Far-reaching compromises by Hamas have been met in recent months with a firm wall of intransigence, both from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and from the so-called international community – especially the European Union.
Yet with few other options, the political and resistance organization persists in revising long held positions in the slim hope that its flexibility will be reciprocated.
On Monday, recently elected Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh phoned Abbas to “assure him of the positive atmosphere prevailing in the Palestinian political arena since the movement announced on Sunday the dissolution of the administrative committee” in Gaza
In a repeat of countless failed “reconciliations,” Haniyeh once again declared his movement’s readiness to go ahead with long delayed legislative and presidential elections in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Hamas had formed the administrative committee earlier this year as a de facto government for Gaza, the coastal territory that has been under a devastating Israeli blockade for a decade. Hamas charged that the PA-run “national consensus government” was not doing its job.
Dissolving the administrative committee has been one of Abbas’ demands in his ongoing campaign to wrest control of Gaza back from Hamas, which soundly defeated his Fatah faction in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.
Abbas and his international backers consider Hamas’ rule in Gaza to be illegitimate, accusing it of a coup.
There was a coup attempt, however it was not by Hamas, but against it.
Following its 2006 election victory, Hamas was never allowed to fully exercise its mandate. Israel and its allies, principally the United States, worked to undermine the Hamas-led PA government in order to restore power exclusively to Abbas.
After months of street fighting in Gaza, Hamas and Fatah formed a “national unity government” headed by Haniyeh. The US then enlisted Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan to rout Hamas militarily in Gaza. This plot ultimately failed, and Dahlan’s US-backed militias were run out of the territory.
Hamas, cornered and besieged in Gaza, fought alongside other resistance factions three times in the last decade to defend the territory against massive Israeli military assaults. Meanwhile, working with Israel and enjoying international support, Abbas consolidated his grip in the West Bank, cementing a political and territorial division among Palestinians.
In a sign of its desperation earlier this year, Hamas even made a rapprochement with Dahlan – an alliance of convenience, since Dahlan and Abbas have fallen out and are now deadly rivals.
Abbas makes Gaza suffer
Meanwhile, Abbas, colluding with Israel, has tightened the screws on the people of Gaza in an effort to bring Hamas to its knees.
Abbas has cut medicines and delayed medical travel permits to Palestinians in Gaza, precipitating the deaths of children. He urged Israel to slash electricity supplies to the territory, deepening an already devastating humanitarian crisis. And he imposed drastic pay cuts on thousands of civil servants.
Following the dissolution of the administrative committee, Hamas said it was now Abbas’ turn to “urgently cancel all the punitive measures and decisions taken against our people in Gaza.”
But the curt official PA statement about the phone call from Haniyeh to Abbas announced no such moves.
Like Haniyeh however, Abbas did thank Egypt for its efforts to broker yet another reconciliation between their two movements.
People in Gaza fervently hope that a reconciliation could relieve the suffocating siege. Egypt, which is closely allied with Israel, controls the Rafah crossing, the only access to the outside world for most of Gaza’s two million people.
Yet there is little reason to believe that this reconciliation will prove any more successful than previous efforts.
None of those agreements have dealt with a fundamental, structural contradiction: Abbas and his PA are committed to collaboration with the Israeli occupation, under the banner of “security coordination,” while Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.
Meanwhile, Hamas’ military wing is undoubtedly preparing to defend Gaza against the next Israeli invasion.
Under such circumstances, “unity” is impossible; it can only be achieved if one side definitively abandons collaboration, or the other definitively surrenders to the occupation and hands in its resistance weapons. Neither outcome is likely.
It is also meaningless to talk about free elections in a context where Abbas is imposing a police state in which even well-known activists and journalists are jailed for merely criticizing him on Facebook.
If Hamas’ concessions on the internal front have so far met with a stone wall from Abbas, its international outreach has come up against just as much intransigence from the European Union, which fashions itself as an honest broker for peace.
In May, Hamas launched a new policy document formalizing its support for a two-state solution along the 1967 lines, repudiating anti-Jewish statements in its founding charter and emphasizing that armed resistance is a means to an end that can be set aside in favor of politics.
The document contains contradictions, and ironically Hamas signed up to the two-state solution as it became clear that such an outcome will not come about.
But I argued that it followed in the footsteps of the Irish nationalist party Sinn Féin, and the Irish Republican Army, which made similarly difficult concessions. Together with reciprocal moves by the British government and other parties, this enabled the historic 1998 Belfast Agreement that mostly ended three decades of violence in Ireland’s north.
Failing to learn
Sincere peace seekers would study this lesson – especially the EU, which has invested more than a billion dollars in supporting the Irish peace process.
Ana Gomes, a member of the European Parliament from Portugal, raised the historic changes in Hamas’ position with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
“The EU has an interest in supporting pragmatic evolution within Hamas rather than vindicating the hardliners who argue that progress can only be achieved through armed struggle,” Gomes wrote. “What is the EU’s response to Hamas’s document and the opportunity for progress that it presents?”
Gomes asked if the EU would “take any reciprocal steps, such as relaxing its no-contact policy and opening up a channel for dialogue with pragmatic elements within Hamas.”
The response from Mogherini was a firm no: “The EU does not see a case for a change in policy towards Hamas nor considers it appropriate to draw a distinction between its military and civilian wings.”
For the EU, as for Israel, the only kind of Palestinian leadership that is acceptable is one that has not only totally capitulated to Israel, but which – like Abbas – actively partners with Israel in oppressing the Palestinian people.
What is all the more ironic about the EU’s rejectionist stance towards Hamas is that the bloc is desperate for allies in the quest for a two-state solution at the very moment when the US is ditching it.
Mogherini is currently in New York for the UN General Assembly, where she insisted that “there is no realistic alternative to the two-state solution.”
She claimed that this position is born out of a “realism” that comes from EU work on the issue for decades. It more likely stems from an enduring delusion that doing the same things that have failed for decades will somehow start to work now.
“We have not seen conditions or agreement possible on a one-state solution, not a state-minus solution, not a three-state solution or whatever else,” Mogherini added.
This is a remarkably disingenuous statement since the EU and the rest of the so-called international community have never been willing to seriously consider decolonial alternatives to ethnic and territorial partition, including a democratic one-state solution.
Yet with such a firm a commitment to two states, one would think Mogherini would be willing to talk to Hamas, whose position is arguably closer to the EU’s than is Israel’s. Instead, top EU officials continue to pander to those most opposed to the two-state solution: Israel’s leaders.
EU “enlargement” commissioner Johannes Hahn, also in New York, tweeted that he had met Israel’s deputy foreign minister Tzachi Hanegbi on Monday and “discussed how to preserve viability” of the two-state-solution.
As for Hanegbi, he recently threatened Palestinians with a “third Nakba” – a reference to Israel’s previous bouts of mass ethnic cleansing in 1948 and 1967.
He’s only one in a parade of top Israeli officials to make genocidal statements that the EU has failed or refused to condemn.
Back in 2004, a senior Israeli official announced that Israel’s plan to “disengage” from Gaza, naively hailed by the international peace process industry as a major breakthrough, really had another purpose.
“The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,” then prime ministerial adviser Dov Weisglass said. “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”
Formaldehyde, a chemical used by morticians to stop the deceased from decaying, has indeed turned out to be the most effective and appropriate way to “preserve” the vaunted two-state solution.