Anniversaries are usually times for both celebration and soul-searching. The 29th anniversary of the launch of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) is no exception. Despite many setbacks, including the assassinations by Israel of its founding leaders, the movement has become one of the most formidable political forces in Palestine.
As it approaches its third decade, though, there remains a huge gap between Hamas’ ideals and today’s realities. Most glaringly, Israel’s seizure and occupation of Palestinian land continues apace. So too does its detention, torture and unlawful killing of Palestinians on an almost daily basis. Likewise the Zionist state’s attempts to change the character of occupied Jerusalem.
Undeterred by all of this, Hamas has, to its credit, remained firmly committed to the same target of the liberation of occupied Palestine that it proclaimed back in December 1987. That said, none of its achievements can overshadow or conceal the enormous difficulties confronting the broader Palestinian national movement. Throughout the past ten years, no tangible steps have been taken to carry out the long overdue reformation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). This is unlikely to happen in the near future, unless its largest faction — the secular Fatah — resolves its internal differences and reconciles with Hamas, which is yet to become a full-fledged member of the PLO after 29 years.
As it stands, the struggle for the leadership of Fatah appears to be no longer simply an internal matter. A demand from the Arab Quartet — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE — for President Mahmoud Abbas to readmit his former aide Mohammed Dahlan into Fatah’s ranks have been rejected outright. Since rebuffing the Quartet’s proposal, Abbas has been effectually sidelined.
The escalating infighting within Fatah has seemingly worked to the advantage of Hamas. Both parties to the dispute have now abandoned their hostility towards the Islamic movement and adopted what can best be described as the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
While Abbas’s faction within Fatah invited Hamas to its recently concluded Seventh Conference and allowed its representative to speak at the opening ceremony, Dahlan has matched this with a contrite public admission that Hamas was “subjected to oppression in Gaza” and that “Fatah should have accepted the result of the 2006 elections and handed over power to them [Hamas].”
However much this may be seen as a vindication of its past positions, Hamas should not take such apparent changes of heart as reasons for celebration or hubris. While not hastening to make judgements, it must ascertain that these overtures are genuine and not instigated by Abbas because he feels threatened.
Thirteen years ago, the late President Yasser Arafat was forced to appoint Abbas as prime minister under very similar circumstances. Right until the very end, the autocratic Arafat tried to limit the powers of the new office. He even tried, without success, to insert a clause that would have granted him the final say over Cabinet appointments.
This bloodless coup against Arafat was instigated by his erstwhile foe, Ariel Sharon, who was then Israel’s newly-elected prime minister. Sharon convinced the Bush administration that the Palestinian leader was resisting reforms demanded by the US “Road Map”. Elliot Abrams recalls that after the deal was done and Abbas was installed as Prime Minister, George W Bush called President Mubarak of Egypt, Jordan’s King Abdullah and the then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to inform them that the Road Map would be unveiled and that he needed their help now that Arafat was out of the way. He claimed that installing a credible Palestinian prime minister with real powers — Abbas — was a prerequisite for unveiling the US Road Map for Palestinian statehood.
As we now know, Bush’s Road Map was a diplomatic scam and the dream of Palestinian statehood remains unfulfilled. Even with presidential powers, Abbas has failed to stem the tide of Israeli settlement expansion on Palestinian land, let alone establish a functional state thereon. Current attempts to isolate and marginalise him politically must be a chilling reminder of what was done to Arafat. Again, the circumstances are strikingly similar.
Yet, instead of using these disturbing developments to score immediate political points it is important that Hamas uses the occasion of its 29 anniversary to initiate an inclusive dialogue for the long term. After all the sacrifices of its martyrs and supporters it must demonstrate that it has truly come of age by ensuring the predominance of the national interests over that of the movement.
As it has worked to preserve the hopes and aspirations of an entire generation, Hamas must now go one step further and guide them to bring about national unity, institutional reforms, structures and improved capabilities to end the Israeli occupation.
A statement by the movement to mark its 29th anniversary reaffirmed its commitment to these goals. It emphasised that in as much as it values unity, inclusion and democratic values, it was not prepared to compromise any of the founding beliefs or goals it set itself back in December 1987.
After coming of age at 29, Hamas must now go beyond the demands of survival and focus on the strategic goals of its founders. This is the least that those who gave their lives for the cause deserve from their successors.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.