By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The visit to Lebanon by Khalid Mish‘al, the head of the Hamas movement abroad, from 15 to 19 December 2021, was mainly intended to participate in the celebrations and events marking the thirty-fourth anniversary of the launch of Hamas, and communicate with the Palestinians addressing their concerns. It goes without saying that in such a visit, a leader like Mish‘al would definitely meet with political and resistance forces leaders.
The visit, whose arrangements were made a month in advance, was welcomed by the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the Parliament Speaker. It included a very busy Palestinian visit schedule.
Prior to the visit, two prominent developments took place. The first was the death of a Hamas member, Hamza Ibrahim Shahin, on 10/12/2021 in al-Burj al-Shamali refugee camp, near the city of Tyre, as a result of an explosion of oxygen canisters that Hamas sources said was due to an electrical mass. At his funeral that was attended by huge crowds, members of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian National Security opened fire on the crowds, killing three Hamas members, while the situation became more tense in the Palestinian community. The second development was that Hizbullah informed Hamas that it is not interested in Mish‘al’s visit, and there are no meetings to be scheduled between the two sides.
Despite the instability of the situation in Lebanon, the tense internal Palestinian situation, and the escalating potential security risks, Hamas leadership decided that the visit must proceed. For the latest developments make the visit more urgent, in order to be with the people.
Indeed, on 15/12/2021, a Hamas delegation led by Mish‘al arrived in Lebanon, where he conducted successful meetings with Hamas bases and cadres. His visit contributed to dissipating the tension, while emphasizing the national unity of the Palestinian people, at the same time, insisting on holding the killers accountable on the basis of firmness, justice and transparency.
Remarkably, not only did Hizbullah and those affiliated with the “axis of resistance” refrained from meeting Mish‘al, but they also took serious measures to thwart the visit, including a media blackout, personal verbal attacks against Mish‘al, and pressure on the official authorities and a number of factions not to meet with him. Seemingly, there were efforts when attacking Mish‘al to draw a line between the stance regarding Hamas as a movement and Mish‘al as a person. They wanted to make the impression that there is a current within Hamas with which Iran and Hizbullah are pleased, and another one headed by Mish‘al, with which they are not pleased. The exit from Syria by Hamas while the Movement was led by Mish‘al seems to be a major reason for this attack against the man.
However, those who know Hamas, and according to data available to the writer, the following can be noted:
First, Mish‘al’s visit to the Palestinian community was successful, and his arrival in these delicate times, after the death of four Hamas cadres, gave credibility to Mish‘al and the delegation. Their interaction with the Palestinian people and the families of the martyrs, and sharing their concerns, while showing high Islamic national spirit when addressing the emerging situation, have made Hamas cadres in particular and the Palestinians of Lebanon in general very satisfied.
Second, Mish‘al’s visit was not a personal decision or desire, but rather an institutional leadership decision. Accompanying him were prominent leaders from abroad, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, namely Musa Abu Marzuq, Fathi Hammad, Muhammad Nazzal and Hussam Badran, all of whom are members of the political bureau or Hamas’s highest organizational leadership. They were also joined in a number of events by Sheikh Saleh al-‘Arouri, the deputy head of the Movement, in addition to all Hamas’s leaders in Lebanon where they all worked together as one team.
Third, Mish‘al himself does not have any sensitivity toward the relationship with Iran or Hizbullah, on the contrary, he is one of those who stress Iran’s important role in supporting the resistance financially and militarily. Since his leadership term and until now, he has been a supporter of the continuation of the relationship with Iran, on the basis of supporting the resistance and confronting Israel. Mish‘al and his comrades appreciate also the importance of the relationship with Hizbullah in Lebanon and their good coordination, and Mish‘al was ready to meet with the Party’s leadership in Lebanon if they wanted to.
Fourth, it is the right of Hizbullah and the “axis of resistance” to meet or not meet whoever they want. Hizbullah is free to take whatever decision and no one disputes its distinct political capabilities and experience. Hamas, like everyone else, is aware of the extent of the Party’s influence in the Lebanese arena. Yet, it is surprising that a supposedly friendly side has sought to prevent others from meeting a prominent leader. Arrangements for the interview with the President of the Republic were disrupted, and the Speaker of the Parliament apologized for not meeting Mish‘al, after he had agreed to, while the Prime Minister was forced under pressure to meet with Mish‘al at his home and not in the Grand Serail. However, the Mufti of the Republic did not respond to the pressures and hosted Mish‘al in Dar al-Fatwa. Mish‘al also met with the head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt, the leadership of al-Jama‘ah al-Islamiyyah in Lebanon, a delegation from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) headed by its Secretary-General Ziad al-Nakhalah, as well as delegations of scholars from Lebanon and Palestine.
This means that Hizbullah succeeded in part in canceling meetings of mere protocol nature. The sides canceled their meetings because of pressure, and not necessarily because of their own convictions or negative stance toward Mish‘al or Hamas.
Fifth, Hamas decided to respect the decision of Hizbullah’s leadership not to meet and circulated to its cadres not to respond to the media attack targeting Mish‘al or to engage in any arguments that would divert the visit from its objectives, or contribute to the deterioration of the relationship with the Party and Iran. This is viewed to the credit of Hamas.
Sixth, Khalid Mish‘al is one of the founding leaders of Hamas. He has been the head of the Movement for about 21 years, which is about two-thirds of its lifespan. He is highly appreciated in all its circles and leadership levels, at home and abroad, and when he left the Hamas leadership in 2017, he did so, willingly while he was at his peak, and out of respect for the Movement’s internal system. When he became the leader of Hamas abroad in the spring of 2021, he was a consensus candidate and won by acclamation. Moreover, the files he handles cover all areas outside Palestine, including areas led or dominated by the “axis of resistance.”
Seventh, boycotting Mish‘al had a “counter” effect on Hamas’s internal ranks, according to insiders, as solidarity with Mish‘al increased. Fears also intensified that the boycott would imply pressure towards determining or controlling who represents Hamas in its dealing with the “axis of resistance.” Consequently, there was more interest in dedicating the independence of the Movement and its decision, confirming the adherence to institutional work, and emphasizing rejection of any pressure, whatever its source might be.
Eighth, this article does not discuss Hamas’s position on Syria, the uprisings, or the regional developments, known as “Arab Spring”, nor does it address the Movement’s position on Iran and Hizbullah and their regional role. However, it should be noted that Hamas’s decision to leave Syria, which some seek to hold Mish‘al responsible for and to punish him personally for, was not the decision of Mish‘al or of a certain current within Hamas. This decision, based on a lot of evidence, was taken unanimously by the Movement’s leadership, with broad support from all its bases inside and outside Palestine. It was taken and adopted by all Hamas leaders at the time, including the Movement’s current leader, Isma‘il Haniyyah (who was then at the head of the Gaza region) and his current deputy, Saleh al-‘Arouri (who was and is still at the head of the West Bank region), as well as Khalil al-Haya, who is now in charge of the portfolio of Arab and Islamic relations, including relations with Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and others. Until this moment, no decision has been taken within Hamas regarding the return of relations with Syria, even around five years since Mish‘al has left the Movement’s leadership.
Whoever knows Hamas, its institutional structures and decision-making process, knows perfectly well that decisions were (and still are) the product of an institutional process. Therefore, targeting Khalid Mish‘al is meaningless and unjustified.
Ninth, Hamas is not a Palestinian faction that is easily pressured. It is currently at the fore in the Palestinian scene, leading the Palestinian resistance and enjoying wide popularity at home and abroad, therefore having good prospects of winning any fair and transparent elections. It won an overwhelming majority in the 2006 elections (which were never held after that), and the indicators were decisive for its victory in the 2021 elections had it not been for the Fatah leadership and the PA to disrupt them.
Hamas, through its leadership of the resistance in Palestine for many years, including al-Aqsa Intifadah 2000–2005 and the battles fought by the Gaza Strip, have expressing the choices of the masses and peoples and the will of the Arab and Muslim Ummah (Muslim nation). When the Sword of Jerusalem Battle was fought in May 2021, the masses of the Arab and Muslim world came out from Tangiers to Jakarta in support of Hamas, the resistance and Jerusalem. Indeed, this resistance succeeded in mobilizing the international community against Israel, where hundreds of demonstrations took place in all continents, including America and Europe, where the popularity of Israel in general, and in the West in particular, declined to unprecedented levels. A movement like this can only be esteemed and its decisions respected, at least from friends and supporters, whether countries, parties or people.
Tenth, as understood by Hamas leaders and its literature, if there is an axis of resistance, then Hamas is its heart, and it is the main player in the field and a leader in defending the Ummah (Arab and Muslim nation). Along with other Palestinian resistance forces, Hamas is holding embers inside and outside Palestine paying the heavy bills of bloodshed, imprisonment, destruction and displacement. Therefore, the relationship with it should be based on equivalence, partnership and responsibility. The Movement is not indebted to any side that does things based on duty and religion, patriotic and national commitment, or strategic interests and national security.
It is expected that those who believe in the same resistance line will respect Hamas’s internal decisions and its institutional structures, and just as the various forces refuse to be part of the Movement’s agenda, they should not expect Hamas to be a part of theirs.
Previously, according to Khalid Mish‘al, when Hamas had good relations with Saudi Arabia, and when Mish‘al was on a visit to the Kingdom, King ‘Abdullah sent Prince Muqrin bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz with an offer to bear whatever sums Iran supported Hamas with, if the Movement severs its relation with Tehran. However, Mish‘al refused, on the basis that Hamas carries the resistance project of the Ummah, and that it welcomes Saudi support, but without preconditions. This is because Hamas does not affiliate itself with anyone; every country, body or entity supporting the Movement is doing it out of duty towards Jerusalem and Palestine; and because Hamas and the resistance forces are presenting themselves as the defense wall that protects the Ummah and the Arab and Muslim countries from Israel.
Finally, Hizbullah is known for its high political skills and its ability to build relationships, manage common interests, and build alliances. This makes it necessary to ask: Were there certain data or inaccurate information about Mish‘al or Hamas’s actual position that led to boycotting Mish‘al?!
In all cases, it is hoped that this visit and its outcomes will be an opportunity for a positive review towards a real and effective alignment of the resistance forces towards the liberation of Palestine.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 5/3/2022