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Hamas is going through a suffocating crisis but it's not weak and could still shuffle its cards

January 24, 2014 at 4:23 am

No one, neither inside or outside the occupied territories, would argue over whether or not the Islamic Resistance movement, Hamas, was living through a severe political and economic crisis. However, they would argue over how to resolve the crisis, at least partially if not completely.

Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s Prime Minister and deputy head of the Hamas Political Bureau, tried to answer this question in a long, strong, and comprehensive, hour and a half speech. The speech was prepared by Haniyeh and a number of assistants, who sought help from politicians in a number of Arab and foreign countries. The answer, however, did not completely satisfy some observers because of its vagueness and attempts to consider the sensitive nature of the internal affairs.

There are three main points that summarise aspects of the crisis and propose solution that are hard to ignore, from this speech:

  • He first referred to the internal Palestinian situation, as he reiterated the movement’s constant inclusion of the right of return and the establishment of a state on the entire historical Palestinian territory. He called on President Mahmoud Abbas to make a joint effort and to work together in order to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian refugees everywhere, as well as to discuss the mechanisms of applying a reconciliation agreement, ending the division, forming a national unity government, and setting the dates for legislative, presidential and the PNC elections.
  • He then addressed relations with Egypt and said that the Palestinian rifle was only pointed towards Israel, and stressed that Hamas has no hand in the incidents in the Sinai, only wishing good, security, unity, and stability for Egypt. He also said that they only expected support and refuge from Egypt and called for incitement and accusations against Hamas to be ended.
  • He also focused on relations with Syria, as Haniyeh said, without giving names, “We have expressed and continue to express our position in terms of principles and adhering to our moral position supporting the people and their right to freedom and dignity, and oppose anything leading to their bloodshed at the hands of any party.” He also added “Hamas does not feel it is in a dilemma and needs to pay the price to resolve it, and it does not regret or apologise for assuming these honourable positions in order to satisfy anyone. We have not overstepped anyone nor have we deceived anyone and we are not mistaken in the direction of our compass and course”, a clear response to President Bashar al- Assad, who had accused Hamas of deceit.

Haniyeh’s remarks on Egypt and the PA in Ramallah were conciliatory, but not so on Syria, or even Iran, which he did not address during his speech. This reflected a retreat from the path initiated by Khaled Meshaal, when he urged the Syrian opposition to abandon their arms and return to peaceful uprising and dialogue, and if they needed to carry arms, it should be used to liberate al-Aqsa Mosque. The Syrian Islamic Army and President al – Assad, both attacked Meshaal for this and accused his movement of deceit.

The Palestinian Authority responded to the olive branch extended by Ismail Haniyeh by not only ignoring it, but also ridiculing it, contrasting the responses of the other Palestinian factions such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front, who welcomed him and his positive points. Fatah’s spokesperson, Ahmed Assaf, said that the speech did not contain anything new and accused Hamas of hindering the reconciliation. It seems that Fatah was angered by his criticism of the negotiations, which Haniyeh felt had been dictated by the Americans.

The Egyptian government remained silent in response to the speech and ignored it because it regards Hamas as an enemy. Hamas’s crisis with Egypt will most likely not witness a breakthrough before the blockade is lifted and the crackdown on its ally, the Muslim Brotherhood, is relieved and its detainees are released, beginning with President Mohamed Morsi.

There is no doubt that Haniyeh’s intentions in the speech were good, but good intentions do not have a place in the complex game of politics. Perhaps it was the intervention of some Arab parties who asked Haniyeh to go back to the movement’s first position on Syria suggests that Meshaal’s approach to the crisis was better than that of Mahmoud Zahar’s tough approach. This is particularly the case, after the failure of efforts to arrange their first visit to Iran and after President Bashar al-Assad vetoed his return to Damascus and accused him of deceit against Hamas, which was a clear refusal to respond to conciliatory messages.

Though I disagree with Haniyeh’s denial of the existence of a crisis within Hamas, but I do agree that it is not weak, the movement is still very popular in Gaza and the West Bank. It can still turn the tables on everyone who wants to suffocate and kill the movement. It is still a resistance movement and its military wing (Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades) is still strong.

When Haniyeh hints at the ignition of a new Intifada, everyone must listen, because it is coming and indications of it are clear, as military operations in the West Bank increase. Most importantly, the PA is not in an ideal situation at the moment with the recent revelation of the 70 per cent increase in settlements and their failure to make any progress in the negotiations because of Israel’s insistence on its recognition as a Jewish state, not to mention its failure to discuss the issue of borders along with the other impossible conditions imposed by Israel.

Hamas needs to adopt several immediate positions, beginning with putting an end to its statements that are prone to different interpretations. Secondly, it must not repeat its pleading with the military rule in Egypt, despite our awareness of their ability to suffocate the Gaza Strip even more, because such pleading is useless and falls on deaf ears. Thirdly, it must stay away from what is known as the Arab camp of moderation and keep in mind its setbacks and the fact that it contributed to its suffocation. Even if it does not want to return to its former camp, on which it turned its back last February when the leadership left Damascus and moved to Qatar and Morsi’s Egypt, believing that the Syrian regime days were numbered and that it would fall and that Iran would be erased from existence by U.S. and Israeli raids. This has not happened yet, and will not, at least, in the foreseeable future.

This is a translation of the Arabic text published by on 21 October, 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.