By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Whatever the name researchers, politicians, or the general public like to call the government that ran the Gaza Strip (GS) in the last seven years (2007–2014), like the caretaker government, the dismissed government, the Hamas government, or the government of Isma‘il Haniyyah, it remains a government that deserves appreciation, but also criticism and evaluation of its performance.
Evaluating the performance of the government led by Hamas in the GS does not seem to be an easy task, at a time when the Arab arena is in a state of sharp political polarization, and is witnessing a counteroffensive against Arab uprisings and movements for change. The evaluation is also not easy in the light of the unprecedented media assault against political Islam, or Islamism, and the decline of resistance activities against the Israeli occupation.
However, the problem of evaluation does not only appear through the tense climates, but rather the benchmarks upon which the evaluation process should be based. Indeed, many like to use economic improvement and wellbeing as the basis of such an evaluation, being the most commonly used yardstick in the world, while others add criteria related to political, social, and security stability, freedoms, and so on. But is it possible for a government that is practically under occupation, and under a crippling blockade by air, sea, and land, and which leads a people based on a national program of resistance, return, and liberation, to be judged by the same criteria as a government in, say, Switzerland, Singapore, or Japan? Should this government be held mainly accountable on the basis of providing consumer goods, well-being, and leisure, or should it be on the basis of promoting strength, protection, and steadfastness? Is it fair to judge revolutions against occupation in the same manner that stable and developed countries are judged?
This of course does not mean remaining silent if any party takes advantage of the revolution or the exceptional circumstances to justify falling into any form of corruption, assault on freedoms, or violation of rights. Instead, what is required is to determine whether a given party has made its best efforts in light of the available resources to achieve the desired objectives.
First of all, the “Hamas government” led by Isma‘il Haniyyah was not just a “party in the Palestinian division,” but it was a legitimate government and continues to have the support of the majority of the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), which has been obstructed by President ‘Abbas and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. In effect, there had been nothing short of a perpetual coup attempt against this government through engineered lawlessness.
According to the Palestinian Basic Law (i.e., the constitution), the government led by Isma‘il Haniyyah, which was dismissed by President ‘Abbas, should officially be a caretaker government. But ‘Abbas did not follow this. Instead, he formed an emergency government without seeking a vote of confidence from the PLC. Hamas has been in a comfortable position in the PLC over the past few years and till now, allowing it to block confidence from the ‘Abbas government and give confidence to any government formed by Hamas. Thus, the attempt to portray that Hamas has now returned to the Palestinian fold and “legitimacy,” having ended its “coup” in GS, is misleading.
The government of Isma‘il Haniyyah was not just a rival to the government in Ramallah. There is a massive difference between a camp that adopts resistance program and pays a lofty price for it, and a camp that adopts the Oslo version of the peace process program and lives off its “spoils.” There is a huge difference between those who come under regional and international siege, with attempts to undercut them and depose them at every turn, while running a near-impossible situation in GS; and those who have regional and international approval, and are given a “red-carpet” welcome in Europe and the United States, and also receive hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from these countries, while continuing to coordinate in security matters with Israel and even consider this to be “sacred,” and continue to persecute resistance forces.
However, in the eyes of many Palestinians and supporters of resistance program, when it comes to managing the GS, the Haniyyah government, achieved notable successes for the resistance line. As for them, it expressed the pride and dignity of the Palestinians. The government worked day and night in developing the infrastructure of resistance, training resistance fighters, and sponsored other resistance forces and allowed them to arm themselves, train, and operate.
Many Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinian issue felt pride and dignity as they saw the people of GS rally around the resistance forces and Haniyyah’s government in facing the Israeli aggression and forcing it out of GS, after 23 days of fighting, in the operation dubbed Cast Lead by Israel and Battle of al-Furqan by the resistance (27/12/2008–18/1/2009). The same sentiment was produced when the GS, under the leadership of the “Hamas government,” repelled the Israeli assault on GS between 14 and 22/11/2012 (in the Israeli-dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense, and the Hamas-dubbed Operation Stones of Baked Clay), forcing the Israeli leadership to accept a truce, back down, and agree to lift the siege of GS. One could compare this achievement to the fact that Israel was able to occupy the GS in just one day in 1956, and again in 1967, following battles with the Egyptian army in both cases.
To the credit of Haniyyah’s government also goes the achievement of one of the most successful prisoner swap deals in the history of Palestinian resistance, after managing in very harsh conditions to keep Israeli captive Gilad Shalit for more than five years. Pursuant to the deal, more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners from various factions of the resistance were released, including 320 prisoners who had been sentenced to life in prison.
Some try to make “non-innocent” comparisons, to claim that the truce in GS with Israel is similar to the commitments of the PA in Ramallah vis-à-vis Israel, and even claim that Hamas is “protecting” Israel’s borders. The unfairness of the comparison here has to do with the fact that there is a huge difference between an authority in GS running a program of resistance, and the PA in Ramallah, which runs a program to eradicate the resistance. There is a huge difference between a government in GS training tens of thousands of freedom fighters and developing rockets and defensive weapons, and a government in Ramallah which is busy suppressing resistance movements and their supporters, and dismantling their cells. There is a huge difference between a military truce that costs great sacrifices in GS, and a peace treaty that made the PA in Ramallah a collaborative entity that serves the occupation’s security needs.
On a third note, many wrongly believe that Haniyyah’s economic performance in GS was (technically) worse than that of the government in Ramallah. Furthermore, pundits may expect that under the crippling blockade and devastating Israeli assaults, it would be normal for GS to underperform economically compared to the West Bank (WB).
However, official facts and figures issued by the PA in Ramallah itself say otherwise. According to data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics in Ramallah, GS’s share of the GDP of PA areas rose from 23.8% in 2008 to 27.4% in 2013, while the share of the WB for the same period dropped from 76.2% to 72.6%. Throughout the past five years (2009–2013), GDP growth in the GS was higher than in the WB (e.g., 17.6% versus 10.4% in 2011, 6.6% compared to 5.6% in 2012, and 6.9% compared to almost zero in 2013).
By the same token, the GDP per capita in the GS grew more compared to the WB over the period 2009–2013. This is while bearing in mind that the PA in Ramallah received external aid (especially from Europe and America) worth $5,947 million during the period 2009–2013. This is many-orders-of-magnitude higher than the external aid the GS received in the same period.
What is also striking, according to the al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper on 22/04/2014, is that the GS achieved 97% self-sufficiency in vegetables, and achieved quasi self-sufficiency in fruits at a level of 80%.
Thus, it is not difficult to conclude that the Hamas government in the GS managed the economy efficiently and in a better way than its WB counterpart, in spite of the complex conditions, and in spite of having to work in a hostile environment in which it is under siege with constant attempts to depose it. If the Hamas government had the chance to work in normal conditions or conditions similar to those in Ramallah, its performance and accomplishments could arguably have been even better.
On a fourth note, while putting in mind our full support of respecting freedom and all human rights, and not to commit injustice on any single case; we observed that the way freedoms were dealt with in GS was better compared to the WB, according to figures published by institutions sponsored by the PA in Ramallah. For example, the number of complaints lodged with the Independent Commission for Human Rights in Ramallah was 789 in 2012, including 563 complaints in the WB and 271 complaints in GS. In 2013, the Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights recorded 723 cases of arbitrary arrest, 1137 summons, and 117 cases of torture in the WB. In the GS, in the same period, there were 84 cases of arbitrary arrest, 217 summons, and 22 cases of torture.
In terms of security coordination, according to the Central Command Chief Major General Nitzan Alon, PA security forces in Ramallah arrested 2,200 resistance activists between 2009 and 2010, and 700 in 2011. The Israeli government revealed that its forces carried out 2,968 instances of coordination with the Palestinian security forces in 2010, and held 686 joint bilateral meetings in the same year. In 2009, the security services in Ramallah received $130 million in aid from the United States. Compare this to the state of war between Israel and the GS, the lack of security coordination there, and the US-backed blockade and US-made rockets that the Israelis pound the people of GS with.
Even if we take the feeling of safety and security as a gauge, opinion polls conducted by institutions based in the WB and supported by the West or the PA indicate that people’s sense of safety in the GS is better than in the WB. To be sure, the authorities in GS have succeeded in the elimination of lawlessness and the closed-off security zones previously maintained by clans, and imposed order in all areas of the Strip.
No doubt, the performance of Haniyyah’s government is not free of flaws and shortcomings. This government should have made more effort to accommodate the other factions and include them in the management of the GS, and in providing a more open model in the Palestinian national action by allowing for more freedoms for example.
This article cannot go into much detail, but it should be recognized that this government did an exceptional job, keeping in mind the complex and hostile environment surrounding it, the lack of resources, and the continued aggression and the blockade.
However, we wish the best for the new “national consensus” government, and hope that it will rise up to the level of the aspirations of its people and the nation.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 7/7/2014