Hamas' Political Impasse: Between Principal and Necessity

Much can be said to explain,
or even justify Hamas' recent political concessions, where its top
leaders in Gaza and Damascus agreed in principle with a political settlement
on the basis of the two-state solution.

Much can be said to explain,
or even justify Hamas' recent political concessions, where its top
leaders in Gaza and Damascus agreed in principle with a political settlement
on the basis of the two-state solution.

On June 25, Damascus-based
leader of the Islamic group's political bureau, Khaled Meshaal reiterated
Hamas' rejection of recognizing Israel as a Jewish State, rightfully
dubbing such a designation as "racist, no different from Nazis and
other calls denounced by the international community." However, he
did endorse the idea of a two-state solution, which envisages the creation
of an independent Palestinian state on roughly 22 percent of the land
of historic Palestine.

The announcement was hardly
earth shattering, for other Hamas leaders have alluded, or straightforwardly
agreed to the same notion in the past. But what was in fact altered
is the language used by Hamas' leaders to endorse the illusive and
increasingly unfeasible possibility of two states. Meshaal's language
was largely secular, while past Hamas references to the same principle
were engulfed in religious idiom. For example, in past years Hamas agreed
to a Palestinian state in all of the occupied territories, conditioned
on the removal of Jewish settlements, under the provision of a long-term
'hunda', or truce. The term 'hudna' is loaded with implicit
religious inferences, and was used to present Hamas' political views
as both pragmatic, but also based on time-honored Islamic political

Ahmed Yousef, chief advisor
to the deposed Hamas government in Gaza alluded to the concept of 'hudna'
in various writings and media interviews. But his calls sounded more
like an attempt to find common space between the Islamic movement's
firm religious beliefs and US-led international pressure aimed at forcing
Hamas into the same political camp which discredited rival Fatah.
But Ahmed Yousef's variation in rhetoric cannot be understood as synonymous
with Meshaal's recent political revelations.

The boycott of the elected
Hamas government in 2006, and the orchestrated violence that led to
a Hamas takeover, and subsequent isolation and siege of the Gaza Strip,
were all meant to force Hamas to 'moderate' its position. Immense
collective suffering was endured throughout the Gaza Strip in order
for Israel and its backers, including the Palestinian leadership based
in the West Bank to force Hamas out of its ideological trenches to join
the 'pragmatic' camp, which saw little harm in fruitless political

Hamas' steadfastness was
enough to further demonstrate its revolutionary credence and patriotic
credentials to most Palestinians and their supporters around the Middle
East and the world. Hamas impressed many, not because of its theological
references, but political resilience and refusal to be intimidated.
In some way, Hamas achieved the same revolutionary status and recognition
as that of Fatah in the 1960's.

It was not until the Israeli
war against largely defenseless Gaza starting December 2008, that Hamas
seemed politically self-assured, and for good reason. After all, it
was a democratically elected movement representing Palestinians in the
Occupied Territories. Their rivals' failure to accommodate the new
political reality, and incessant Israeli attempts at destroying the
movement and imprisoning scores of its elected parliamentarians were
not enough to de-legitimize it. Then Israel unleashed one of its grizzliest
campaigns against Palestinians, aimed largely at civilians and civilian
infrastructure in Gaza. The Israeli war was meant to achieve more than
the killing of 1,350 (including 437 children) and the wounding of 5,450
others. It was aimed at disturbing the Palestinian psyche that began
seeing a world of possibilities beyond the confining and shallow promises
of peace infused by the Oslo peace process, which only served to ingrain
occupation and entrench illegal settlements.

International solidarity was
building up slowly prior to the Israeli attack. As Israeli bombs began
raining atop Gaza's mostly civilian infrastructure, international
solidarity exploded throughout the world. Israel's brutal folly served
to legitimize the very group it was meant to crush. The voices that
tirelessly demanded Hamas to live up to fixed conditions, handed down
by the so-called Middle East peace quartet, were overshadowed by voices
demanding the US and various Western powers to recognize and engage
Hamas. A lead voice amongst them is former US President Jimmy Carter,
one of the first influential Western personalities to engage Hamas,
and to break the news that Hamas "would accept a two-state peace agreement
with Israel as long as it was approved by a Palestinian referendum or
a newly elected government." (Guardian, April 22, 2008)

Carter's insistence on involving
Hamas in any future peace arrangement took him from Damascus, to Cairo
to the West Bank, then, to Gaza. His recent visit to the Strip on June
16 was more than that of solidarity, but it was aimed at convincing
Hamas to agree to the vision of two states and the Arab Peace Initiative
of 2002. The alternative conditions are meant to present a more dignified
exit than the belligerent and one-sided demands of the quartet. It's
unclear whether Hamas would fully embrace his call. But what is clear
is that Hamas is sending various signals, such as its willingness to
engage in dialogue with the Obama administration, and, again, acceptance
of the two-state solution, which according to any reasonable estimation
of the Israeli 'facts on the ground' created in occupied Jerusalem
and the West Bank, is now a far-fetched possibility.

Needless to say, Hamas as a
political movement, with an elected government with some jurisdiction
over nearly one-third of the Palestinian people has the right, and even
more, the obligation to politically maneuver, reposition and even re-brand
itself. Breaking the siege on Gaza requires steadfastness, true, but
political ingenuity as well. That said, Hamas must be wary of the political,
and historic price that will be paid if it fails to learn from the experience
of the discredited and corrupted Fatah. Palestinian rights are enshrined
in international law, and corroborated by the endless sacrifices of
the Palestinian people, in Gaza and elsewhere. Therefore, the price
of engagement, dialogue and political validation must not happen at
the expense of the Palestinian people wherever they are, as stipulated
in numerous UN resolutions including 194, pertaining to the right of
return of Palestinian refugees.

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