By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Hamas must let go of the delusion of forming a government that could run the West Bank (WB) as well as Gaza Strip (GS) in accordance with the standards of armed resistance. Equally, Fatah must abandon the delusion of forming a government that would run GS as well as the WB in accordance with the standards of the Oslo Accords and the peace process.
As long as there is an Israeli occupation on the ground, especially in WB, there is no room for the delusional belief that the Palestinian government can be a force of change and reconciliation. The occupation will not allow the emergence of any climate that would help a Palestinian government to support resistance or seek to end the occupation.
Forming any government should be part of a national effort to redefine the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and must be run as one of the tools of steadfastness and accomplishing rational goals. It should accommodate all parties without discrimination, and serve the Palestinians not the occupation. It should not be an instrument of political and security pressure by one Palestinian faction against another. If the Israeli side wants to impose its vision and agenda, then it must bear the direct responsibility for its occupation. For this reason, the work of the Palestinian government does not have any credibility except in the framework of a unified leadership and as part of a process of comprehensive reform of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
On 25/6/2015, Palestinians marked the ninth anniversary of the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit carried out by Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees, and Jaysh al-Islam. The daring operation paved the way for one of the largest prisoner swap deals with Israel in contemporary Palestinian history. The operation, dubbed “Dispelled Illusion,” would prove that Hamas was strongly committed to armed resistance even in power, and disproved any illusions in this regard.
It was also a strong sign that the Palestinian resistance can develop itself and carry out advanced military operations, which entailed holding an Israeli soldier in a secret location for years in a complicated security landscape. At the same time, the operation busted the Israeli illusion that holding Palestinian prisoners in Israel could be used to break the will of the Palestinian people. The resistance imposed its will in the end, freeing more than one thousand prisoners, including more than 300 who had life sentences.
The operation gave an unequivocal indication that Hamas could not be forced into the peace process and make it abide by the Oslo Accords and their implications. However, the repercussions of the operation and the Israeli measures that followed this event (in addition to some measures following Hamas’s victory in the 2006 elections), dispelled any illusion or expectation among many Hamas leaders and supporters regarding the possibility of combining political power and resistance under occupation, especially in WB.
The Israeli message was clear: Hamas must not be allowed to be a “success story” in running the PA as long as it holds on to the armed resistance option, even if it has the popular and legislative legitimacy, appointed the most competent people, and implemented the best programs, and even if it agrees to a truce. Indeed, the Oslo Accords were fundamentally built on the basis of subduing the resistance forces and removing their teeth, and leaving the Palestinian side without any cards to pressure the Israeli side.
In the 45 days that followed Hamas’s formation of its government (31/3/2006), Israel shelled GS with 5,100 rounds, at an average of 110 a day. Around 120 Palestinians were killed in the three months that followed the formation of this government. The Israeli forces carried out a massacre killing 14 Palestinians on 7/6/2006, including seven from the same family, and four days later, perpetrated another massacre killing 11 Palestinians. In other words, the Israelis were trying to instigate a conflagration and end the truce, leaving Hamas with no choice but to retaliate to preserve its credibility and popularity, which led to Operation “Dispelled Illusion.”
The Israeli side used this operation as an excuse to launch a war dubbed “Summer Rains,” killing 400 Palestinians, and then Operation “Autumn Clouds,” which killed 105 Palestinians (in the second half of 2006). Israel also arrested 3,500 Palestinians including ten Hamas ministers.
In 2007, 42 Hamas-affiliated MPs were detained by Israel, including the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) Aziz Dwaik. Of course, we are not about to list every measure done by the Israelis.
In short, the projects for liberation and resistance movements cannot (and should not) preoccupy themselves with seeking well-being under occupation. Otherwise, occupation would turn from an enemy to a partner and an ally. The enemy has proven that he is not interested in a peace settlement that would put an end to its occupation and aggression, but only interested in a collaborationist authority that serves its purposes and reduces its costs and burdens, which is what happened in WB.
When Hamas insisted on forming a government that would provide cover for the resistance or further its program, or highlight a success story for its supporters, it was met with obstruction or sabotage. For this very reason, supporters of Hamas and resistance should abandon the idea of forming or joining a government that would govern the WB in the same criteria GS is governed. In other words, if Oslo is not in Hamas’s program, then Hamas will not be in Oslo’s program.
In GS, the situation that Hamas has developed is linked to the fact that there are no Israeli occupation forces on the ground, unlike the WB. Hence, the sabotage led by the Israeli side was carried out through a crippling blockade and devastating wars. While the resistance has shown heroic steadfastness and sacrifices, and benefited maximally from the available potentials, its model came from outside the Oslo system, and in complex circumstances and hostile, or unfavorable, regional and international climates.
The Fatah leadership, which also leads the PLO and the PA in Ramallah must also abandon the illusion that it can marginalize, defeat, or subdue Hamas. It must deal as fast as possible with the conclusion that it will reach sooner or later, namely, that Hamas and the resistance forces should be given their due representation and role in the leadership of the Palestinian national project, and in the policies and institutions of the PLO and PA.
The obstructionism led by Fatah’s leadership against the tenth and eleventh Hamas-led government (2006–2007) only served to entrench the divide, and reflected Fatah’s miscalculations and failure to accommodate the other, and insistence on engaging in misguided and costly tactics to dominate and monopolize decision-making. Fatah also tried to exploit the regional and international climate, which was biased in its favor, to neutralize and marginalize important actors in the Palestinian arena.
The Palestinian reconciliation agreement, which the Palestinians held their breath for four years waiting for it to be signed (May 2011), was handled by Mahmud ‘Abbas selectively and tactically. ‘Abbas ignored the most important part of the agreement, namely, the one related to reactivating the PLO and its unified leadership framework, while continuing to disrupt the work of the PLC.
‘Abbas subscribed to the illusion of forming a government that would be committed to the Oslo Accords and their conditions, hoping he would be able to realize the “dream” of holding elections in the WB and GS in which Fatah would win and remove Hamas’s popular legitimacy. At that point, ‘Abbas would reopen the PLC to try to impose his conditions on Hamas as a minority party. If Hamas continues to enjoy the PLC majority, then it must abandon the illusion of forming a Palestinian government subject to oversight and control by the Council, which ‘Abbas does not accept, nor do the occupation authorities.
When the national reconciliation government was formed by Rami Hamadallah in June 2014, its responsibilities revolved around reconstruction, ending the GS blockade, and unifying Palestinian institutions in the WB and GS as well as preparing for presidential and legislative elections. However, this government soon descended into the illusion of being able to exploit the destruction and siege of GS to selectively impose on Hamas and resistance forces the legitimacy derived from the presidency and Oslo Accords, and not the PLC, and also to impose Fatah’s criteria in appointments and spending.
Hamadallah turned it into a crisis-ridden government instead of a reconciliation government, and a one-sided not a national unity government. The PLC did not figure in this government’s criteria and mechanisms, even though it is the source of its legitimacy and the party that holds the government accountable, and grants or withholds confidence.
For this reason, the government continued to ignore many thousands of civil servants in GS, and the “security standards” continued to be enforced in the WB. This meant that the crackdown on Hamas and resistance supporters there did not stop, as though there was no national reconciliation.
The reconciliation government cannot be a bludgeon in the hand of one Palestinian faction, and an instrument for imposing Israeli and international conditions on resistance forces, after these parties failed to subdue and defeat the resistance. These illusions must be abandoned quickly because they are uselessly wasting time.
Finally, if the ceiling of agreements that established the PA does not allow Hamas and resistance forces of running a government under occupation, and if the standards that Fatah want to implement in running the PA are incompatible with the bare minimum conditions of the resistance, then the illusion that the Palestinian government can lead change and reconciliation must be quickly abandoned.
Instead, there should be a review of the PA and its functional role and readjust it to make it consistent with the Palestinian national project for liberation and independence. If this is not practically possible, the Palestinian people must continue their struggle, and Israel must bear the costs of its occupation.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 30/7/2015