• February 13, 2007

Hamas: Before and after Makkah

Does the landmark national reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas in Makkah signify a certain transformation in Hamas’s political outlook? Is Hamas becoming more pragmatic, whatever that means in real terms? Is the movement edging toward recognizing Israel, de facto if not de jure?

Hamas has denied the occurrence of any substantive change in its “strategic thinking” vis-à-vis Israel as a result of the Makkah agreement. The movement’s spokespersons, especially in Gaza , have hastened to reassert Hamas’s erstwhile refusal to recognize Israel, saying the issue of recognizing Israel never came up during the Makkah deliberations.

“We didn’t, we don’t and we won’t recognize the arrogation by Zionist Jews of our homeland. Israel is a state based on theft and dispossession and usurpation of Palestinian land and rights,” said Hamas’s Gaza spokesman Ismael Radwan.

Radwan described media suggestions and “insinuations” about an alleged “change of mind” or “change of heart” on Hamas’s part as a “distortion of reality.”

Radwan’s perception of reality, however, doesn’t negate the fact that Hamas has come a long way from its ideological rigidity as encapsulated in its charter of 1988, which students of Hamas, such as Azzam Tamimi, head of the London-based Institute of Islamic Thought, believes is anachronistic and a political program.

True the Makkah agreement itself doesn’t explicitly mention “recognition of Israel ” nor does it stipulate the ending of armed resistance against the Israeli occupation, which should be viewed as a success for Hamas.

More to the point, the agreement seems to have given Hamas a much-needed “Arab legitimacy” through the Saudi gate, the largest and probably the surest of all Arab gates.

However, it would be misleading to claim that Hamas earned all these political gains without making any concessions, at least within the tactical sphere.

Indeed, the fact that Hamas has agreed to “respect” and “honor” previous agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), along with the declarations of the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002, represents a certain evolution in the movement’s political phraseology.

This, says Palestinian political analyst Hani al Masri, shows that Hamas is changing, “though slowly and reluctantly.”

“I don’t think that Hamas is edging away from its original ideological constants, and I am not sure it should. However, it is amply clear that politics look different from the government seat than it does from the opposition seat.”

Masri recognized that the Makkah agreement would eventually be “an asset” rather than “a liability to Hamas” because the Palestinian people wanted “to stop the bloodletting and forestall the prospects of civil war at any price.”

The Nablus-based political analyst opined that Hamas might lose a modicum of popularity and support, especially among its more ideological-oriented supporters, especially in the short run. However, he added that this “setback” would be proven short-lasting as the Palestinian masses would eventually realize that the absence of peace is attributed more to Israeli intransigence than to Hamas’s perceived rigidity.

This is not to say that Hamas will be willing at some point in the future to lend Israel a clear, explicit and unconditional recognition as constantly demanded by Israel’s guardian-ally, the United States and some European states which languish under Zionist pressures, such as Germany.

The main reason for this is the universal realization within Hamas and most religiously-committed Muslims that recognizing Israel is “haram” religiously inadmissible since the entirety of Palestine is viewed as an Islamic Waqf domain.

However, it has been amply clear for many years now, especially since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada, that Hamas leaders have come to the conclusion that religious ideological absolutism shouldn’t be allowed paralyze Hamas’s tactical flexibility and political thinking.

It is in this context that recent statements by the head of Hamas politburo, Khalid Masha’al, ought to be understood. Masha’al was quoted as saying that “Hamas recognizes Israel as a geopolitical reality” and that the movement “would be willing to coexist in peace with Israel if the latter agreed to withdraw from all the occupied territories, including all of East Jerusalem , and allow for the repatriation and indemnifications of the refugees.

This position, which is repeated from time to time by Hamas leaders, though parsimoniously, is very similar in substance to the established stand of Fatah.

Indeed, No Fatah leader so far has departed from the erstwhile constants which the late Chairman Arafat clang to until his very last breath.

All in all, it would be safe to conclude that both Fatah and Hamas are getting closer to each other in their respective political thought, whereby Hamas is becoming less ideological and more political while Fatah is displaying determination to uphold Palestinian constants.

Hamas is not really abandoning its ideological dreams but is finding out that this is not the appropriate time to highlight them and certainly to project them as a political posture in light of international political map.

And while it is too early to speak in terms of the “Fatahization of Hamas” and “Hamasization of Fatah,” one can notice that both Fatah and Hamas are coming to the realization that they have to adapt and deal realistically with cold political calculations in order to safeguard the paramount interests of the Palestinian nation as well as their own interests.

Fatah has realized that in order to gain the steady backing and support of the Palestinian people it must insist on a complete and total ending of the Israeli occupation that started in 1967 as well as a just resolution of the refugee plight pursuant UN resolution 149.

Similarly, Hamas must have realized that it is futile to ask the Palestinian people to wait until a new Sallahuddin appears.

Meanwhile, some Hamas leaders are choosing new phraseology with regard to the issue of recognizing Israel, a phraseology that doesn’t alienate or provoke the international community.

This may take the form of a pronounced willingness on Hamas’s part to recognize Israel de facto, but not de jure in the form of an “acknowledgement” of Israel ’s “political legitimacy” but “not moral legitimacy.” But this could only happen if and when Israel agreed to end the occupation and allow the refugees to go back to their homes.

Last week, as Hamas and Fatah leaders were meeting in Makkah, a high-ranking Hamas officials told this writer that “we acknowledge Israel’s existence, it is reality, we would be blind if we said it didn’t exist. But I don’t think that Israel has a right to exist because Israel was founded on theft and ethnic cleansing…and as such It has no right to exist.”

This tone could identify Hamas’s posture in weeks and months to come, if only to prove to the international community that Israel, not Hamas, is the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East .

Hamas could also allow the PA to conduct the “business of the peace process” for a fixed period of time as Masha’al pointed out a few months ago, even with the knowledge that a new round of futile peace talks wouldn’t yield any substantive results.

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