Apr 21 2006

Hamas’ predicament — partly political naiveté?

Published by at 2:14 am under Blogs,Palestinian politics

By Daoud Kuttab

Two months before the Palestinian election, I met in Ramallah with Hassan Yousef, a senior West Bank leader of Hamas. Talking to him before he began an interview on our Ramallah TV station about the upcoming elections, Yousef told me that it would be wrong for Hamas to win more than 25 per cent of the Palestinian Legislative Council seats.

The Hamas leader who was reported to have had some problems with his own leadership is now held in administrative detention by Israel, without trial or charge. His advice was not heeded by Hamas leadership. All Hamas nominees (including the imprisoned Yousef) won four seats for the Ramallah district. The fifth Ramallah seat was won by the Fateh candidate who competed for the district’s quote allocated to Palestinian Christians.

Yousef predicted that winning the elections would be disastrous to Hamas. I remembered him as I was reflecting on the predicament Hamas finds itself these days.

Not given much of a breathing space, Hamas has wasted pressure opportunities and has found itself ostracised internationally and unable to pay salaries and carry out the most basic needs of governance.

The acting Israeli prime minister wants to cancel the residency rights of the four Hamas MPs and of the minister for Jerusalem affairs, even though they have not violated any law and were elected in a legitimate election that was also held in East Jerusalem. The annulment of their permanent residency rights in Jerusalem is equal to deporting them and denying them the right to live and work in their own homes and in the city where they were born and where they live.

The Israeli high court will look into their case, but there is no doubt that, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, this is collective punishment and therefore illegal, according to international humanitarian law.

The hypocrisy of the international community notwithstanding, the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) has found that the world is run on realpolitik and not simply on the lofty values of democracy uttered by US and Western officials.

Arab countries are not helping much either. Some say out of fear, others claim that their refusal to help Hamas is a result of US and European pressure. Arab countries have not made any serious moves to help Hamas out of its financial crisis. Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar met no civilian Egyptian official (he met briefly with the head of the Egyptian intelligence). Jordan cancelled a meeting as a result of what a Jordanian spokesman said was the discovery of a Hamas explosives cache in Jordan.

International and Arab banks refuse to deal with the Hamas government and its minister of finance, making the simple transaction of transferring the money to the Palestinian Authority a next to impossible act. Without banks agreeing to open an account for the Hamas minister of finance, and with the Israelis controlling the borders, it remains to be seen how whatever money will be raised in Iran or any other country will be transferred to the newly sworn-in government.

As Yousef predicted, the unenviable position Hamas finds itself in now will result either in the fall of its short-lived government or in the collapse of its political principles.

Americans and Israelis, who seem to be smelling blood, are not letting up on their pressure against a freely elected government whose members have been careful not to carry out a single violent act since long before their recent elections.

A close look at the way the noose has been tightened around Hamas’ neck shows, at worst, their political blunders and, at best, their political naivete. At almost every turn, the international community – mostly represented by the US – has tried to send signals to Hamas, which the latter ignored and disregarded.

Various friends have tried to advise Hamas leaders, providing them with ideas on how to get out of the mess they found themselves in. Left-wing groups have suggested that Hamas use the umbrella of the PLO which signed various peace agreements. Fateh leaders suggested that Hamas recognise the Palestinian Basic Law (constitution) and do what any new ruler does, accept existing agreements and treaties. Arab leaders have suggested the adoption of the Beirut summit’s peace plan as a way to get around the condition of recognising Israel.

Israel also appeared willing to deal with Hamas if it reined in the radical groups who launch rockets in Gaza or send suicide bombers from the West Bank. In every political test that it faced, Hamas failed to understand what was happening and the consequence of its decisions.

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