
Pew observes that Hamas’s support is falling day by day outside the Palestinian territories.
About 80% of Turks; 65% of Lebanese Sunnis; 61% of Jordanians and Egyptians and 42% of Tunisians have unfavorable opinions of Hamas. Its unfavorable ratings have risen 12% in Tunisia, 9% in Turkey and 8% in Egypt over the past year.
It’s hard to feel optimistic when you read stories of Israeli children running to bomb shelters and Palestinian civilian casualties. But if you look closely, there are trends that portend a better future.
See a journalist in Lebanon explain why the Arab world is not running to support Hamas in the current conflict:
See also: Al Jazeera’s Gaza Fatalities Data Indicates Israel Killed Mostly Combatant-Age Males, Not Women or Children
and, from The Washington Post editorial board, Hamas is playing a dangerous game with Gazan lives
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.