By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
There are some researchers and experts on the Palestine issue who argue that Hamas rose and gained its power when there was an understanding and coordination with Fatah, and when it harmonized with the “official” Palestinian ruling polity, thus paving the way for it to better spread across the Palestinian community and improve its resistance performance.
However, this hypothesis is incorrect, since the rise of Hamas popular and military resistance and the qualitative leaps took place when Hamas was going against the tide, and when it was outside the official system, led by Fatah; free from its restrictions, controls and standards. It happened when Hamas was seeking to implement its Islamic model, rejecting the peace process that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah began to adopt, and refusing to lower its resistance standards and submit to the conditions of others. Therefore, Hamas has agreed to pay the exorbitant prices to go against the “dominant” Palestinian trend and the Arab and international viewpoints, and did not care much if this violated their systems or made their actions fail. It also did not adapt or seek to adapt except within its conditions and when it clearly served its plans. At the same time, it was highly dynamic, flexible, open and self-confident, which made it ready for dialogue, reaching common grounds and mitigating harm, while seeking to convince “the others” of its standards.
This rise period was between 1987 and 2005. That’s why, when Hamas entered the system in 2006, it was a shock to the official Palestinian political system, and to some extent, it was a surprise to Hamas itself. For it was a direct non-gradual entry, from outside the system to the leadership position of the system; and an abrupt change from opposing and seeking to overthrow a political system to suddenly leading it, without any change in its structures or working conditions and foundations.
Hamas victory was the culmination of a popular and military rise, which reflected in it winning the elections. However, soon after savoring the sweet taste of victory, it was back to paying the high price of combining power and resistance, losing the West Bank (WB), and ruling the Gaza Strip (GS) under siege, in the midst of systematic marginalization or delegitimization attempts by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah, culminated in the dissolution of the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) in December 2018.
In this article, we are not examining the “contentious partnership” in which Hamas has found itself in 2006 until now; neither will we be discussing its attempts to adapting the system to the resistance program, or the system’s attempts to adapt Hamas to the terms and criteria of the peace plan. However, we will try to shed light on one point only, which is the “rise” of Hamas.
At first, the Muslim Brothers (MB) movement, from which Hamas originated, did not seek to be part of the PLO, even after the latter had become popular among the people, students and unions since the late 1970s, rather the movement continued to strongly criticize PLO’s principles and politics.
The outbreak of the first Intifadah in December 1987, which was concurrent with the launch of Hamas, was a quantum leap for the Palestinian Islamic action. Hamas became in a popular position competing with Fatah, or at least the second faction after Fatah among Palestinians. It continued managing the Intifadah activities—calling for them in its own way, and imposing its own program without being part of the “Unified National Leadership of the Uprising.” Hamas refused to participate in the 19th Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Algiers (12–15/11/1988), and refused ‘Arafat’s claims that four Hamas individuals became PNC members (out of 445).
Hamas has overlooked harsh attempts to marginalize it by Fatah and its supporters, whether by ignoring attempts against it, media distortion, systematic attacks on its supporters, especially in the WB villages, or by having its members suffer in Israeli prisons (which was the cruelest). Only after an “honor agreement” was signed, in September 1990, did these attempts stop.
When Hamas was invited to join the preparatory committee of the 20th PNC, it declined and put forward tough conditions for its participation, not only being allotted 40%–50% of the PNC seats, but also that the PLO paths and policies must be reconsidered, which Fatah had considered “impossible conditions.”
When the Fatah and PLO leadership signed the Oslo Accords, Hamas led the Alliance of the Ten Factions, which was against the peace process. It continued the resistance action without being concerned about the accusations of seeking to thwart the dream of establishing a Palestinian state in the WB and GS. Resistance operations were carried out, and new Hamas symbols emerged, such as ‘Imad ‘Akl, Yahya ‘Ayyash, ‘Adel ‘Awad Allah, ‘Imad ‘Awad Allah and Muhyiddin al-Sharif. In April 1996, after the revenge operations for the killing of Yahya ‘Ayyash, the “peace sponsors” had to hold an international conference to support the peace process, in which major countries and normalizing Arab countries participated. Moreover, the PA harshly retaliated with a ferocious campaign of repression against Hamas in the WB and GS. However, the deeply wounded Hamas remained throughout the 1990s on its military and political course, and none of the meetings with Fatah (Yemen 1990, Khartoum 1991, Tunisia 1992, Khartoum 1993, and Cairo 1995), led to Fatah getting what it wanted. Furthermore, Hamas boycotted the 1996 legislative and presidential elections for the PA.
Concerning Hamas abroad, it came under severe pressure, when the head of its political bureau, Musa Abu Marzuq was arrested for over two years in the United States (1995–1997), while its leader Khalid Mish‘al, who succeeded Abu Marzuq, survived an assassination attempt, and the movement’s offices in Jordan were closed in 1999 and its leadership was expelled.
After the failure of the Camp David negotiations (July 2000) and the Israeli escalation, when Sharon stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque (28/9/2000), al-Aqsa Intifadah broke out during the 2000–2005 period, which was a major lever to Hamas and the resistance that imposed itself again. About 400 young men from the Islamic movement (Occupied Palestine 1948) had preceded the arrangements for Sharon’s storming of al-Aqsa mosque, where they held a sit-in there, then led the Palestinian confrontations against the storming. This led to the outbreak of the Intifadah, which expanded tremendously on 30/9/2000, after the killing of the child Muhammad al-Dura.
‘Arafat and the PA leadership tried to tactically deal with the Intifadah to achieve gains for the peace process that was still in place, as the Clinton Peace Plan (The Clinton Parameters) was on the table in December 2000. Also, more than once ‘Arafat announced the end of the Intifadah, to no avail. As for Hamas, it dealt strategically with the Intifadah, quickly regaining its popular and jihadist appeal. It led the armed resistance, had the largest share among the factions in military action, especially “self-immolation” operations, and most of its prominent leaders were killed, mainly Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Rantisi, Isma‘il Abu Shanab, Jamal Mansur, Jamal Salim and Salah Shehadeh.
Consequently, Hamas succeeded in dragging Fatah into the armed resistance realm. For, after the peace process reached a dead end, and the Israelis occupied the PA-controlled areas (Areas A), and after the Likud, led by Sharon, took over the leadership of the Israeli government, and in the midst of widespread popular, Arab and Muslim support for the uprising, accompanied by international sympathy, ‘Arafat concluded that more investment should be made in the Intifadah. He supported the armed resistance, and ended up being sieged in his headquarters in Ramallah, then poisoned, leading to his death.
During al-Aqsa Intifadah, there were talks between Fatah and Hamas, especially in 2002 and 2003, but Hamas remained insistent on having the necessary environment to reform the Palestinian political house and rebuild the PLO. It did not stop its Intifadah activities except temporarily after the Cairo Declaration on 17/3/2005, based on the approval of the PLO and Fatah leadership.
Therefore, Hamas was at its best, when it rendered its utmost sacrifices and was outside the “official” political system. In 2006, it reaped the fruits of its struggle and had a political victory. By entering the system, it sought to stop or disrupt the attempts to liquidate it, where these attempts were taking place in accordance with the “road map.” It also sought to rebuild the PLO, so that it would get back to its original mission of completing the liberation of Palestine and ending the Zionist project… but that is another “story.”