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Israel fails to drive wedge between Hamas, Islamic Jihad

November 19, 2019 at 5:09 pm

Israeli soldiers walk near an armoured perssonel carrier near the border with Gaza, in Southern Israel on November 13, 2019 in Sderot, Israel [Amir Levy/Getty Images]

As the Israeli army attacked the Gaza Strip last week, its media launched a systematic campaign aiming to drive a wedge between Hamas and Islamic Jihad by portraying the confrontation as only against Islamic Jihad, but not Hamas.

Nothing the manoeuvre, the factions issued joint statements stressing the unity of their path and fate.

The Israeli behaviour during the recent attack on Gaza was reflected in the neo-colonial policy of “divide and conquer” by neutralising the other Palestinian factions, led by Hamas, and singling out Islamic Jihad. However, the presence of a joint operations room means Israel was unable to achieve what it had wanted. The Palestinian military wings’ operations room carries out coordination, cooperation, intelligence exchanges, identifies targets and times rocket launches.

I learned that from the first moments of Bahaa Abu Al-Ata’s assassination, the Israeli occupation sent a message to the Palestinian factions, beginning with Hamas, through mediators saying that Israel’s battle was against Islamic Jihad and that it did not have a problem with any other faction.

However, Hamas and the rest of the factions ignored this Israeli misguidance and launched a united response in the joint operations room, which consists of senior-level military officers from each faction.

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Hamas and Islamic Jihad are the largest Islamic factions in the Palestinian arena, and despite being born of the Muslim Brotherhood, this has not prevented their separation, each according to the Islamic vision adopted for themselves, while agreeing on matters related to the resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Hamas’ political charter devotes a special clause to its position on Islamic movements, which states that “Hamas views other Islamic movements with respect and appreciation. If Hamas disagrees with them on any matter or idea, it agreed with them on other matters and ideas and sees these movements as employing jurisprudence as long as their actions are within the limits of the Islamic circle.

The beginning of the relations between the two movements began with the desire of Sheikh Ahmed Yasin, the founder of Hamas, to start military action immediately after the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1967, but the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood decided it needed to postpone the practice of armed resistance against the occupation and focus on preparing generations capable of practicing resistance and preparing society to embrace and support the resistance.

However, this motivated a group of enthusiastic Brotherhood youth, most notably Fathi Shikaki, to establish the Islamic Jihad movement in the early 1980s, in order to engage in jihad against the occupation, like other nationalist and leftist movements and forces that were known for doing so in the 1960s and 1970s.

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Hamas was launched in late 1987 and quickly played a major role in the First Intifada. The two factions had their own programme, activities and strikes that were separate from one another. Neither sought to disrupt the other, but there was some friction on the ground in the competition over influence in the mosques for example and seeking to prove themselves.

However, the two movements continued to emphasise Islamic unity and formed a common front to counter the political concessions made by the PLO leadership. They participated in the establishment of the Alliance of Ten Factions, in a meeting in Tehran held on the side-lines of the Conference in Support of the Intifada in October 1991, which stood against the peace settlement project and the Madrid conference.

On the side-lines of the Conference in Support of the Intifada, the Hamas and Jihad delegations met and resumed talks between them. The aim was to reach unity between them through three phases: coordination, the establishment of a front, and unity of the two movements. The relationship between the two movements was and still is very strong because their shared Islamic thought and their very similar political program bring them together.

In December 1992, Israel expelled 416 Islamic leaders from Palestine to Marj Al-Zuhoor in Lebanon, most of whom were members of Hamas, including 16 members of Islamic Jihad. This exile was an opportunity for the two sides to get to know each other and coordinate programmes of steadfastness and return to Palestine.

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Hamas and Islamic Jihad agreed to confront the Oslo Accords and continue military resistance. They both became active within the Alliance of Ten Factions and were subject to pursuit by the PA security forces. This pressure on them did not ease until the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad boycotted the PA presidential and legislative elections in early 1996 and worked together to carry out military operations. Hamas provided logistical support while members of the Islamic Jihad executed the operations.

The Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005 marked a turning point in the performance of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as they were both skilled at resistance and faced a security crackdown at the hands of the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad boycotted the Palestinian presidential elections in January 2005, and were among the Palestinian factions that signed the Cairo agreement in 2005. This set the tone for their entry into the PLO and to re-arranging the internal Palestinian home. They participated in the municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, allying in a number of them.

Hamas decided to participate in the 2006 Legislative Council elections based on its convictions regarding protecting the resistance program, reform, combatting corruption, serving the masses and preventing political concessions. Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad boycotted the elections on the grounds that they involve the Oslo agreement and its conditions.

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The relationship between the two movements continued in a positive way after Hamas formed a national unity government headed by Ismail Haniyeh in March 2007. Islamic Jihad promised to commit “as much as possible” to the truce with Israel to help arrange the lifting of the siege imposed on the Palestinian people and the Palestinian government after Hamas’ victory in the elections.

After the chaos and disorder practiced by the PA security services against the Hamas government, the government was forced to resort to a “military solution” in Gaza. However, some dubious parties worked to strain and fuel sedition between the two movements, but the joint meetings between them aiming to better coordinate positions did not stop.

When Israel carried out its multiple wars and military assaults on the Gaza Strip between 2008 and 2014, the two movements stood side by side in the path of resistance and, together with other Palestinian factions, played heroic roles in the face of Israeli attacks.

To date there are calls for greater coordination between the two factions, while others believe they can continue as two independent groups, either way, efforts to spread sedition between them is something they are on the lookout for and working hard to avoid.

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