Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hamas hasn’t changed

Moshe Elad

Some people wonder what happened to the Hamas movement, which has been characterized by radical militancy for about two decades yet in the past three days “renounced” two of its sanctified basic principles.
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The movement said that it is suddenly willing to replace the ideological fundamentalist doctrine of an Islamic state by “a political agreement that would recognize a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders”. Meanwhile, it says that it is also willing to immediately replace the struggle to exterminate Israel by a lull agreement, or possibly even a “10-year ceasefire.” There are two main reasons for the change, and both of them, how surprising, are unrelated to any ideological shift. The besieged, assaulted, and beaten Hamas experienced a little satisfaction in recent days: Jimmy Carter visited Khaled Mashaal in Damascus and declared that he recognizes Hamas as a legitimate Palestinian ruler. Egypt too, which fears a furious outburst on its border with the Strip, was quick to flatter this terror organization via a dramatic announcement regarding a “lull agreement” between two equal parties – Israel on one end and Hamas on the other.

What motivated Hamas to rush to declare that a lull agreement was closer than ever is its claim that Amos Gilad confirmed that Israel agreed to a deal that is mutual, bilateral, and comprehensive. Hamas understands this to mean the lifting of the siege imposed on the Strip, the opening of the crossings to anyone, and an end to targeted killings. Does the agreement also include an end to Qassam fire by Hamas’ subsidiaries? Not for sure.

Fatah heads in Ramallah who survived the “Gaza disaster” in June 2007 have difficulties comprehending Israel’s two-pronged policy. “Olmert meets with Abbas, Livni finalizes core issues with Ahmed Qureia, and Amos Gilad confirms lull agreements with Haniyeh and al-Zahar?” they ask with disbelief. However, the Palestinian media sympathizes with their “brothers who suffer in the Strip” and wait for the moment Israel decides to retake Gaza and invite Abbas and his entourage to reclaim it. Will Abbas now have a good reason to quit his talks with Israel?

As it turns out, not only is the distress faced by Gaza residents worsening, but also the distress of Hamas heads in the Strip. The economic siege is indeed taking its toll, the public is impatient and conveys dissatisfaction with its leaders, yet Hamas heads are the ones who need the lull more than anyone. When he appeared before hundreds of graduates at Gaza’s Islamic University, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was asked whether “you need the lull with Israel in order to protect us, or yourselves?” The outbursts of laughter and embarrassed stares among the crowd came in place of the real answer.

Hamas leaders fear for their lives
Yes, Haniyeh, al-Zahar and their comrades need the lull in order to be spared an assassination and in order to stop seeing their loved ones dying as martyrs every day. Hamas leaders have been seeking for a while now a shortcut that would safeguard their lives and put an end to IDF strikes in the Strip, as long as this path comes with a different codename. “They are fed up with the need to be walking in tunnels stopped over while constantly staring at the sky,” a Hamas opponent in the Strip explained recently, “so they decided to refer to the solution as a process of national self-examination.”

Meanwhile, Khaled Mashaal’s declaration regarding “recognition of the 1967 borders” without recognizing the State of Israel and a “10-year hudna” is no more than a cynical manipulation that is reminiscent of Yassar Arafat at his best.

We should note that Arafat claimed that “it is permissible to lie for the sake of the Palestinian people” and did so often with amazing bluntness. For example, after he was caught secretly declaring jihad against Israel a week after signing the peace agreement, he argued that there is such thing as “jihad of peace!” – Now Mashaal seeks to outdo Arafat.

Mashaal’s latest declarations are not a sign of maturation or pragmatism, and certainly not an indication of changed positions. What we see is the best of the manipulation entrenched within the Islamic tradition, which allows jihad fighters to declare a lull in the fighting under certain conditions – a sort of truce in the war against the “infidels.” This happens when the war goes awry or when assessments show that the enemy is more powerful or capable and will prevail should the fighting continue.

The ceasefire’s purpose is to prepare for the continuation of the struggle and boost the capabilities of the fighters. We should realize that once Hamas abandons the ideology of a Sharia state in favor of a secular political agreement that the Jewish State is a party to, it will no longer be the same Hamas.

So those who in recent days were amazed or raised a puzzled eyebrow in the face of what’s going on with Hamas should come back to their senses soon. This movement will not be undergoing a meaningful change. The only thing we may see is the sight of Hamas leaders holding their heads up high: Mashaal was the first to do it following the Carter visit in Damascus, while Haniyeh and his comrades may do it next thanks to yet another phony ceasefire.

Moshe Elad served in various posts in the territories and currently researches Palestinian society at the Shmuel Neeman Institute at the Technion. He also serves as a lecturer at the Western Galilee Academic College

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