Palestine Pulse

Hamas Statements on Israel Show Flexibility

Article Summary
Hamas' public stance toward the conflict with Israel has fluctuated since the 1990s, but the organization insists its goals haven't changed, Hazem Balousha writes.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal expressed a tough stance during his recent visit to the Gaza Strip, reaffirming the Islamists’ position on the liberation of historic Palestine from the river to the sea.

But only a few days earlier, Meshaal had discussed Hamas' acceptance of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, which is compatible with the stance of rival Fatah.

Fayez Rasheed, a Palestinian political writer, sees clear contradictions in the stance of Hamas toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is confusing and disrupting to the movement’s position.

"Hamas adopted a radical discourse — the kind that was repeated by the politburo chief in his last speech — while not in power, but Hamas in power differs from the Hamas before the [2006] elections," Rasheed recently wrote in an article published in the local Al-Quds newspaper.

The Hamas charter calls for the liberation of the entire mandate Palestine and, at least officially, does not recognize the 1967 boundaries promoted by Fatah, nor the legitimacy of the Israeli state itself.

But the fluctuation of Hamas’ position toward the conflict with Israel has continued since the first major change was announced by its founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in 1997: accepting a 30-year truce with Israel in exchange for the withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.

Hamas’ involvement in the general elections of 2006 was another significant political shift from its traditional position of refusing to participate in mainstream Palestinian political institutions.

Comparing the charter and comments by Hamas after the 2006 elections shows Hamas as trying to present a flexible discourse regarding a political solution with Israel, most notably by recognizing the existence of Israel as a reality, and Hamas’ willingness to participate in a popular vote to recognize Israel.

Assuming power in Gaza in 2007 also prompted a change in Hamas, which was now forced to impose a truce with Israel given its newfound power, location and the difficulty of managing power and resistance.

This is in contrast to Hamas post-Oslo, when its leaders stressed that the agreement did not represent them, and that the movement would continue its battle against Israel through the path of jihad.

Taher Al-Nono, spokesman of the Hamas government, considers the political performance of Hamas successful, having naturally adapted to the surrounding reality as a result of being in power. Unlike pre-elections Hamas, which only represented its members and supporters, the Hamas government in Gaza must now represent the Palestinian people in the Strip.

"We have to differentiate between strategy and tactics when Hamas leaders address the Palestinian issue. Our strategy is stable without any change since Hamas was incepted, but its tactics are able to change." al-Nono told Al-Monitor.

Hamas’ strategy and absolute goal of liberating Palestine, as envisioned by Meshaal several weeks ago, has not changed, according to al-Nono.

“There is no difference between our message to local media or foreign media, but the interest of foreign media concerns the future of the conflict, the resistance and confrontation with Israel. We tell everyone what they want to hear," al-Nono added.

Hamas’ political discourse is still being fine-tuned as it seeks a breakthrough in its relations with the West, which classify it as a terrorist organization due to its refusal to recognize Israel. Hamas hopes the rise of Islamist groups in Turkey and Egypt will help soften its image in the West.

But it is still holding firm on certain points, including Oslo and the recognition of Israel. In discussions with Fatah in 2006 to reach a unified political program under the first unity government led by Ismail Haniya, Hamas fought to use the word "respect" instead of "commit" to agreements signed between the PLO and Israel.

"Our attitude with everyone is the same without difference. Resistance is our strategy to liberate Palestine, and the negotiations between the PLO and Israel are futile. We are not against it, but as it is presented now it is useless,” al-Nono said.

The recent Gaza war appears to have boosted Hamas’ dual military-political approach to the conflict with Israel, and the need to maintain a military arm in order to achieve gains for the Palestinians.

“We believe a political solution along with military action is the path to rid the occupation from our land.”

While Hamas’ military approach is clearly outlined for the world to see, its political game is still a work in progress.

Hazem Balousha is a Palestinian journalist, based in Gaza City, with a Master of International Relations from Turkey, as well as a BA in Journalism. He has worked as news producer for BBC World Service, as well as contributed to The Guardian (UK), Deutsche Welle (Germany), Al-Raya (Qatar) and many other publications. Covered serious events such as the internal conflict between Fatah and Hamas in 2007, and the Israeli Cast Lead war on Gaza 2008-2009. Hazem is also the founder of the Palestinian Institute for Communication and Development (PICD). Twitter: @iHaZeMi

Found in: hamas, fatah-hamas reconciliation

Hazem Balousha is a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza City. He has worked as a news producer for BBC World Service, contributed to Deutsche Welle and has written for The Guardian, Al-Raya (Qatar) and other publications. He is the founder of the Palestinian Institute for Communication and Development (PICD). On Twitter: @iHaZeMi


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