Hamas, the Palestinian “Islamic Resistance Movement,” is on the move.
Hamas is leaving Syria, where it has been based, making a pit stop in Jordan to mend affairs with King Abdullah II, declaring nonviolent resistance the preferred mode of struggle against Israeli occupation, signing (yet another) reconciliation agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and lastly, planning to relocate its headquarters to the State of Qatar. All of this has happened in the span of a few weeks.
In the information-scarce, investigative reporting-light Middle East, one takes note of every word said and action taken at each high-level meeting—many times, these gestures and nuggets of information are the only insights available to construct the puzzle of the current state of affairs.
Following multiple victories in recent elections across the Arab world, Islamist movements are boasting that their political time has arrived. The “Arab Spring,” as it has been coined, may be morphing into an “Islamic Winter,” as recently noted by Galilaean Palestinian attorney Sabri Jiryis. It is very possible that Hamas’ decision to act now on so many fronts can be attributed to the broader Islamic political waves moving across the region:
The events in Syria are nothing less than horrendous war crimes.
For decades, Syria has provided a safe haven for Palestinian factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Hamas, though not yet a member of the PLO, was given the same cover from the Syrian regime after they were evicted from Jordan.
It is still far too early to fully understand the dynamics motivating so much killing and destruction across Syria, but one thing is for sure: Hamas has calculated that the outcome of the current fighting will create an unfavorable state of affairs for it to remain headquartered there.
Stepping Down, Changing Gears
Khaled Meshaal, who has led Hamas’ political bureau since 1996, recently announced that he plans to step down from his position when elections for the leadership of the organization take place in the next few months.
Anyone who knows anything about Middle East leadership understands that stepping down is actually a synonym for aiming higher. More on that in a second.
In this dramatic stepping-down move, Meshaal has been saying something else that is much more interesting: he is promoting a strategic departure from armed struggle to popular nonviolent resistance, in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings and the success of Islamist parties in elections in Egypt and elsewhere.
Jordan Is Not Palestine
During an official visit to Jordan after being expelled 12 years ago, Meshaal called his meetings with King Abdullah II “a new opening,” according to Petra, the state news agency. Meshaal also noted that Hamas respects “Jordan's security, stability and interests,” and that it “stands firm against Israel’s schemes to turn Jordan into a substitute homeland. Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine. We insist on restoring Palestinian rights.”
A few months prior to this meeting, King Abdullah made public statements to the same effect, after being flabbergasted by voices emerging from the Israeli government calling for the Palestinian issue to be resolved within Jordanian borders.
This is no joking matter, and in politics, such statements do not come from nowhere.
History will surely record the Palestinian struggle for statehood for what it is—a genuine attempt at historical reconciliation to correct a series of gross injustices that can be summarized as dispossession, discrimination and military occupation. Historians are bound to scratch their heads, however, when they repeatedly come across references like the notion that Palestine exists, but not between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River—but rather, in Jordan, an independent country east of the Jordan River.
What will baffle historians even more is that this Jordan-is-Palestine talk comes after the decades-long political assumption that an independent Palestinian state would be part and parcel of any future peace agreement. At one point, Palestinian statehood seemed a common realization, one that even the U.S. and Israel finally came to terms with. Now, U.S. and Israeli leaders, many of them elected officials or holding senior government positions, openly make public statements not only dismissing Palestinians’ right to Palestine, but even their right to exist as a people. When U.S. and Israeli politicians make such nonsensical claims, one has learned to tune them out, but when Palestinian and Jordanian politicians find a need to reiterate the real location of Palestine, one is forced to take note.
And What’s With Qatar?
Then comes Qatar. This tiny, monarchy-ruled, petroleum-rich country is home to two irreconcilable extremes, or so it seems. Qatar hosts the state-owned Al Jazeera News Network, which has been praised for circumventing censorship and contributing to the free exchange of information in the Arab world. Qatar, however, has also opened its borders to the U.S. Central Command’s Forward Headquarters and Combined Air Operations Center.
When Qatar enters inter-Arab disputes, it usually does so only when success is at hand. Of late, it has bridged an agreement between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas—a possible reconciliation to ease Palestinian internal divisions. Qatar simultaneously welcomed Hamas to relocate there from Syria.
What does all this movement mean? Well, it depends on whom you ask. Islamists say that Hamas is getting renewed energy by indications that the Arab Spring is really turning into an “Islamic Winter.” Palestinians in leadership today will say Hamas feels the heat in Syria and on Iran, and although it may have found another location to base its operations, it ultimately knows that without entering into an operational political system, it cannot maintain control on an Israeli-sieged Gaza forever.
Something much more dangerous is in the works. Both Hamas and Palestinian President Abbas’ Fatah movement are in dire need of uniting to save themselves, after totally decimating anything resembling a national liberation movement or an operating political system. Average Palestinians in Jerusalem, Haifa, Shatila and Santiago are without a voice, without representation and further away from freedom, return and independence than they have ever been. Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal looks more like someone preparing to enter and take over the secular PLO than someone begging to take over a Palestinian Authority that has been emptied of any serious authority (if it ever had any).
Israel may be laughing away at all this, proud to have destroyed all remnants of a peace process, but history has lessons for he who laughs last.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business-development consultant, born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, who relocated to his family's home in Al-Bireh, Palestine, immediately following the signing of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. He blogs at www.epalestine.com.