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By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.

Hamas, almost 30 years old, is at a crossroads, facing a number of “critical questions,” as a part of the Palestinian National Movement and a part of the wider Islamic movement, some of these questions can no longer be delayed, as the more their answers are delayed, the more adversely Hamas’ ability to build their future paths will be affected. The most important questions or issues are:

First: What if the Palestinian Reconciliation Fails?

Despite the fact that Hamas considered moving forward with the reconciliation as a “strategic decision”; despite remaining practically silent about the non-activation of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), which it heads, in addition to their non-participation in the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) institutions and agencies in the West Bank (WB); despite saying nothing about a Fatah-affiliated government taking over the administration of the PA; and despite handing over control over the Gaza Strip (GS) and its crossings to this government and accepting that resistance [against Israel] be managed as part of a joint strategy with Fatah and the other factions…; despite all this, the Fatah leadership is “managing the reconciliation” and is not concerned with enforcing it on the ground. The Fatah leadership’s strategy has so far been focusing on subjugating and marginalizing Hamas within the Palestinian political system, and is not based on full partnership that reflects the true weights of the on-the-ground Palestinian forces.

The Fatah leadership, who works within the Oslo framework, and in accordance with the peace process, cannot—even if it wished to—enforce the reconciliation on the basis of full partnership, because three of the five reconciliation processes are controlled by the Israeli side (the government, the legislative elections, and the PA’s agencies in WB). Israel will only allow Hamas to operate within the PA’s frameworks based on the Oslo Accords, which are already rejected by the movement.

The reconciliation document itself was built on procedural grounds, lacking the necessary foundations which would make it a success; for instance, there is no agreement even on the fundamentals (e.g., ceding most of historical Palestine occupied in 1948), nor on the Palestinian national program, the priorities of this stage, the methods of managing the conflict, and the liberation pathways…

In short, there is no prospect that the reconciliation will succeed, and Hamas should search for an answer to the question: What’s after the reconciliation?!!

Second: What’s after the Palestinian Authority?!

There is no future for the PA!! The peace process is on the verge of collapse, and the two-state solution has practically fallen apart. It is almost impossible for the PA to develop into a Palestinian state with full control over WB and GS. The PA will remain a functional entity that serves the occupation more than the aspirations of the Palestinian people. It is unlikely that Israel and the United States (and even Fatah and the Arab regimes) will allow the conduction of legislative elections, which are most likely to be won by Hamas. It is highly unlikely that Hamas will be able to combine power with resistance, even if they win the elections, especially when it comes to the administration of the WB government.

The Fatah movement, which effectively leads the PA and provides the necessary cover for its continuation, has positioned itself under the Oslo Accords, and will remain captive to the responsibilities on which the PA was founded, unless they decide to “turn the tables.” However, this does not seem to be imminent!!

As for Hamas, it cannot position itself under the Oslo Accords and should not expect to be able to impose the “rules of the game” on the Israeli side by redefining the PA as a resistance authority in the areas under occupation in the WB, or to be able to lift the Israeli siege of GS.

Certainly, the administration of GS is no longer tempting in return for managing the national project in an environment of siege and division …, that is if compared to the heavy price paid by Hamas and the resistance forces in WB, and even abroad.

Any attempt by the resistant Hamas to adapt, under the Oslo roof, will lead to the erosion of its resistance action, and could perhaps make it lose its identity and existence rationale.

In short, the decisions taken in the years 2005–2006 to participate and enter into the system can no longer be reproduced, and Hamas has to look for new horizons.

Third: The Future of Dealing with the PLO Leadership?!!

In short, “without beating around the bush,” Hamas is an undesirable and unwelcome guest at the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)!!! Not only because it would expand in the legislative, executive, and leadership frameworks of the organization at the expense of Fatah, who have become accustomed to domination and control of the organization for fifty years, but also because Hamas’ participation, (with its Islamic and resistant orientation) as seen by wide sectors at Fatah and the PLO, would cause big problems and setbacks for the organization in the Arab and international contexts. Many countries (especially Western ones) may withdraw their recognition of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and may close the PLO’s embassies on their territory, thus weakening the international diplomatic presence of the PLO; as long as these Western and international environments remain antagonistic or hostile toward Islamic and resistance movements.

Whereas Hamas will not accept to be part of the PLO except with genuine and effective partnership, and within a Palestinian national program that rejects the Oslo Accords and their terms of reference. Also, Hamas will not accept to be on the periphery of the PLO’s frameworks in the shadow of Fatah, or to act as a “false witness” to and an “analyst” of the peace process, because that would make Hamas lose justification for joining the PLO.

In other words, a serious entry by Hamas into the PLO depends mainly on a decisive central decision by Fatah to write off the Oslo Accords and return to the national charter, with real willingness to shoulder the burdens, requirements, and prices of partnership and alternation of leadership… This is unlikely to be accomplished by Fatah at this stage.

Thirdly, after nearly 13 years of the Cairo Agreement between the factions to rebuild and activate the PLO, the PLO’s leadership have not taken a single serious step in this regard.

This means that the PLO’s leadership locked the door and “swallowed the key”…

The question now is: How long is Hamas going to keep “knocking on the door”?!

Fourthly: What’s After the Resistance in Gaza?!

The resistance military action in GS has reached its peak within the available means, and the achievements of the resistance (in the eyes of Palestinians) above and under the ground are undeniable.

However, with the siege of GS reaching its limit, bearing the burden of covering the living expenses of two million Palestinians is no longer possible. With the absence of direct contact with the enemy because of its withdrawal from the Strip; with the cessation of armed clashes across the border of the Strip; and with the increased likelihood of targeting the resistance action if the Ramallah Authority insisted on the implementation of its standards and obligations in the Strip… the resistance project, along with the liberation project, cannot continue to be held hostage to this situation.

How can the WB regain its health and resistance role?! What is the role of the people in the 1948-occupied Palestinian territories in the resistance project? To what extent, under what circumstances, and under what conditions can the resistance action abroad regain its former “glory,” having once been the centre of resistance?!

Fifth: Regional Positioning

When most of the regional powers and major international players in the region oppose “political Islam” movements, as much as they oppose resistance forces, or are at least fed up with them… Hamas has been met with “double” hostility on the part of these forces. Despite the fact that Hamas has “bit the bullet” under many circumstances, and in many regional countries, to avoid interfering in their internal affairs, to make sure that the Palestinian question remains a factor of unity, and to strive to direct hostility at the Zionist project… the attempts to corner and strangle it, and “clip its wings” have not stopped.

Moreover, Hamas have paid a double price because they have, naturally as a resistance and popular movement, stood with the right of the people of the region to freedom, expressing themselves through a political system that reflects their true will, away from external interference and political tyranny.

Since the strategic environment surrounding Palestine represents the “lungs” of internal Palestine; since this environment embraces the majority of the Palestinian people abroad; and since this environment itself suffers “too much flexibility” and continuous “structuring and restructuring”—being an environment where there are as many challenges and risks as there are prospects and opportunities—how will Hamas and the resistance forces position themselves in such a “minefield,” with the minimum amount of damage and the maximum amount of benefit from opportunities?!

Sixth: The Issue of Islamic Identity and National Identity

Most of Hamas’ cadres and bases have no problem in combining the Islamic and national identities, because Islam encourages patriotism and defence of one’s country, as well as liberating it from enemies and elevating it. Because the vast majority of the Palestinian people are Muslims, when Hamas was established, it was clear that it was presenting itself as a comprehensive Islamic movement, and that national action was one of its components and functions stemming from its Islamic understanding. However, in recent years, “some” have exaggerated their presentation of the national identity at the expense of the Islamic one; sometimes leading to an “unconscious” shift to the line of action, focusing on the “national identity,” while “some” transform the “Islamic” identity into one of the “tools” of national action, not vice versa. Of course, the justifications were the need to focus on the “area of expertise,” dissociate from regional conflicts, and search for common bases with the various national and Arab forces, trying not to provoke their hostility toward Islamic movements, especially with the escalation of the “Islamic extremism” phenomenon, and the escalation of regional and international hostility toward “political Islam.” In such circumstances, this “some” becomes unwelcome to Islamic forces and movements being ‘opportunistic’!!

What one discovers in discussions with these “parties” is the extent of their “superficiality” in addressing sensitive doctrinal and ideological issues, and the prevalence of pragmatism over the “message-spreading” dimension… with shallowness of the intellectual product.

How to deal with this sensitive, bilateral issue in a creative way, and how to actually reflect it in the light of a comprehensive, cultural Islamic vision of the liberation project, which is able to deal with the reality and its complexities, and deal with the national dimension as a positive and original component, consistent and not separate from this vision.

Seventh: Between the Revolutionism of the Project and Bureaucracy of the Structures and Performance

This is a problem that occurs in revolutionary organizations, whose popularity and scope of activity expand. It becomes an active player in political action, whether in government and its institutions, or through networks of relations, institutions, and service structures established by these organizations.

If this is accompanied by a stable livelihood, calmness in revolutions, with the expansion of financial revenues and the employment of cadres; if many get used to the monotony of work and to their stable lifestyle, with the difficulty of monitoring and accountability in complex environments that require a lot of confidentiality and caution… Such environments are likely to witness the emergence of a “class of interests,” linked to the stable situation, even at the expense of revolution and change. They could also lead to cases of weakness, disguised unemployment, and extravagance, which may become attrition factors and obstacles to the project, especially if faced with serious, new circumstances.

Since Hamas fluctuates between revolutionary environments and institutional environments, how can it solve the “complex equation” of maintaining the jihadi, message-spreading spirit, of proving a high level of quick and flexible adaptation to various events and challenges, and of making maximum use of human and financial resources; establishing a culture of transparency and accountability?!

Eighth: How Can Geographical Diversity and the Diaspora be an Added Value, not a Burden?

Palestinians have paid a tremendous price as a result of their internal geographical dispersion between the 1948 Palestine and WB and GS, and their dispersion abroad in dozens of countries around the globe. However, this may represent a high value of quality in the management of the project, in a way that makes use of the qualitative advantages of any place, with the difficulty of ending the project because of its wide spread. If there is a need to represent diversity in a fair and reasonable manner in the legislative Shura institutions, the translation of the geographical quota mentality (regardless of eligibility, experience, and competence) into administrative and executive leadership frameworks may create turbulent work environments, in addition to sensitivities and narrow calculations that lower the levels of achievement and accountability, and create environments of discord and schism.

In addition, if the leadership quota has appeared to a small extent for some objective reasons, how can it be treated as an exception, and as a state of necessity, which emerges only when necessity demands? While striving to maintain the maximum levels of leadership and institutional effectiveness, which when taking into account geography, should not be captive to its sensitivity, at the expense of the project.

The Arabic version of this article appeared on Al on 29/12/2017.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 22/2/2018