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Hamas and its withdrawal inside the occupied territory

March 13, 2017 at 3:24 pm

The deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh returns to Gaza [Mohammed Asad/middleeastmonitor]

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Hamas will adopt a political document soon that may change the features of the movement’s political and ideological identity. This will coincide with the completion of its committee leadership elections, which are predicted to result in ex-Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh becoming the head of the Hamas political bureau.

With the election of Haniyeh as Khaled Meshaal’s successor, Hamas will have moved its last political force, represented by the head of the movement, inside the occupied country. In doing so, it is following in the footsteps of other central Palestinian factions, such as Fatah, the PFLP, etc., who moved their leaders inside the country in light of the requirement for major national work within, rather than beyond, the borders of Palestine.

Such a move was basically imposed upon Hamas, as it is limited in where else it can go; not all Arab states are an option, especially post-Arab Spring, with some regimes toppled and others shaken, which sparked local and regional disputes. Although Hamas is a Palestinian resistance movement, it has not succeeded in isolating itself from such disputes due to its moral and ideological involvement with some of the disputing parties, especially in Egypt and Syria.

The developing regional situation, although changeable and temporary, is a window of opportunity for Israel to expedite its colonial dream of legitimising its occupation of all of historic Palestine. It has neutralised the Arab countries concerned with the Palestinian cause, exploited Arab contradictions to perpetuate the geographical and political divide in Palestine, and used the divide to continue to isolate the Gaza Strip and contain the West Bank; it has annexed parts of the latter and kept other areas under a cantonal authority and security coordination.

Thousands of people gather to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the foundation of Hamas in Khan Yunis, Gaza on December 11 2016 [Ali Jadallah / Anadolu Agency]

Thousands of people gather to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the foundation of Hamas in Khan Yunis, Gaza on December 11 2016 [Ali Jadallah / Anadolu Agency]

Israel has invested in the regional isolation of Hamas, given its unstable relations in Damascus and Beirut due to the situation in Syria; the deterioration of its relationship with the Egyptian regime led by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi; and the power struggle being waged with Fatah and the PA in Ramallah. The Zionist state has used this situation to impose a blockade on Hamas and the Gaza Strip, which is more or less governed by the movement. Israel has also used this situation to weaken the PA led by Mahmoud Abbas and deepen its subordination, by coordinating with Al-Sisi’s regime publicly to besiege Hamas, while Cairo is coordinating with Muhammed Dahlan to weaken Abbas’s authority. This will ultimately mean the marginalisation of the Palestinian factor and its exclusion from the conflict equations in the region.

The political document that will be approved by Hamas’s committees next month will support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, but without recognition of Israel. The movement will also declare that it is entirely separate from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hamas will try, by means of the document — which has been under discussion for nearly two years — to redefine itself in a manner that aligns with the latest developments and challenges it faces. In doing so, the movement is seeking to find a way out of the crises in its relations with regional and Western countries, and end its Arab and international isolation.

Although Hamas refuses to regard the document as a replacement for its founding charter published 29 years ago — it insists that it complements the charter — the experiences of other Palestinian movements, such as Fatah and the PLO, tells us a lot about the controversy of such a relationship. “The document will provide an identity for Hamas,” explain local sources from the movement, “because it was written with the aim to make amendments to the charter while taking into account the current situation of this movement, that has become large, widespread, is governing Gaza, has a number of branches in the region, and has relationships and rivalries, which is completely different to its situation as an emerging movement 30 years ago.”

The document will extend bridges between Hamas, Western countries, the PA and Israel by agreeing to the establishment of a state on the 1967 borders, “without recognising Israel or conceding the land.” It will also stress the rights of Palestinian refugees, which is an issue Hamas agreed on with Fatah during its reconciliation talks.

Furthermore, the document will use the word “occupiers” instead of “Jews” in order to deflect accusations of anti-Semitism directed against Hamas. It will specify that the conflict is with the occupation, and will not mention “the Jews” per se as enemies.

The severing of any organisational ties between the movement and any third party or group is a specific reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas, the document will state, is an independent Palestinian, Muslim and national organisation with its own decision-making, and its relations with all other parties are based on their proximity to Palestine. The movement is making it clear that it will not interfere in any internal affairs related to any country, party or group, and that its resistance is aimed solely at the cause of the conflict; that is, the Israeli occupation.

“Disowning” the Muslim Brotherhood not only aims to overcome any international accusations of terrorism directed against Hamas and the removal of its name from the international terrorism lists, but also to build bridges and restore its relationship with the Egyptian government. Cairo, after all, controls one of the Gaza Strip’s two windows to the world — the Rafah Border Crossing — while Israel controls the other.

The document in question, along with the qualitative shift in Hamas’s ideological and political approaches, will be accompanied by changes in its leadership structure and the move of the centre of its political weight inside the country. Moreover, it will be a sound base upon which to end the division and unite the Palestinians around national issues. It will also be a permit allowing Hamas to pass through regional and international crossings if it wants to consolidate and establish its authority in the Gaza Strip.

Finally, it has to be said that no sane person would believe that the movement will “abandon” its strategic programme and ideological aspects and hand over the governance of the Gaza Strip to Mahmoud Abbas.

Translated from Arab48, 9 March 2017

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