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Under the title “The Hamas Experience and Prospects of Solving the National Palestinian Crisis”, al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations held a panel discussion at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Beirut, on Thursday 25th July, 2007. Attending the discussion was a selected group of intellects, educated elite and others concerned with the Palestinian issue, where eight working papers were presented, distributed on three working sessions.

In his opening speech, the General Director of al-Zaytouna Centre, Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, said that the Palestinian condition stands at a critical curve that creates an obligation on intellectuals and concerned people to meet, converse, and listen to each other and take a responsible, leading role in order to reach new and serious ideas; for the more important goal of finding the way out to a joint national Palestinian project.

The opening speech was followed by a word from Shafiq al-Hoot, former member of the PLO executive committee and former PLO representative in Lebanon, who considered that joint work is a must. Al-Hout considered returning to the PLO – currently seized and taken hostage to the Fatah movement – as the only practical way to save the Palestinian ship from sinking. He called on both Hamas and Jihad movements to realize that they have no substitute to serious, honest, and proper work to retrieve the spirit and take part in the PLO. Only then will the National Palestinian Council become the arena for resolving conflict, discussing problems and contradictions instead of having the clamor battlegrounds in Gaza and other places arenas for battling of the conflicting Palestinian parties.

The first session was entitled “The Political Discourse of Hamas (2006-2007)” and was moderated by Dr. Adnan al-Sayyed Hussein. Sami Khater, member of the Hamas political bureau, presented the first paper. According to Khater, Hamas moved straight from opposition and resistance to rule, a move not preceded by a transitional stage. He stressed that the movement sought participation of all camps, but failed, not due to a prejudiced position taken by Hamas, but due to many reasons including the stance taken by the Oslo authoritative stream inside Fatah, foreign interference, and some Arab stances in addition to the Zionist enemy. On that basis, Hamas had to deal with the status quo that made necessary a military decisive move which targeted some security bodies and aborted the horrific scheme which the Oslo stream was planning against the resistance. Khater added that Hamas’s withdrawal from the government has more cons than pros; the first of them being the hype of this same stream which would barge the Palestinian people into mazes of settlement, fighting the resistance and security coordination with the Zionist enemy. In the conclusion of his paper, he supported the return to comprehensive national dialogue, not limited to Fatah and Hamas.

Following this, Dr. Hussein Abu al-Naml presented his paper entitled “Hamas: from Opposition to Rule, or, from Ideology to Politics” in which he analyzed a group of transformations which Hamas underwent in the recent time, pointing out many observations regarding the movement’s experience. In his view, Hamas was facing a dual challenge between authority and resistance that makes it impossible to hold the two. He wondered if entering the government was the real cause for the resistance crisis or has its roots been laid before this time, even before Hamas came to life in 1987? Is it possible to develop the resistance program under a participation in rule, or does it necessitate leaving rule? He saw the crisis as not affecting resistance only but settlement also. It is not a risk to say that the question should not be whether settlement was possible and fair or not, but whether settlement was really proposed on the Palestinian scene? Without contradicting the previous point, it should also be noted that the current maneuver under the title of settlement is no longer revolving around a settlement in Palestine but a settlement in the West Bank.

The second session was entitled “Hamas’s Management of its Internal and International Relations” and was moderated by Dr. Jaber Sulayman. The first paper in this session was presented by Osama Hamdan, Hamas representative in Lebanon, who argued that the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 didn’t come in a normal environment, but in the context of an attempt by the global system to prey on Palestinian resistance and “give recognition to those who are desired to prey on resistance.”

Hamdan divided Hamas’s management of the internal Palestinian relations into three stages. The first runs between the election results and the announcement of the Hamas government. The second is between the Hamas government and the national unity government. The third goes between post unity-government formation and the current situation. According to Hamdan, there is no room for a settlement project now but a project on how to manage the conflict with the occupation.

The second paper was presented by Saqr Abu Fakhr, researcher at the Institute for Palestinian Studies, in which he said that it is no exaggeration to claim that Hamas didn’t win the latest elections based on an Islamic ideology alone, but based on a moderate electoral program that in its core fights corruption and proposes better social services. Voters retracted from electing Fatah, not due to its political program, but rather, because of its mismanagement and the failure of the Oslo Accords in reaching a national achievement to lean on. And while the Hamas’s political program states that it is a resistance movement, their elections program preferred to move away from politics. Hence, it didn’t deal with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), or the two- state solution, or the international community resolutions. It only addressed social, health, educational, economic and women issues,etc…; issues that the Hamas government was not able to achieve any part of. 

An important fact, however, was the confusion of the electoral program with the movement pact. Hamas considered its victory in the elections as a license to apply its pact; a very dangerous matter for its relations with other political powers. True as it is that their victory grants them the right to apply their electoral program, it doesn’t grant Hamas any authority to change the “social contract”, which is an authority above the constitution in the presence of one. Abu Fakhr added that the negotiation line according to Oslo failed long ago, and, similarly, the stream of expelling occupation with special operations alone failed too. More, the Palestinian society suffers the void of an able, historical leadership in the absence of Yasser Arafat, in the absence of serious institutions to serve this society, or any clear political system to gain people’s trust. 

In the tumult of these conditions, Hamas became a government responsible for managing a society no matter what the circumstances or the obstacles are. Saqr believed that it was impossible for Hamas to handle all the issues of the Palestinian society alone even if it later wins the presidential elections. Political participation for everyone is inevitable sooner or later. In this area lies the last test for Hamas: either to move towards national unity and inclusion within the PLO, or solitarily taking over society, which would stand for despotism in its clearest form. The worst fear today is the application of the motto “an incapable ruler is but the one who doesn’t act as despot”.

The third paper was presented by Mohamed Jom’a, an expert in the Palestinian issues at al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. It was entitled “Hamas and the Arab Circle”. In the paper, Jom’a discussed Hamas’ relationships with Arab countries following their victory in the elections and referred to certain problematic issues which controlled their degree of openness to Arab regimes. On top of these issues is the fact that the politics of these regimes are restricted to specific internal and external conditions. These include the official Arab conformity over settlement as a strategic choice, and the American campaign against “political Islam” and resistance movements in general, under slogans of “counter terrorism”; not to mention the fact that some Arab regimes, while approaching Hamas, were influenced by their chronic political antagonism towards the Muslim Brotherhood movement, since the latter embodies the organizational authority for Hamas. Jom’a foresaw a situation where “moderate Arab countries” would push Abu Mazen in the direction of returning to dialogue and investing in the incidents to build a new Fatah that can face the Hamas power, on condition that this is carried out quietly and without starting a new chaos.

The last session was entitled “Prospects of Solving the National Palestinian Crisis” and included contributions from Dr. Jawad al-Hamad, director of the Middle East Studies Center, and Waleed Mohamed Ali, director of the Baheth Center for Palestinian Studies.

Dr. Jawad al-Hamad presented some of the main gestures for escaping the national Palestinian crisis, the most important being dialogue between Fatah and Hamas under the auspices of Saudi Arabia and in cooperation with Egypt and Syria. Another essential issue is the adoption of basic reference documents that would be consulted at any dialogue; mainly the Palestinian basic law, the National Reconciliation Document of 2006, the Cairo Agreement of 2005, the Mecca Agreement of 2007. al-Hamad added the need to end sabotage, revenge acts, and insecurity; to end the emergency state, resume civil life, find new creative approaches to activate the role of the Palestinian Legislative Council, form a new consensual unity government, and rebuild the security bodies.

Finally, Waleed Mohamed Ali, considered that the prospects for solution lie in establishing a political partnership, that belongs to diverse intellectual streams; one that sets out from promoting unity factors at the stage of national liberation by accepting intellectual and political plurality and surmounting all secondary contradictions and disagreement to face the main struggle, that with the occupying enemy. 

At the close of the session, Osama Hamdan imprinted a prominent stance in a comment when, in the context of stressing the importance of national dialogue, he said that unless a serious Palestinian national dialogue takes place between Fatah and Hamas to escape the current bottleneck, Abu Mazen will be “the last head ever of Palestinian authority” and it will be the last time for the PLO head to be a Fatah member, and “that is in case the organization remains at all.”