Hamas doesn’t want a separate Gaza

Hamas doesn’t want a separate Gaza

Many Western observers, politicians and journalists considered the recent breach of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt a victory for the Hamas movement. Some viewed it as the beginning of the end of the siege imposed on the Palestinian people. The statement by Luisa Morgantini, the vice president of the European Parliament, was an example of this. The breach in the wall and the thousands of Palestinians crossing the border, she said, “are all true acts of resistance and an affirmation of the freedom of that people.”

The purpose of crossing the frontier was not to embarrass Egypt, challenge its sovereignty or threaten its security. It was a message to the forces of the Israeli occupation and the international community that the pressure to bring down the government of Premier Ismail Haniyya by starving the people of Gaza to death will not succeed and will not break the steadfastness and determination of the Palestinian people or end their legitimate resistance.

Indeed, the breach was, as Morgantini commented, a “predictable outcome of a policy of isolation, not only toward Hamas, but also the one and a half million Gaza inhabitants, a policy that the European Union has also supported by endorsing de facto the embargo imposed by Israel. Hamas risks becoming stronger as a result of this situation, not weaker as can be seen by all the demonstrations that took place in the Islamic world during these cold and dark days in Gaza.”

The mobilization of Arab and Muslim public opinion indicates that the Palestinians have regional strategic depth on which they, to an extent, can depend. A host of Arab parliamentarians, charity organizations and NGO activists from all over the world came to Gaza to show solidarity with the people there.

Hamas” breach of the siege and the opening of the border were also aimed to be a statement that the November 2005 border memorandum of understanding had to be amended, and that Hamas should play a role in operating the Rafah passage. Hamas has proved that it is able to manage the situation and this should oblige the international community to take the responsible position and recognize the legitimacy of Hamas–a legitimacy acquired in the 2006 parliamentary elections. Hamas still commands a majority of seats in Parliament in spite of Salam Fayyad”s unconstitutional government in Ramallah. The world should also realize the importance of opening the Rafah crossing instead of collectively punishing the people of Gaza and pressuring the Hamas-led government of Haniyya.

Gaza is an unpredictable place and could open up a Pandora”s Box should the international community not end its silence and end the siege. When you trap an animal in a corner, it turns wild. When one puts 1.5 million people in a pressure cooker and keeps turning up the heat, an explosion will follow.

Hamas has repeatedly offered a cease-fire, but Israel wants to keep its hands free to kill, assassinate and invade the Occupied Territories without consequences. Therefore, the response of the resistance is legitimate, and will be as long as the occupation still exists.

Hamas and the Haniyya government do not want to separate Gaza from the West Bank. To them, “Gaza is not a state, and there is no state without Gaza.” According to international law, Gaza remains under occupation, and therefore Israel is still responsible, from a legal and moral perspective, for any deterioration in the situation in the territory.

But the crossing of the Egyptian border caused media outlets sympathetic to the American agenda to try to damage the good working relationship between Egypt and Haniyya”s government by accusing Hamas of breaching the sanctity of the border. The presumption was that such a position would justify moves by Israel to escape from its legal and moral obligations for the occupied Gaza Strip and push Egypt to take the responsibility instead, thereby driving Gaza out of the circle of conflict and giving Israel a green light to annex more lands from the West Bank and kill any hope for the still proposed two-state solution.

Yet Hamas has consistently affirmed that what happened on January 23 was a natural reaction to the suffocating siege, and that it never wanted any separation of Gaza from the West Bank. Haniyya”s government has always left open the door of reconciliation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Thus far, this has been in vain.

We have to understand that January 23 shows that a new popular uprising based on the dignity of a besieged people is in the making. We affirm that our relationship with Egypt is strong and can overcome individual misbehavior. Such actions will not diminish the historic role of Egypt as a main actor in Arab and Muslim triumphs and will not decrease respect for Egypt, which we view as a strategic Arab and Muslim ally. We share national interests that are important for the stability, security and prosperity of the region.

Ahmed Yousef is an adviser to the prime minister of the Hamas-led government, Ismail Haniyya. This commentary first appeared at bitterlemons-international.org, an online newsletter.