The fall of the Gaza Strip to Hamas was a tragic event in
Palestinian history. The brutality witnessed in the clashes between
Hamas and Fateh is viewed by most Palestinians as an enormous
setback in the national struggle for liberation and freedom.
Instead of struggling together against Israel, politically or
militarily, Palestinians turned their weapons on each other and one
side came out on top.
After the victory of Hamas in the January 2006 elections, many
believed that some kind of accommodations and understandings could
be reached between the two Palestinian movements. While Hamas is
firmly based on the roots of the Muslim Brotherhood as a
pan-Islamic movement, it is clearly also a Palestinian national
movement. Those who believed that Hamas could modify its positions
based their hopes on a similar process that the PLO went through -
that Hamas would within a short period accept, at least implicitly,
the Quartet's conditions: 1) recognition of Israel; 2) adherence to
previous agreements; and 3) renouncement of terrorism. Hope grew
when Hamas proposed, and then observed, the tahdi'a - or calm -
When internal strife erupted in Gaza after a year, the Saudis
brought the parties to Mecca to reach an agreement for a national
unity government. Once again, hope was voiced that Hamas was
reforming its basic positions. It seemed that it had come to terms
with some of the Quartet demands, with its agreement to "respect
the previous agreements" and to speak about ending the occupation
over the lands occupied in 1967, without recognizing Israel.
The national unity government was short-lived and in June 2007 fell
apart in a wave of internal violence that, apparently, was aimed at
strengthening Hamas' position vis-à-vis Fateh and not at a
full military takeover. It quickly became clear that the Hamas
forces were more organized, better armed and much more motivated
than the national forces. Within a few days it was over, and Hamas
took full control of the Gaza Strip.
In the current political reality, the Hamas takeover of Gaza has
created a full separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
This is an artificial separation which, at least for now,
undermines one of the achievements of Oslo - the recognition by
Israel of the territorial integrity of the Palestinian lands. While
it is clear that there can be no resolution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will permanently separate these
two territories, for the time being, it seems that political
progress may only be possible vis-à-vis the West Bank.
Most observers and analysts have related to the event in Gaza as a
tragedy, some even calling it the second Nakba. With all the sorrow
that I feel for the loss of lives and the suffering caused by the
fighting, I believe the Palestinian people have been offered a
choice: between the national movement represented by the PLO and
Hamas. It is in fact an opportunity for the Palestinian people,
with no option of avoiding making a decision.
I have spent much of this past year attempting to create dialogue
with senior officials and academics from Hamas, and the only real
difference between the so-called moderates and the extremists
within Hamas seems to be their willingness to talk with Israelis.
Most Hamas people share the positions represented by the extremists
and reject even talking with Israelis.
In my opinion, Hamas cannot compromise on its basic ideology and
therefore will be unable to accept the Quartet's conditions. Their
ideology is not political; it is based on their interpretation of
religious principles. For them all of Palestine is Waqf - a Holy
Islamic Trust - and in their understanding of Islam, there is
absolutely no way to compromise that by recognizing Israel.
The Hamas leaders' conditions for a long-term hudna with Israel are
more severe than the PLO's conditions for a full peace and
end-of-conflict agreement. For them, hudna means the end of the
occupation on the 1967 borders, the removal of all of the
settlements, a full implementation of the right of return, and the
division of Jerusalem with no rights for Israel in East Jerusalem,
even over the Jewish holy sites.
The Palestinian national movement was established as a secular
national movement. The Palestinian people believe in democracy and,
in fact, demand democracy. Democracy is not only elections. The
heart of democracy is the set of rights and obligations that
guarantee civil rights and equality to all citizens. The
Palestinian national movement has a right and an obligation to
protect itself from Palestinian political parties that do not agree
to the "rules of the game." In the case of Palestine, the rules of
the game should be the internationally accepted norms laid down by
If people are dissatisfied by the political behavior and
performance of Fateh, the alternative does not have to be Hamas.
There could be more alternatives for the Palestinian national
movement, including reforming and democratizing the Fateh movement
and other options, but these are all for the Palestinians to