In recent months, Hamas has held a number of public political conferences in which it discussed its future, its internal and external developments, and its political and military relations. These conferences were attended by a number of its leader in Gaza, while many of its leaders abroad gave speeches via satellite. Dozens of Palestinian researchers from inside and outside Palestine participated in the conferences.
In September 2018, the Gaza Strip witnessed the convening of the first international conference titled “Hamas 30 years on: reality and hopes”, attended by the head of the political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, its former head, Khaled Meshaal, former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, and a member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Mohamed Ould Dewdew, along with intellectuals, scientists, writers and national and factional figures.
Later in July 2019, the Hamas political office in Gaza held a political conference titled “Hamas and the critical challenges”, to discuss the challenges facing Hamas and how to overcome them.
This conference was attended by several senior Hamas officials and figure, most notably: Maher Salah, head of Hamas abroad, Moussa Abu Marzouk, head of the international relations office, Hossam Badran, head of the Hamas national relations office, Khaled Meshaal, former head of the political bureau, Osama Hamdan, former Hamas representative in Lebanon, and Suhail Al-Hindi, a member of the Hamas political bureau.
The papers submitted to these conferences focused on studying Hamas’ history and presenting a critical analysis on every aspect in order to contribute to the development and improvement of the movement’s performance and its political military efforts. The papers also mentioned the development of Hamas’ military structure and the phases of the development of the movement’s political school of thought, as well as its media discourse. They also mentioned how the movement benefitted from its popular base and student and union work.
I attended several of these sessions that discussed Hamas’ experience in governing Gaza since 2007 and explained the role of women and the youth in strengthening the popular base for the movement. The sessions also discussed improving military work and discussed the extent of Hamas’ relations with Palestinian factions, as well as its Arab and international relations.
The aforementioned conferences consisted of several important aspects: intellectual, advocacy, political, military and security, serving the Palestinian society, the development of Hamas’ media discourse, women’s role in Hamas, and the educational experience of Hamas in Israeli prisons. A number of researchers and those interested in Hamas submitted papers that addressed various important aspects of Hamas’ experience.
These public conferences are held three decades after the establishment and launch of Hamas. During these 30 years, it have been engaged in advocacy, political and militant experiences, and has gained an important place on the local, regional and international levels. Hamas also influences events and is influenced by them, which has made it important to study its past, present and future. This will allow for the provision of a critical analytical vision of the movement in all aspects, especially as Hamas has witnessed several historic moments in which a group of circumstances and factors almost eliminated the Palestinian cause.
The conferences discussed a number of important aspects, including: the presence of Hamas in various areas and the ability to achieve its vision for integrated work. The conferences also discussed the formulation of a strategy for Hamas to confront the policy of resettlement of Palestinian refugees, the future of Jerusalem and its external relations. This includes the challenges of building alliances and friendships and Hamas’ revitalisation of international relations in light of its political blockade.
Holding these public political conferences may have granted Hamas a uniqueness and distinction from other Palestinian organisations in that it puts its history under the microscope of researchers who did not hesitate to criticise many of the mistakes made by the movement over the past 30 years. Their criticism was aired along with their praise and encouragement of the achievements made by the movement.
Hamas is expected to publish the approximately 40 papers that were submitted and discussed in these conferences. This way those interested in the movement and its experiences can have access to them. The conferences may be followed by discussion sessions that are limited and focused on evaluating Hamas’ performance during each period of time, separately. Meanwhile, some of the recommendations made in the papers have been raised to the political bureau to be studied and those deemed suitable will be adopted, as implementing such recommendations is one of the most important reasons for holding these conferences.
It is no secret that many of the recommendations made in these conferences were critical of Hamas’ performance, especially in terms of its international relations. The researchers believed that these relations needed development and the restructure of the movement’s international relations office. They also believe Hamas needs to activate its political charter, which regulates its performance and dictates its policies and discourse with foreign relations.
The recommendations also demanded that Hamas build international partnerships and alliances with countries and parties believing in the right of Palestinians to resist the Israeli occupation. They also urged Hamas to support and back the BDS movement and build cooperation networks with popular anti-discrimination movements around the world.
Moreover, the aforementioned conferences recommended the need to develop Hamas’ intellectual approaches and curricula, build a modern security theory ad develop it in a manner that suits the future challenges, such as the conflict with Israel. They also noted that it needs to work on ending the Palestinian internal division and conduct deep research into the politically and religiously contentious matters, such as negotiating with Israel.
These public conferences, organised by Hamas, are an extension of its organisational work to improve its political work, through the organisation and convening of several programmes, courses and political forums, in preparation to export political youth. These conferences have become a means of communication between Hamas’ political leadership and those interested in politics to discuss what is on the table and give advice and recommendations to the Hamas leadership. The conferences represented a political forum in which decision-makers from the movement met with intellectuals and those with opinions, which contribute to the formulation of policies and the implementation of plans, in order to raise political awareness within Hamas.
The timing of these public conferences coincided with some hesitant calls for a gradual public operation by those within the movement and the slow departure from secret operation, especially concerning aspects that do not require secrecy, unlike armed resistance and security tasks that require working in the shadows rather than in plain sight.
These voices called on Hamas to hold its organisational conferences publicly, as the movement’s officials and staff meet and elect their organisational, political and advocacy leadership, which represent different aspects of the movement’s work.
Since Hamas is still a movement that resists the Israeli occupation and possesses military and security secrets, these sensitive matters can be excluded from their public work and open elections.
These calls urging Hamas to operate publicly and in the open are still modest in number and their voices are still low given the consensus among the various Hamas offices that the current stage still requires complete secrecy. This is because Hamas is still persecuted in the West Bank by both Israel and the PA, while in the Arab countries, Hamas’ presence and operation is not officially recognised, apart from some representation in some areas. This makes the call for public operation limited to the Gaza Strip, where the movement operates and carries out its activities with almost absolute freedom.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.