Hamas hasn't handled critics well, member says

One of the striking things about the present Palestinian situation is the strong emotions caused by the Hamas-Fatah rift. The stalwarts of each group are more angry with each other than they are with the Israelis.

If anything, an informal poll run by this author suggests that Fatah loyalists are more impassioned. Let Gaza be submerged by a tsunami, they say — and more. This is disturbingly short-sighted.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Fatah leader now based in the West Bank capital city of Ramallah, also seems obsessed with punishing Hamas and putting it in its place. Late last week, he signed a money-laundering decree which he indicated would target Hamas. At the same moment, the Israeli Defense Minister was putting into place the final arrangments for tightening the isolation and siege of Hamas-run Gaza, supposedly in retaliation for Qassam rocket and mortar attacks on Israel. [note: could Abbas not also have signed a Presidential decree banning the Qassam and mortar attacks?]

Hamas says it acknowledges Abbas as President of the Palestinian Authority, and has called for talks with Ramallah. But Abbas clenches his teeth and refuses. No, not until they apologize, he says, for their miltary rout of Fatah in Gaza in mid-June. Not until Hamas reverses the effects of its acts, Abbas insists.

Hamas leaders seem particularly incensed by the lack of respect afforded them by Abbas. He did not respect the results of the Palestinian elections in which they took the majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, they say. Abbas, they believe, did not respect the Hamas ministers appointed to two governments that followed those elections — one government formed in the spring of 2006, and a “National Unity” government formed after Saudi Mediation in Mecca in the spring of 2007.

Hamas leaders do not say so much (though the rank and file do), but they believe, that Abbas is working in tandem with Israel and the U.S. Administration to marginalize and punish them. There is evidence to think so.

What Hamas really wants to resolve this crisis, apparently, is a proportion of seats in the Palestine Liberation Organization’s National Council (PNC), identical to the proportion of seats they won in the Palestinian Legislative Council.


Never!, say some Palestinian officials. The PNC, which has nearly 600 seats now, is composed of Palestinians from the diaspora as well as from inside the West Bank and Gaza. If anything, Hamas should get its proportion of seats only from those seats allocated to the occupied territory…

So, Hamas has not joined the PLO, and it is as a result accused of all those awful things — terrorism, wanting to destroy Israel, etc — that plagued the PLO for so many years before Israel and the PLO exchanged mutual recognition in September 1993, at the start of the much-debated Oslo Process. So, Hamas must be punished — and so must the hundreds of thousands of the 1.5 million residents of Gaza who apparently voted for Hamas. [Those who voted for other candidates will also be punished in the meanwhile, however, as will hundreds of thousands of children who didn’t vote at all…]

It was clear to me, in a visit to Gaza from 18-20 June, that Hamas had not offered any explanation to the people of Gaza about its take-over there: Who was in charge? What were the rules? What were the laws? What were the protections, if any, for the rights of the population against arrest and detention?

Hamas was afraid to make pronouncements, because it didn’t want to harden the rift between it and Fatah — ok, this has a certain political sense. But this failure to lead was at the expense of the people of Gaza.

Now, one of Hamas’ own has come out with a critique that is so incisive that it was first revealed by a posting on a Fatah website, as Dion Nissenbaum explains in an article written from Gaza published in today’s McClatchy newspapers. The critique is a letter written by Ghazi Hamad, who served until recently as spokesman for the now-deposed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Hanieyeh (often said to be “moderate” by comparison with “hard-liners” like Mahmoud Zahar…).

Here are some excerpts: “For roughly two decades, Ghazi Hamad has been a reliable champion for Hamas and its hard-line Islamist ideology, first as a leader of Palestinian street protests, then as an editor of a pro-Hamas newspaper and most recently as the chief spokesman for deposed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Now, however … [he has written an open letter full of criticism] … The reaction was somewhat predictable: Hamad, no longer Haniyeh’s spokesman, was sidelined. For years, Hamad, a voracious reader who recently has taken to carrying an Arabic copy of Richard Nixon’s hawkish political treatise, ‘Victory Without War’, has been among moderates who’ve sought to nudge Hamas from extremist militancy toward a more politically accommodating tone. Last year, he encouraged Hamas to take part in landmark legislative elections that surprisingly propelled the movement into control of the Palestinian Authority. Caught off-guard by its own success, Hamas struggled to adjust when it took over in March 2006 …

“The letter wasn’t his first public jab at Hamas. In the summer of 2006, two months after Hamas militants helped capture Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from a post along the Gaza Strip border, Hamad warned in an opinion piece in a Palestinian newspaper that Palestinians ‘have lost our sense of direction’ and descended into chaos and anarchy. The article, however, stopped short of blaming Hamas. As street clashes between Hamas and Fatah grew worse, Hamad helped broker a deal to create a unity government, established last February, that halted the fighting temporarily. But the coalition government lasted only four months and ended with Hamas fighters routing Fatah forces in Gaza. Since then, Israel and the United States have led an international campaign to isolate Gaza and support the pro-Western caretaker government created by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah’s leader. In the wake of the June military takeover, Hamas’ once-solid popularity in Gaza has dropped off precipitously. Hamas brought a semblance of security to Gaza, but soon ran into troubles when its police force violently broke up Fatah weddings, beat up Palestinian journalists and publicly accused Fatah leaders of being Israeli collaborators. In early October, Hamad wrote an opinion column titled ‘This is the era of the wise men’ in which he urged an end to the rivalry between Hamas leaders in Gaza and Fatah officials in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Even then, his criticism fell short of blaming Hamas. Then came the open letter, which ended with an appeal for a new direction. Hamad, who’s reserved and contemplative in a movement that’s characterized by fiery, strident leaders, declined to elaborate on his letter, which became public on a Web site operated by Hamas’ secular rival, Fatah”. Dion Nissenbaum’s article today about Hamad’s letter is here.

Dion also helpfully posts links to Hamad’s letter, which makes interesting reading, in English here, and in the original Arabic in the original Arabic here.

Here, thanks to Dion’s work, is a very small part of Ghazi Hamad’s very interesting letter:

“My thoughts stem from my conscience and vision of a homeland and from the homeland to the movement and not the other way around. I believe that the reality is that truth is the property of everybody and should not be put in a hiding place or tunnel of one particular faction. I believe that constructive criticism builds and raises – but hiding mistakes only makes things much worse. The movement needs deep introspection. The movement needs a true objective review of everything that has happened. The movement needs an assessment in order to correct itself and to correct its path … The separation between the West Bank and Gaza has deepened, the level of hostility between Hamas and Fatah has grown and Hamas is in a crisis with all other forces and factions. The security crisis moved to the West Bank and Hamas members there are suffering from hostilities and ruthless activities against them. The salary crisis has started and the problem of the crossings has emerged. The problem of the ministries between Gaza and the West Bank has also arisen. We have become confused in our own homeland. We have become distracted, torn, and worried about our future and fate. We live every minute of our lives under the sword of tension and in a cold war between Gaza and Ramallah. The newspapers have headlines about war between the sons of the same nation… Please God, where have we come and where are we heading and what catastrophe is waiting for us?…”

However, it seems that even if Hamas does all the introspection and reflection in the world, the chances of Abbas’ now extending a hand for reconciliation is less than minimal. Even if he wanted — and he apparently does not — his partners in peace would not allow this now.

Either Hamas will have to be crushed, or it will have to be coopted, as some Israeli strategists urge. Some strategic thinkers even dream of a Hamas moderate coup, to replace some of the present leadership — and then Gaza will remain Hamas-led, and separated politically as well as geographically from the West Bank.

Then, the thinking seems to go, Gaza may eventually consider the benefits of some kind of federation arrangement with Egypt [it will go back, or “return” to Egypt, which occupied and then administered Gaza from May 1948 until June 1967, with a few month’s hiatus during the 1956 Suez Crisis, when Israeli troops seized the Gaza Strip] … and that will end the dream of a Palestinian state of the kind envisaged so far…

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