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Hamas Considers New Blend Of Resistance, Politics

In the last of a three-part series on Hamas, its leaders seek to balance their tradition of uncompromising resistance to Israel with more nuanced considerations of governance.
A Hamas militant teaches young Palestinians on how to use an rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher at a military-style exercise run by Hamas during summer vacation in Gaza June 10, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA - Tags: SOCIETY MILITARY) - RTX10ITJ

On June 4, 2013, Yehya Moussa, a Hamas deputy in the Legislative Council, wrote on his Facebook page that Hamas should hand over the management of the Gaza Strip to a national body to devote itself to resistance and national liberation. Even though Moussa made clear that his call was just his personal opinion, what he said caused a controversy.

Hamas members do not usually make statements expressing their personal opinions. They are known for partisan loyalty and a unified discourse even in the most difficult circumstances. But recently, it has become more common for them to give their personal opinions whenever they talk about the movement’s future and the conflict with Israel. They have made contradictory statements such as: a binational state ... Palestine from the river to the sea ... a state on the 1967 borders ... resistance. Those positions were made by Hamas leaders during separate meetings with Al-Monitor on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Moussa believes that Hamas has been kept busy with tactics at the expense of a strategy for national liberation and resistance.

In a telephone interview with Al-Monitor, he said, “The movement has many responsibilities. The Palestinians are passing through a leadership void, given the absence of a unifying liberation project. At the same time, there is the growing danger of the Israeli occupation. So Hamas must correct the Palestinian liberation track after the Fatah movement’s Oslo legacy and its awful political decisions. ... Hamas must not wait on the sidewalk until Fatah decides on whether to allow it to participate in the PLO. Hamas must take over the responsibility and refocus the effort on liberating Jaffa and Haifa and the entire Holy Land. There is a vacuum that Hamas has not filled because it has been busy with governing and with tactics that are not part of a clear vision or strategy to lead and liberate Palestine.”

Ghazi Hamad, who works at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in the Gaza government, told Al-Monitor in an interview in his office that Hamas should blend between resistance and political work, since the two complement each other. “Hamas must seriously consider ways of getting out of the existing situation of ‘no politics, no resistance’ by reformulating the national project with the participation of all political forces and by developing a national strategy that has a strategic vision, not just tactical achievements,” he added.

He said that resistance should not be Hamas’ only program. “Despite the importance of resistance against occupation, [resistance] is a method, not a goal. In politics, there should be more than one method. We cannot force one method on the people,” he said.

Ahmed Youssef, a Hamas leader and member of the movement’s Shura Council, believes that there are historical rights that cannot be conceded, such as allowing the displaced Palestinians to return to their land; but that there are temporary solutions that reduce tensions, such as establishing a state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. He added that it would be a phased solution for the sake of stability.

On how to resolve the conflict, Youssef said an interview at his office, “It is possible to talk about a binational state. The fact that the movement is discussing it internally means that some are considering it. It is not a trade-off between two options, but a way to find a foothold. Some consider a binational state to be the perfect solution to achieving historic Palestine while at the same time giving everyone a part of the land to live on. All have historical roots. With time, we may discuss the possibility of forming a religious federation on the Holy Land where the three religions can safely coexist.”

Hamad believes that the political solutions being proposed, including that of a binational state, are naive. He said, “Assuming that Israel agrees to that solution, it must first dismantle itself then build another joint state between the Palestinians and the Israelis. If that happens, the Palestinians, who are the original owners of the land, will be a minority among the Israelis. Of course, this proposal is rejected by most Palestinians and Israelis. So that proposal has no future but it has been raised after the failure of the two-state solution.” He stressed that the Palestinians must have a dialogue to formulate a comprehensive vision about the conflict after several visions have failed to produce results. He said that the Palestinians need a vision that is realistic and based on facts.

Moussa said all Hamas ideas that seem not to seek the recovery of all of Palestine are being misunderstood, nothing more. He denied that there is confusion within Hamas. He said that a state on the 1967 borders is “an imaginary state, not a reality. It is impossible. Our country is Palestine from the river in the east to the sea in the west, and from Ras al-Naqoura in the north to Umm al-Rashrash in the south. [Our country] cannot be divided nor can we recognize the enemy, because recognizing [the enemy] is a defeat.”

Youssef denies that the talk about a state on the 1967 borders is a misunderstanding. “There are those who consider our talk about a temporary solution involving a state on the 1967 borders to be a substitute for a historic solution or a compromise. But we don’t see it that way because the historic solution that will give the Palestinians their rights would remain in effect,” he said.

He pointed out that if things move toward a political solution, armed action will become secondary and not essential as it will be used only when things reach a dead end and to respond to Israeli aggression. “But as long as there is an occupation and there are no agreed-upon political solutions, resistance remains necessary and guaranteed by international law. We cannot recognize Israel as long as our people are displaced and we are living under occupation.”

Has Hamas changed?

In their book The Palestinian Hamas (1999), Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela explain that change this way: “The Islamist movements’ ability to adopt a strategy for political work depends on their effectiveness in using religious interpretations that justify political action under non-Islamic regimes. And as long as those movements have charismatic leaders, they will keep increasing their control over the masses and expanding their ability to justify political activities not bound by religious tradition.”

Youssef thinks that Hamas has changed because of the requirements of governance, the enormous financial burdens, and its duty to manage the people’s affairs under a blockade, with no financial resources and without external support. All that has affected the movement’s activities. But Hamas has become more realistic. It has the ability to maneuver more than in the past. It has become more diplomatically sophisticated and more flexible with regards to ideology and policy, he said.

Hamad assured Al-Monitor that political failure should not keep the people stuck between heaven and earth without progress or hope. He described today’s situation as a frustrating and fatal stalemate, which will erode the people’s ability to bear it.

He added, “Now there is calm or a temporary truce, in the sense that resistance activity is indefinitely stopped. We must get out of that situation by means of a political dialogue. We told the movement’s leadership that we should have an alternative political proposal as long as there is a political vacuum.” 

Asmaa al-Ghoul is a journalist and writer from the Rafah refugee camp based in Gaza.