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Hamas and recognition: goals and cautions

January 25, 2014 at 12:20 am

The clampdown on Hamas continues: despite some clear sky here and there, the demands are the same; recognition of Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for recognition of the movement’s legitimacy. It must choose between staying in power by recognising Israel or abandoning its democratic mandate as a punishment for its failure to comply with the will of the western world.

It is American logic of power against the power of Palestinian logic and was repeated more than once recently to Hamas, first in Hebrew, then in English and then in Turkish. Arab voices were raised years ago.

But what is different this time? Is the US administration trying something new with Hamas? Did the Islamic Movement not analyse the situation carefully enough? Hamas appears to have been forced to pay the price for dealing with west, particularly the USA, and at the very least the UN.

Underlying causes

The reality is that the events of the past few weeks have not changed the relationship between the “international community” and the Palestinians, apart from the following general points:

1. Washington, the European Union and the United Nations have alluded to the need for Hamas to accept the peace process, even though it has been paralysed for a long time. At the same time, there has been an opportunity for the west to obtain Palestinian recognition of Israel with Hamas providing “the Muslim religious cloak” which carries with it special significance, not least because of the Hamas belief that the conflict with the Zionist state is ideological; a “conflict of existence, not borders”.

2. This pressure is still accompanied by a financial blockade, which increases the severity of the crisis facing Hamas. The opening of the Rafah crossing eases this slightly, but not much; the blockade is still in place from the west as a means of punishing the Palestinians for electing Hamas in the first place.

3. Some analysts are predicting how long it will take for Hamas to recognise Israel and there is an expectation that there may be some linguistic and rhetorical formulas to allow this to happen. Hamas, however, is in no hurry and should not, I believe, turn Palestinian politics into a commodity to be sold at international auction to the highest bidder.

It is no secret that Hamas has always led an ideological, political and militant campaign against the recognition of Israel, regarding it as a “cancerous growth that must be eradicated”. The state’s disappearance is “inevitable” and Hamas cites religious texts in this regard. This is an essential aspect of the Hamas discourse and it will not be an easy task for it to change overnight. A movement which did so would not be Hamas; it would be something else and would have to be renamed. It is clear that Hamas is being asked to pay a heavy price to follow international demands; its intellectual and ideological base would be eroded.

Such demands are exaggerated, especially if the blockade is kept in place and even if and when the so-called “technocrats” interim government is formed. Keeping Hamas’s back to the wall and stripping it of political options will mean that the movement has little choice but to commit political suicide if it wants to take part in the political process accepted by the west. And yet, Israel has been recognised by the Palestinians and it remains the most heavily-armed state in the region – a nuclear armed state, no less. Why, then, is there so much pressure for a political group to recognise such a state? I suggest that what lies behind this demand is the push for the political annihilation of the movement because Israel has failed to defeat Hamas militarily, despite its clear superiority in military capability.


Looking at the recent media and political analysis, one is hard-pressed to find any sympathetic approach to Hamas. There are fears, therefore, that this relatively young movement is being lined up for destruction in its prime by disruption, intimidation and containment. Whatever happens, Hamas should not fall into the trap of offering recognition of Israel and getting nothing in return; this has been the mistake of others before Hamas who lost the public trust and faced defeat at the ballot box.

There is uncertainty about responding to the demands for Hamas recognition of Israel at a time when the occupying power is still hostile to the population of Palestine. Although there appears to be a general move towards such recognition, I am even more convinced that no such response should be forthcoming; some of the more important reasons are:

1. The experience of the Palestinian resistance and its role in the conflict as well as its achievements is a distinguished phenomenon worthy of further analysis. This would demonstrate the facts about the movement and the influences behind its formation. There are lessons to be earned therein by any people struggling against an occupying force.

2. Hamas is characterized by stressing resistance as a priority unaffected by internal developments, except to the extent that they may protect, support and strengthen it; this, despite being harassed and attacked in the interests of Israeli “security”. It has a strong field presence, quality operations, the ability to develop its means and carry out a daily war of attrition against the Israeli army; political opposition to the peace process; and tactical speech influenced by the will of the Palestinian people keen to stick by their rights. The latter are not subject to negotiation.

3. What is required of Hamas in the context of recognition is that it deals with issues on the ground without being drawn into the recognition dialogue. This is especially important given that the vision of the resistance movement is built on basic premises which cannot be waived, no matter how tempting that might be.

Expected interpretation

The refusal to give legitimacy to the state of Israel is based primarily on the role it plays for western domination in the region; that is why it has always received US and European support. Israel is there to keep the Palestinians divided between those who are Israeli citizens, those in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and those in the diaspora.

In looking at the history of Hamas we find that it has tried to respond to the prevailing political milieu created by refusing to bend before the will of the Israelis and their sponsors. The liberation of Palestine has been at the core of its work, as has trying to ensure that the Zionist state could not reap any benefits from its illegal settlement policy and other aggression against the Palestinians.

The imbalance in power between the occupier and the occupied makes it logical for Hamas to reject recognition of Israel; by what logic should the victim give recognition to the criminal? Those who have cooperated with the occupation authorities in order to maintain their own political positions and interests have breached Palestinian national sovereignty in the process.

There are some who now bet on the weakening of Hamas through the recognition of Israel and the return of a weak Palestinian Authority in thrall to the occupation. However, success will not come unless those involved stick to the inviolable principles, regardless of the action of other factions.
Finally, it is necessary for Hamas leaders to remember that the Palestinian people are watching them carefully; they will not accept any conduct from Hamas which clashes with the mass consciousness. The leadership has to keep in mind that there are millions of Palestinians at home and abroad who support the choice of resistance and that behind them are millions more Arabs, Muslims and others. Hamas should hold out and not accept unfavourable conditions for recognition of the Zionist state. Such a path may look difficult but it will be more beneficial in the long run.

*The author is a Palestinian writer. This article was first published in Arabic by Al Jazeera

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