When Hamas, unexpectedly, won the 2006 parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the message from the one-third of the Palestinian people living in those territories was clear: no more of the “peace process” facade — with its untiring “two-state solution” slogan that never materialized, and no more of the bread crumbs offered to the new inauthentic NGOized, Osloized leadership classes. (In the years since the 1993 Oslo accords, funding NGOs — nongovernmental organizations — has been a major means for foreign governments to influence, co-opt and neutralize Palestinian politics. This process of “Osloization” made some Palestinian organizations more loyal to their funders than to their principles.)
Many of those who voted Hamas into power were not, in fact, supporters of the organization, but rather disgruntled Palestinians looking for change and reform after 13 years of futile, meaningless negotiations that did huge damage to the Palestinian cause and transformed it from a liberation struggle supported by millions all over the world into a dispute between “two equal parties,” two countries fighting for border arrangements.
Undoubtedly, Hamas’ electoral victory turned the whole equation upside down and was considered a blow to the Bush doctrine in the Middle East. The price paid by the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been extremely heavy. Not because of their support for Hamas, but rather because of their choice to put an end to the “peace process” charade. Had there been another Palestinian political force that could be trusted to fight the outcome of the Oslo accords in a principled manner, it might have had a chance. But by 2006, the left had already gone through a process of NGOization and Osloization that put it to the right of Hamas, dovetailing with the right wing that was already in control of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Hamas, then, won the elections because it was expected, whether rightly or wrongly, to rectify historic mistakes made by the official leadership — most importantly defending the right of return of refugees, and putting an end to the unattained two-state solution. A deadly, hermetic siege was imposed on the Palestinians of Gaza as soon as the election results came out, followed by numerous attempts to destabilize the situation through a US-backed coup attempt, culminating in Israel’s 22-day genocidal war on Gaza.
The latest war was a political tsunami aimed at creating a sense of defeat amongst the Palestinians, and a sense that they are confronted with a metaphysical power that can never be defeated. The message was that their choice of an anti-Oslo political power was not only a political mistake, but an existential one as well, a mistake that would change their future altogether; hence, the calculated targeting of children and families. More than 90 percent of the victims of the massacre were civilians, according to leading human rights organizations. None of the declared objectives of the massacre, however, were achieved: Hamas is still in power and the resilience of the Palestinians of Gaza is stronger than ever. Israel has failed to make them feel that they are a defeated people.
Hamas rallied tens of thousands of its supporters in celebrations of the “historic victory over the Zionist entity.” Its spokespersons reiterated again and again that based on this historic victory, there would be no return to the pre-massacre siege and that reality on the ground now “necessitated” new steps. The Palestinian people, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Diaspora and in 1948 Palestine (the part of Palestine on which Israel was declared in 1948), also had high expectations. Gaza 2009 was, rightly, expected to be the Sharpeville of Palestine, a turning point in the history of the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s policy of occupation, colonization and apartheid.
This historic victory against Israel’s aggression required a visionary leadership, one with a clear-cut strategy of liberation that divorces itself completely from the Oslo accords and the deceptive two-prison solution. Instead of building on this victory and on the outpouring of international support in the streets of Istanbul, London, Amman, Caracas, Johannesburg and even Muscat — to mention but a few cities — the leadership of the Palestinian resistance movement, including Hamas, rushed to Cairo for what turned out to be endless, futile rounds of national unity dialogue. One is not, of course, against any serious attempt for national unity, but one also takes it for granted that the ABC of leadership, especially elected ones, is to be with the masses. The siege, which so far has led to the death of more than 400 seriously ill persons (from lack of medicine or ability to travel abroad for treatment), should have been exposed as the obstacle that prevents the leaders of the resistance from having national dialogue because they, as leaders, cannot and should not leave their besieged, traumatized people and move freely outside Gaza. This should have become a condition. If any Arab dignitary wanted to have a discussion with the victorious leadership, he or she should have been invited to Gaza. One would have expected the Gaza leadership to act as a victorious one; to wait in Gaza for at least one month after the end of the massacre and make it clear that they would welcome any sign of real support and solidarity while they were staying with their people in Gaza. That, alas, did not happen.
This was a step in what I call the “abortion of victory.” Instead of coming up with an alternative program to that of the Palestinian Authority, and all the organizations belonging to it, and instead of building on the unprecedented, growing solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza, the leadership of Hamas, in statements made by its leaders and — more importantly — letters sent to the US president, have started reinventing the wheel! I will limit myself to a couple of important examples: Hamas’ flirtation with the Barack Obama administration and their endorsement of the two-prison solution.
After US President Barack Obama’s much-talked-about speech to the Muslim world from Cairo, in which he had nothing of substance to say about the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, Dr. Ahmed Yousef, a senior advisor to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in an interview on Al-Jazeera International, was extremely happy with the speech which was, according to him, like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech! Two nights later, and on Hamas’ Al-Aqsa television, the ex-spokesperson of the first Hamas government argued, and I would say with conviction, that Obama’s (in)famous speech was a clear indication of the change taking place in the US administration and that “we” need to make use of the “diversity” within the American establishment! This, of course, came after Hamas sent a letter to Obama which Senator John Kerry, who visited Gaza a few months ago, refused to carry.
Failing to understand that Obama’s election does not represent a radical change in American Middle East policy is a sign of, to say the least, political immaturity. The “diversity” within the US establishment is like the difference between the Likud and Labor parties in Israel. Obama still represents the Democratic Party, which is a part of the mainstream American establishment. Obama’s victory in the presidential elections, therefore, has not produced a change in the nature of American imperialism. Obviously, Hamas has bought the fiction brought about by the election of Obama and his “seriousness” in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas fails to see that in essence, what Obama is offering is not different from what George W. Bush and, before him, Bill Clinton offered. In his speech, Obama made it crystal clear that the US-Israel ties are “unbreakable;” prior to that he was more than clear in announcing that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of the Jewish state.” For the Obama administration, Israel’s security remains the issue, which, ultimately, marginalizes the whole issue of Palestine.
The Israeli-American siege imposed on Gaza would be lifted immediately, if Obama decided it should be so. In fact, the US is not merely complicit, but rather a participant in the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the Palestinians of Gaza. Any freshman student of political science, not to say a child on the streets of Gaza, would tell you this.
The second, more important example, of Hamas’ political immaturity, is its acceptance of the already dead two-state solution. In a joint a press conference with former US President Jimmy Carter, Palestinian Prime Minister Haniyeh said that Hamas accepts a state limited only to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the areas occupied by Israel in 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital. This is ironic, not to say bizarre, since every politician in Palestine knows that a two-state solution has been rendered impossible by Israeli colonization of the West Bank, by the looting and pillaging of Gaza, by the construction of the apartheid wall, and by the expansion of so-called “Greater Jerusalem.” Since 1967, the US has supported and is still supporting Israel in creating conditions that have made the two-state solution impossible, impractical and unjust.
For a senior Hamas leader to reiterate what has already been said by the head of its political bureau, Khaled Meshal, one can conclude that this is the beginning of a process of deterioration — even Osloization — not only in rhetoric, but also in action. The Palestinian people are not only those living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There are six million refugees, the overwhelming majority of whom are waiting to return to their villages and towns in accordance with UN Resolution 194, and 1.4 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, who have third-class status. The Palestinian struggle is not for an independent state on the 1967 borders, but rather for liberation — liberation for all the inhabitants of the historic land of Palestine. Accepting the illusion called an independent state on the 1967 borders is, in actual fact, an acceptance of a racist solution par excellence.
By launching its genocidal war against Gaza, Israel has shot the two-state-prison solution in the head, which consequently means a dire need for an alternative program that addresses the Palestinian question as one of democracy, equality, human rights and, ultimately, liberation from occupation, colonization and apartheid. Hamas, alas, has fallen within the trap of Oslo and its fetishization of statehood at the expense of Palestinian fundamental rights. Of course, one tends to agree that the current serious crisis in Palestine emanates from the nature of the deformed political system created by the Oslo accords and their claim of laying the foundation for a two-state solution. By participating in the January 2006 elections, most political organizations in Palestine, including Hamas, showed an implicit acceptance of the new political reality created by the Oslo accords and hence the two-state solution. But, ironically, Hamas claimed otherwise, that its objective was to bring Oslo to an end.
In the late 1980s, the Palestinian national movement accepted the two-state solution and at a later stage, recognized Israel. This is the same resistance movement that in the 1960s emerged to liberate Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Behind-the-scenes negotiations, ultimately, led to the signing of the notorious Oslo accords, which paved the way for the transformation of the Palestinian cause into one of charity. Now, Hamas is reinventing the wheel. No wonder, one has a sense of déjà vu.
Mohamed Hasanein Heikal and Azmi Bishara, two leading intellectuals in the Arab world, have repeatedly criticized Hamas for its lack of exposure to the external world. This world does not only include the US, Iran and the official Arab regimes. It is a world that also includes the same civil society organizations that pressured their governments in the late 1980s to boycott the apartheid regime of South Africa; it has the university students who have occupied their campuses in an attempt to pressure their administrators to divest from companies having ties with apartheid Israel; it has the students of Hampshire College, the University and College Union of the UK, the Scottish Trade Union Council, the South African trade union federation Cosatu, and others in Venezuela, Bolivia and further afield. It has the Palestinian BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) National Committee. The struggle is not only an armed one, but it includes other pillars as well, pillars that emphasize the importance of international solidarity and mass mobilization, rather than placing all hope and faith in Barack Obama and his administration.
Gaza 2009 — the political steadfastness the people have shown in reaction to Israel’s genocidal war — has proven that the Palestinian people are way ahead of their leaderships!
Haidar Eid is an independent political commentator.