Hamas Gaza PM Haniyeh has made a speech that may be intended to reach out to Fatah but it falls far short of what is necessary for real national reconciliation, says Hani al-Masri on Palestinian www.masarat.ps
The latest speech by Ismail Haniyeh, Deputy Leader of Hamas's Politburo, has elicited widely divergent opinions, notes leading Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian websitewww.masarat.ps.
SUPPORTERS AND OPPONENTS: While some expressed strong support for what Haniyeh had to say, others were strongly against the positions he articulated, and still others were broadly ambivalent.
Haniyeh's supporters perceived the speech to be strong, coherent, comprehensive, and even linguistically impressive. They believe that Haniyeh prescribed correct remedies for all the issues at hand. He called for formulating a comprehensive strategy and a national program, and focused on the issue of resistance, mentioning it no less than thirty times. He stressed Hamas's principles, and defended the position the movement took vis-à-vis the Arab Spring and its correct stance in siding with the Arab peoples. He refuted the anti-Hamas media campaigns, especially those that have to do with its alleged role in Egypt and Syria, and promised that Hamas still had many surprises up its sleeve on all fronts.
Haniyeh's opponents however believed that the speech contained nothing new. In fact, they say it was disappointing in the sense that he failed to apologize for  Hamas' putsch in Gaza and the resulting split with Fateh, and that he offered no tangible initiatives, such as releasing prisoners, agreeing to form a government of national unity, holding presidential and legislative elections, and bringing to an end Hamas's unilateral control over Gaza. In fact, some of Haniyeh's opponents saw the speech as a message saying the split is set to continue for a very long time yet, because it contains conditions for national reconciliation that the PA cannot possibly accede to. They believe that ignoring the fact that Hamas is in crisis does not mean that it is not, and that the speech was directed at Hamas, Gaza, and Egypt more than at any other party.
But there were those who cautiously welcomed the speech, sensing a conciliatory tone and positive elements that could be built upon. It contained a frank invitation to implement the [Fateh/Hamas] Cairo agreement and the Doha declaration unconditionally and unreservedly (he avoided calling for implementing all agreements as a package, or that certain preconditions have to be met before prisoners could be released, or that the PA should end security cooperation with Israel).
Moreover, it was the first time that a senior Hamas leader speaks openly and unreservedly about holding elections. In fact, some believed that Haniyeh fulfilled all the conditions President Abbas has asked of him, and that all that remained was for Abbas to dispatch [senior Fateh official] Azzam al-Ahmed to Gaza to discuss implementing the agreements.
Cautious optimists believed however that the speech was too general and lacked practical initiatives and mechanisms. For example, Haniyeh did not invite Abbas to visit Gaza, nor did he go into details about forming a government, or mention a timeframe for elections. But there were those who believed that since President Abbas stands at the apex of the Palestinian pyramid, it was his responsibility to come up with initiatives to end the split.
Interestingly, some known Hamas supporters criticized part of what Haniyeh said. He was vague regarding the foundations on which reconciliation should be built. Meanwhile, some Fateh activists and supporters lauded the speech and called for building on it, noting that Haniyeh mentioned both resistance and political action, as well as his support for diplomatic efforts at the UN and attempts to join international bodies.
What was new in Haniyeh's speech was that he stressed that Hamas – after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt – was now intent on returning to its roots as a resistance movement and part of the rejectionist front after going some way towards adopting a relatively moderate position especially regarding its positions vis-à-vis peace talks with Israel, its abandonment of resistance after signing up to a truce with Israel, the rupturing of its ties with Syria and the deterioration of its relations with Iran and Hizbollah (which it tried to replace with closer ties with Turkey, Qatar, and Muslim Brotherhood Egypt).
But the problem Hamas faces is simple: it cannot turn back the clock. Much water has flowed under the bridge, and many new political realities have emerged, most significant of which is the sharp regression of political Islam. That is why it is not easy for Hamas to return to what it was in the past. Recent statements by Hamas Politburo head Khalid Mish’al about the Arab Spring, Syria, and Iran, which were understood to be a call for opening a new page with the rejectionist camp, showed both Hamas's determination to return to what it once was, and the difficulty of doing so.
Hamas's insistence on reverting to its past positions could cost it the support of Turkey and Qatar, and could negatively impact its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood – all with no guarantee that Damascus, Tehran, and Hezbollah would welcome it back with open arms – especially in the light of recent regional and international arrangements (the agreement over Syria's chemical arsenal, Obama's phone conversation with Iran's Rowhani, the resumed discussions on Iran's nuclear program, and the possible success of the Geneva 2 conference on Syria).
What all these developments indicate is that the last thing Iran and Syria wish for now is normalization of their ties with Hamas. While Syria and Iran still need the Palestinian card, they no longer need Hamas to provide them with it, especially as relations between Ramallah and Damascus have improved noticeably, and a process is underway to improve Iranian-Palestinian ties.
Nor would it be easy for Hamas to concentrate on the option of resistance now that ties with Egypt have ruptured and Egyptian pressure against Gaza mounting. Egypt now views Hamas as just another Muslim Brotherhood chapter, rather than as part of the Palestinian national movement. While Hamas can still launch attacks against Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, or elsewhere, it would have to pay a very heavy price without gaining the level of support it was once used to. Many Palestinians and Arabs would see such attacks as a tactic born of its current crisis rather than part of a strategy for liberation.
Although it denies it, Hamas knows that it is in deep crisis, one that it cannot hope to emerge from without seeking shelter under the umbrella of Palestinian legitimacy and national unity. While it is prepared to make concessions in this regard, it does not want to be seen to be weak. That is why Hamas prefers to wait until it becomes clear that it is not about to collapse in the hope of extracting better terms. Hamas is also hoping that changes in the Arab and international spheres could yet turn the tables in its favor. It could also be hoping that President Abbas may throw it a lifeline to test its commitment to unity and how far it is prepared to go in this regard.
Hamas must understand that – as Fateh and all Palestinians must as well – that they are all facing a dilemma that threatens to liquidate their cause. They must know that they have no other way out than via unity within the framework of a single institution and a strategic vision that could produce a program that is capable of confronting challenges and dangers without any party seeking to subjugate the other.
Unity cannot be achieved on the basis of the status quo, or solely on the basis of signed agreements. The status quo is anathema to unity. It is impossible for national unity to coexist with the unfair terms of Oslo, nor with the current struggle for power. Unity can only be achieved if the entire national project is redefined and the national movement reconstituted. Hamas must understand that it is required to:
-Express practical readiness to renounce its unilateral control of Gaza in exchange for full partnership in the PA and the PLO through either elections or national consensus.
-Distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, so as to appear once again as part of the Palestinian national movement. Without this difficult but necessary step, national unity would be impossible to achieve and so would improving ties with Egypt especially as Egypt is the lung of the Palestinian cause in general and Gaza in particular.
It is not enough for Hamas to state that it is not at war with the Egyptian regime, for it is more than enough that it sided with its enemy politically. Egypt is acutely aware that Hamas – as the ruling power in Gaza – can influence the extremist groups that are active in neighboring Sinai. According to the Egyptians, it is Hamas's duty to control not only its own activists but all other groups active in Gaza as well.
Unless these two conditions are met, all the positive points contained in Haniyeh's speech will be seen merely as tactics designed to gain time until the storm passes without uprooting Hamas.