Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Hardened moderation

More flexible on reconciliation with Fatah, Hamas is using its resistance gains against Israel to confirm its refusal of occupation and insistence on liberating all of Palestine, writes Saleh Al-Naami

Al-Ahram Weekly

Journalists were relieved to find a foothold on top of the residential building that overlooks Green Square, in South Al-Rimal district in southern Gaza City, where Hamas held a celebration marking its 25th anniversary Saturday. Atop this building they were able to see the entire scene and estimate how many showed up for the celebration — around 250,000-300,000 people. This is a very large number considering there are 1.5 million Palestinians in the entire Gaza Strip.

Since the early hours vans, cars and motorcycles starting arriving from north and south on Salaheddin Street towards Green Brigade Square. Some even used the three-wheeled tuk-tuk motorcycles and donkey-drawn carts.

Hamas’s celebration this year was unlike any other because for the first time the overseas leadership of the group attended, most prominently Khaled Meshaal, the director of Hamas’s politburo, and his deputy, Moussa Abu Marzouk. Thousands of foreign guests from the Arab and Islamic world were also present, and since not all of them could be housed at the small number of hotels in Gaza, many were guests in the homes of Hamas members.

Looking at the front rows, the diverse nationalities present were striking. There were Egyptians, Mauritanians, Sudanese, Qataris, Malaysians, Britons of Asian ancestry and Turks. Even more interesting was how well they interacted with the events at the celebration although most of them would not know Arabic, and there was no simultaneous translation.

The positions Hamas expressed at the event have profound implications for the future of the conflict with Israel and the future of reconciliation with Fatah. On the reconciliation front, Hamas leaders showed they are very interested in successfully ending divisions, but without compromising on key issues.

Meshaal’s speech at the event and in later statements highlighted this position. He urged national reconciliation and ending divisions as soon as possible, and doing everything to protect national ranks. “We cannot do without Fatah and other factions, just as Fatah cannot do without Hamas,” he said. “We have wronged each other, but we must rise above this and forgive.”

In direct reference that Hamas does not want to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people, Meshaal said: “Palestine is more than any one faction can be responsible for. Reconciliation, national unity and united ranks are fundamental demands; the time has come to turn over the leaf of division and build Palestinian unity.”

Responding to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s demand to hold elections as the starting point for implementing earlier dialogue agreements, Meshaal said: “We support going to ballot boxes; we want elections and national partnership. Hamas supports independent Palestinian national decisions.” He quickly noted, however, that Hamas’s reconciliation priorities differ from Abbas’s priorities, stating that reforming and rebuilding the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) is a top priority for his group.

Meshaal added that Hamas welcomes an Arab role in sponsoring any reconciliation deal. “We are prepared for Palestinian and Arab political consensus on joint political programmes that include the group’s programme,” he said, adding: “Hamas will reject any programme that does not comply with our fundamental nationalist principles.”

To reassure Arab and regional neighbours about Hamas’s choices, its leader said: “A true state is the fruit of liberation not negotiations. We will never accept naturalisation or an alternative homeland or anything other than Palestine. We are not followers of Iran or Syria, and we are not followers of Egypt or Qatar.”

Fatah responded to Meshaal’s speech by underlining Abbas’s priorities. Azzam Al-Ahmed, member of Fatah’s Central Committee and in charge of reconciliation, asked Hamas to allow the Central Elections Committee to operate in the Gaza Strip. Al-Ahmed believes that negotiations “are the starting point for implementing the reconciliation deal between the two groups.”

He added that Abbas is serious about reconciliation, and has in fact invited the secretaries general of factions to meet in Cairo.

While praising Meshaal’s address, Al-Ahmed repeatedly said that the path to reconciliation is elections. Although Hamas’s leadership refuses to publicly criticise Fatah’s positions, some senior members are wondering if Abbas is serious about holding elections since he does not have real sovereignty over the West Bank. This would undermine his ability to provide the necessary conditions for holding elections as Israel continues its raids and arrests.

“How can there be elections at a time when Abbas is still arresting Hamas leaders, and the group is dealt with as if it were an illegal organisation?” one Hamas official said. He further criticised Abbas for not reciprocating the positive steps taken by the Gaza government of releasing all Fatah members arrested because of prior divisions. Gaza also allowed the return of some Fatah members who fled the Gaza Strip.

Regarding reconciliation, Hamas emphasised its position regarding the future of the conflict with Israel in an unprecedented manner. Meshaal called on Arab states to supply the resistance with weapons: “We need your weapons, your funds and your support,” he said, and reiterated the group’s commitment to resistance. “Armed resistance is the true way of liberating Palestine through all means of resistance; we fight those who fight and assault us, our sanctities and our households.”

In what clearly denotes that the group has not changed its political position, Meshaal said: “We believe Palestine, from its sea to its river, is for Palestinians. We will not recognise Israel and will not abandon the right of return. No normalisation or alternative homeland or alternative to Palestine but Palestine.”

He added that: “occupation has no legitimacy no matter how long it lasts; Palestine from its river to its sea, from north to south, is Palestinian land for all Palestinians.”

Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh ambitiously declared that Hamas will begin “to map out an Arab and Islamic strategy to completely liberate all occupied Palestinian land.”

Israel responded quickly. Israeli President Shimon Peres criticised Meshaal’s statements as “revealing the true face of Hamas, which is a terrorist organisation inciting killing… Israel must negotiate with Abbas since he is a relatively moderate leader who rejects terrorism and has chosen the path of negotiations.”

But despite the solid positions of Hamas leaders, it seems Israel is focussed on creating the conditions that could persuade the group to become “moderate”. Yediot Aharonot newspaper revealed Friday that the Israeli government decided to radically change its policies towards the Gaza Strip, including easing the siege. Alex Fishman, the newspaper’s senior military commentator, said that Netanyahu decided to scrap his policy of overthrowing Hamas and instead effectively ease the blockade, “in the hope of coaxing Hamas into the arms of the more moderate Sunni camp of Qatar, Turkey and Egypt, and abandoning the Iran axis.”

Fishman added that new policy measures include “allowing exports and Palestinian labour from Gaza into Israel, as well as current measures to expand the fishing zone and allowing movement in the security belt, as well as the passage of more construction material than in the past.” The writer added that by making this transition in policy, Tel Aviv would abandon the previous notion of partitioning the West Bank from Gaza.

Fishman, however, denounced that Israel could “flirt” with Hamas after the latter humiliated Israel in recent confrontations. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv adopts a hardline position with Abbas who is cooperating with Israel on security issues. The writer further criticised Israel for withholding tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which means that Abbas would not be able to pay the salaries of 25,000 security personnel. In turn, this means security cooperation would end and resistance operations against Israel in the West Bank would restart.

Fishman noted that restoring security in the West Bank without cooperation from PA security agencies would increase Israel’s financial burden by 12 billion shekels ($3.5 billion).

Hamas is intent on making the most of its victory of standing up to Israel and thwarting the recent war on the Gaza Strip, and also integrating the largest segments of Palestinians and convincing them of the fairness of its position by showing flexibility on the issue of reconciliation. The group appears moderate in its position on reconciliation, but is hardened in rejecting any alterations to what it views as sacrosanct fundamentals on domestic issues.

Regarding Israel, the group believes that facts on the ground serve the resistance and its political position that rejects the reality created by occupation.

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