Israel has pledged to "destroy Hamas"

The Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. Neighboring countries warn that an invasion and ground war would result in more civilian casualties and displace approximately 2.3 million Gaza residents from their homes. But there is another concern: if or when Hamas is removed from power in Gaza, who or what will replace it?

What is Hamas? Hamas is a militant group formed in 1987 as an offshoot of the political movement "Muslim Brotherhood." The United States has designated it as a terrorist organization since 1997, and many other countries, including Israel and most of Europe, view it in the same way.

The U.S. government accuses Iran of providing most of the funding, weapons, and training to Hamas. "During periods of significant Iranian-Hamas cooperation, Iran's support to Hamas has been estimated at $300 million per year, but basic estimates by many put it in the tens of millions of dollars per year," the U.S. Treasury Department stated in its 2019 report.

The militant group and its armed wing, the "Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades," have carried out attacks on Israel for many years, including suicide bombings.

In its 1988 charter, Hamas stated its aim to destroy the state of Israel and establish an Islamic society in historic Palestine. In 2017, it published a new document accepting the idea of a temporary Palestinian state.

Hamas is one of the two major Palestinian political parties, alongside Fatah.

Who Governs Gaza and the West Bank? The Gaza Strip and the much larger West Bank, occupied by Israel, are the two main Palestinian territories, but they are governed separately.

In 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords, a historic agreement that established limited self-rule within a new entity called the Palestinian Authority (PA) for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

In the 2006 elections held in both territories, Hamas won a majority of seats in the PA's legislative body, but its political rivals from the Fatah faction refused to recognize the results and pushed out the most extremist Hamas politicians.

This led to violence in Gaza, Hamas's historical stronghold, and a rift between the two Palestinian territories. By 2007, Hamas had taken control of PA institutions in Gaza and governed the coastal enclave, which it continues to do today.

Fatah continues to govern the West Bank through the Palestinian Authority, but the territory remains under Israeli security forces' occupation. Fatah and its leader, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, have become deeply unpopular among many Palestinians. In both Gaza and the West Bank, there is significant mistrust of Fatah and the PA, which, when established, agreed to help locate members of the "Palestinian Resistance" and hand them over to Israel.

Palestinian legislative elections have not been held in either territory since 2006, and Abbas refused to hold the election that was supposed to take place in 2021. Hamas officials accused him of a "coup" for blocking elections that, as he knew, Fatah was likely to lose.

If Israel destroys Hamas, who will govern Gaza? Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated that Israel's operation in Gaza will consist of three stages.

First, he said Israel will conduct a "military campaign, which currently includes strikes, and later will include maneuvers to neutralize terrorists and destroy Hamas infrastructure." The second stage, according to him, will focus on "eliminating pockets of resistance" in the Gaza Strip.

"The third stage," Gallant said, "will require Israel to disclaim responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip and create a new security reality for the citizens of Israel."

However, it is unclear what this means for the residents of Gaza.