For weeks now, Palestinian media circles have been abuzz with anticipation of Hamas’ historical speech, which was to be given by its leader Khaled Meshaal. This comes amid regional political developments and the movement's ongoing efforts to reassess its alliances and relations with Arab states.
Knowledgeable sources inside Hamas, however, told Al-Monitor that internal considerations, the attention focused on the Gaza Strip as a result of the prevailing tensions with Egypt, and the stumbling reconciliation efforts with Fatah have driven the movement to decide that Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Meshaal’s deputy, would give the speech instead. This decision was made in particular because he would be face-to-face with other Palestinian figures, as opposed to appearing on television or a video conference. This would deprive him to a certain degree of vitality and the potential for interaction.
As Hamas planned, the speech lasting 90 minutes was given on Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Rashad Shawa Cultural Center, the largest such venue in the Gaza Strip. It received great media coverage and was attended by Al-Monitor’s correspondent, in addition to over 500 personalities from various parties, sectors, official and non-governmental institutions, including intellectuals and journalists.
The mobilization dimension
The timing of the speech was probably not spontaneous. Rather, it was necessary in light of the internal and external developments that Hamas has had to contend with. Haniyeh successfully reaffirmed, however, his ability to address people’s emotions and feelings. Meanwhile, he refrained from announcing specific political stances or historically pivotal decisions, as was persistently rumored in the past weeks through media outlets close to Hamas, which made it seem as if the speech would include surprises on many issues.
This was perhaps the most clearly defined moment that saw Haniyeh speak in his dual capacity as prime minister of Gaza and deputy chairman of Hamas’ Political Bureau. He repeated the phrase, “I address you on behalf of the movement and the government.” Yet, he mentioned the movement’s name 18 times, and contented himself with alluding to the government only four times.
The speech highlighted Hamas’ dilemma in trying to reconcile between “governance and resistance.” It did not seem to garner much support from some of Hamas’ cadres, whom Al-Monitor’s correspondent met with on the sidelines of the occasion. They saw in Haniyeh, through this speech addressed to the Palestinian people, a prime minister, and not a leader of Hamas.
Despite that, via Haniyeh’s speech, Hamas chose to emphasize a number of stances relating to internal matters and reconciliation efforts. While the man did not add anything new to these dossiers, he did reveal, in an unprecedented move, his opinion on the instigation of security unrest in Gaza meant to topple his government through calls for action by the Tamarod movement, which he did not specifically name. This matter was addressed by Al-Monitor in a previous article.
In this regard, Haniyeh only said, “Any attempt to clone the regional scenario in Gaza will fail. It cannot succeed on the unwavering Palestinian scene, which possesses a great deal of resilience in the face of occupation, chaos and lawlessness.” These words of his were met with welcoming applause from the audience, particularly the leaders of governmental security agencies whose presence was noteworthy.
But, what drew the attention of Al-Monitor’s correspondent was the total absence of leaders from the Islamic Jihad Movement, Hamas’ closest ally, as well as representatives from Fatah. Noteworthy though, was the presence of leftist factions’ leaders, such as the Popular and Democratic fronts, despite that their relationship with Hamas is not at its best.
Many Palestinian political factions expressed their satisfaction towards Haniyeh’s speech because he opened the door for discussion pertaining to mechanisms needed to implement reconciliation. These same factions pointed out the positive change of attitude expressed in his words about resistance and political action. In this regard, Haniyeh revealed that national meetings were being organized by a member of Hamas’ Political Bureau, Imad al-Alamy, with the aim of discussing the current situation on the Palestinian scene, and the need to launch a comprehensive national dialogue.
It is important to note, though, that Haniyeh’s speech led to a rift inside Fatah between those who saw in it a repeat of old, futile talk, and those who considered it a serious invitation on which they could build.
It no longer is a secret that Hamas suffered a regional setback emanating from the successive developments engendered by the loss of some of its allies, following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. As a result, the movement tried to reestablish its alliances with Iran, and reduce the level of tension that prevailed in its relationship with Egypt. These efforts were evident when the deputy chairman of its Political Bureau, Moussa Abu Marzouk, asserted in an interview on the Al Mayadeen channel, which has close ties to Syria, that Meshaal raised the Syrian revolution’s flag by mistake, and that Hamas maintained its strong relations with Iran, in the latter’s capacity as the state that most strongly supported the movement. This support had waned, however, as a result of Hamas’ position on the Syrian crisis.
Some sources inside Hamas told Al-Monitor they wished that Haniyeh would confirm these intentions to restore the movement’s alliances, in light of the stifling crisis that it has to contend with. According to the sources, this would be done through the adoption of new positions that would facilitate reconciliation with Iran, and turn a new page with Syria. But, Haniyeh contented himself with saying: “Hamas does not flirt nor does it plead with anyone. It does not regret nor does it apologize for honorable positions, just to placate others. It does not feel that it is in the type of trouble necessitating that others be paid to save it from.”
A close associate of the decision-makers in Gaza wondered, after attending the speech, how helpful such words would be in speeding up complete reconciliation with Iran, at a time when steps taken by both sides lately seemed to reflect seriousness toward achieving that.
Egypt’s presence was marked in Haniyeh’s speech. He reaffirmed the same positions in regard to internal developments in that country, and Hamas’ lack of involvement in the security incidents that occurred in the Sinai, which he condemned. He did add a new twist by calling on the Egyptian judiciary to provide Hamas with any information that needed to be followed up, so that all doubts and concerns could be eliminated.
However, his speech did not allude to the ouster of Hamas’ strategic ally, the Muslim Brotherhood. It did not contain vocabulary such as “coup” and “return to legitimacy,” which Hamas-affiliated media outlets had incessantly been repeating as of late. The same source close to Hamas considered this development as reflecting the movement’s conviction that matters would not return to what they were prior to Morsi’s ouster, and as an attempt to minimize the losses resulting from the strained relationship with the current regime in Cairo.
The most noteworthy aspect of Haniyeh’s speech though, was his failure to allude to any imminent confrontation with Israel. This can be regarded as a sign that the truce between them has remained stable. This is despite that the speech came on the second anniversary of the prisoner exchange deal, which, after saluting the Qassam Brigades, he considered as having negated all Israeli red lines.
Finally, Haniyeh, who prepared well for this speech eagerly awaited by many Palestinians, exhibited a great deal of cohesiveness, despite the blows suffered by Hamas. The speech did not, however, come to reflect a quantum leap in Hamas’ behavior, as many expected. Haniyeh’s confirmation of already known facts perhaps indicated that the situation on the Palestinian scene would remain deadlocked until further notice.
Adnan Abu Amer is dean of the Faculty of Arts and head of the Press and Information Section as well as a lecturer in the history of the Palestinian issue, national security, political science and Islamic civilization at Al Ummah University Open Education. He holds a doctorate in political history from the Demashq University and has published a number of books on issues related to the contemporary history of the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict. On Twitter: @adnanabuamer1