May 05 2006

Solution for Hamas- Focus on local issues

Published by at 11:13 am under Blogs,Palestinian politics

by  Daoud Kuttab

For 39 years of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, Palestinians have been able to survive through a variety of mechanisms. Being under occupation, Palestinians were able to discover ways to beat the system. Before the Palestinian Authority was established, non-governmental organisations created a state-like infrastructure that dealt with people’s needs.

Various charities worked on providing for the needy using local zakat (tithes), allowed devout Muslims to distribute goods and finances to help the poor. Medical and agricultural groups organised themselves to help people in these important sectors. A higher educational council was even set up to regulate the university system, to ensure that academic standards were kept and students studied subjects that they could eventually find jobs in. Professional and trade unions were active and so were student and women’s organisations. During all this time, political factions were very active behind the scenes. Because membership in the various Palestinian factions was illegal, their supporters worked using names that included words such as national (for Fateh) popular (for PFLP) and Islamic (for Hamas), and people (for communists). While everyone knew, generally, what these names represented, as long as they didn’t list the names of the factions they were legal in as far as Israel was concerned. For the various PLO factions, this changed after the Oslo accords; they began using their names and for the most part, that was OK with the Israeli military powers. The two groups that remained illegal even after the Oslo accords were the Islamic ones, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Their supporters continued to do what the others did before Oslo. They used a variety of names other than the ones declared illegal by the Israelis. Nothing was different when the Palestinian elections took place last January. Fateh and the other PLO groups ran in the elections using their own names, while Hamas ran using the name “The list of reform and change”. While everyone knew that this was the Hamas list, they seemed to be careful not to say that in their campaign propaganda. The press never made that distinction either, and those running for elections, at times seemed to have forgotten that they were still living under Israeli occupation and that they had themselves decided not to run on an official Hamas list. In fact those on the list of reform and change were said to have officially resigned from Hamas. The results of the elections and the furore that accompanied it seem to have resulted in the pro-Hamas candidates to forget that they had technically run on a non-Hamas list. Instead of distancing themselves in word and deed from Hamas, the jubilant winners of the elections fell in the trap and began talking as Hamas victors, not as the victors on the list of reform and change, which they had actually run and won on. Many in the international community tried to give Prime Minister-Designate Ismael Haniyeh a chance by waiting before taking a position on the new government until it issued its programme. This proved to be a problem. On the one hand, Haniyeh and company said they were bound by the programme they were elected on. President Mahmoud Abbas, who constitutionally had to choose the one to create the government, was elected with an even bigger margin, but on a completely different political programme. Such difference between the government and the presidency is not new in the world. France, for example, has a president from one party and a prime minister, supported by a parliament, from another, politically different. The upcoming mid-term elections in the US can also produce a Democratic Congress with a Republican president. In all these cases, a division of authority exists. The president’s office is usually responsible for external policies and national security issues. The prime minister usually runs local issues. Haniyeh and his chosen government could have easily avoided the siege they find themselves under by simply focusing on reform and change, stating with local issues. Various polls since the elections have shown that fighting corruption and ending lawlessness is high on the list of expectations of the Palestinians. On the political track, the majority are still in favour of Abbas’ moderate approach to Israel. At a recent press conference following the Israeli elections, Haniyeh said that his government has no problem with Abbas pursuing what he can with the Olmert government. But Haniyeh and his people simply refuse to do what Palestinians have done in 39 years to survive: accept the reality that living under occupation forces one to accept. Every Palestinian, including Haniyeh, holds an ID card whose number is part of the Israeli security system and is listed on their computers. Whether he likes it or not, Haniyeh is still living under Israeli occupation, even though for Gazans, it is largely an indirect one. Recognising this reality is not a political compromise. It is simply recognising what the whole world knows: that Palestine is still under occupation. Friday-Saturday, May 5-6, 2006

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