Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"Hamas and the world, one year later," BitterLemons, February 5, 2007 Edition 5.

Yossi Alpher:

About two decades ago, Israelis still refused to recognize the PLO, Fateh activists pledged "armed struggle" and both sides rejected a final status agreement based on a two-state solution. Then, Israelis and PLO activists commenced a long process of narrowing the gaps by discussing their policy differences, to a point of mutual recognition and joint acquiescence in a two-state solution as reflected in the Oslo agreement and those that followed.

A similar process, many reasoned, was possible with Hamas. The day-to-day tasks of running a Palestinian quasi-state would take the sharp edges off the Islamist movement's ideology and its leaders would gradually come to terms with the need to compromise with Israel. To show them the way, a set of three conditions was imposed by Israel and the Quartet. If Hamas would recognize Israel's right to exist, accept
previous agreements with Israel signed by the PLO and cease violent activities, Israel and the world would engage it politically. If Hamas rejected the conditions, both financial aid and recognition would be withheld.

The year that has elapsed since that juncture has witnessed the failure of this approach.

With the passage of time, it becomes increasingly pointless to apportion the blame for Hamas' rise to power. Israel undoubtedly contributed; so did Fateh. America's mindless democratization campaign actually put Hamas in office. Of far greater relevance is the question, what to do about Hamas. Will force work in removing an Islamist menace, as the Ethiopians showed in Somalia? Can Israel bypass and eventually neutralize Hamas by negotiating with Abbas? Or is Lebanon, where force
has failed and stalemate prevails, a more telling precedent?

Ghassan Khatib:

Hamas was helped immensely by Israel's refusal to end its expansion
of illegal Jewish settlements during the years of the peace process.


Palestinians were easily convinced that the government's shortcomings
and inability to fulfill its obligations and meet its promises could be blamed on the international community and Israel rather than Hamas, and the movement did not suffer a public backlash.


Hamas, at this late stage in the game, cannot both accept the parameters of Oslo by running in elections for control of the PA and want to change them by denying the legitimacy of the Oslo agreement that created this body.

At the same time, all other interested parties, inside or outside Palestine, have to shape their policies around the fact that Hamas came to power through free and legitimate democratic elections. In turn, that must be the only way the movement loses power.

Reuven Paz:

[The Hamas victory] was reminiscent of Algeria in 1991, when the Front for Islamic Salvation were winning the first free elections ever held in the Arab world and then confronted a military dictatorship supported by France and the US. In the case of Hamas, victory generated a global boycott, led by the US, aimed at strangling the new government until its slow death.


It entered the electionsafter about seven months of a hudna or (relative) ceasefire with Israel. The veteran leadership was almost entirely dead; the movement did not have any prominent local leader; and the new ministers who formed the government were in fact a collective leadership of people hitherto involved only in the Hamas social infrastructure, alongside some technocrats. Local figures such as Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahar suddenly had a chance to promote themselves to positions of real leadership.

These factors bear emphasis insofar as they point to an element that has always been
ignored by both Israel and the United States regarding Hamas. The movement provides
the only authentic social leadership in the PA and is the closest to the public.
Hamas has always been the most sensitive seismograph of the Palestinian mood,
especially in Gaza, even as it has always attempted to move Palestinian public
opinion toward its Islamic creed.

It has, in turn, also been shaped by the public. The best example, an issue well
understood by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, is Hamas' focus on local struggle only, within
the boundaries of Palestine, and its prioritizing of withdrawal by Israel to the
1967 border and the establishment of an independent state. These positions do not
coincide with the movement's 1988 charter, its declared ideological slogans and the
indoctrination of its cadres. Hamas, it emerges, has placed pragmatic constraints
upon itself in order always to keep the door open to the public's wishes.


...the reality of the past year was that Israel, the United States, most of the Arab world including the Saudis, and Europe--albeit with a lot of reservations--joined in pushing the Hamas local collective leadership into the arms of Iran, Khaled Meshaal and other hard-liners who in turn presented themselves as the only defenders of the Palestinian people.

Reuven Paz is founder and director of PRISM, the Project for the Research of Islamist Movements at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.

Taher al-Nuno:

bitterlemons: The international community, led by the US, has boycotted the
government until the government accepts its three conditions. What is unacceptable
about these conditions?

Nuno: They are simply unjust. Recognize Israel? Which Israel? Are there any specific
borders for this Israel ? What about Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights?
Does Israel recognize Palestinian rights? All these questions must be answered.

Regarding previous agreements signed with Israel: given that the Israeli side has
refused to adhere to them, why should we? Israel has cancelled these agreements by
reoccupying the West Bank, besieging Gaza and killing and arresting, on a daily
basis, our people. Why should we be committed to agreements that no one respects and
that the international community itself is not enforcing?

Finally, the government has condemned violence but it makes a distinction between
violence and legitimate resistance. Resisting foreign occupation is the right of any
occupied people.


The whole world should understand that the key to security and stability in the region is to honor the results of our elections and the rights of the Palestinian people....We recently sent a letter to the Quartet calling on them to engage in a serious dialogue to achieve security and stability in the region. We hope that the message will find receptive ears.

Taher al-Nuno is media advisor to Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar.

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