At the just concluded United Nations General Assembly Session in September 2011, the President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas, presented Palestine’s application for full membership and declaration of independence to the UN Secretary General Ban Kim Moon. The move generated huge popularity at home for Mr. Abbas and the Fatah Movement. Many Palestinians and their Arab neighbors considered it a bold move and a step forward to achieving the long deserved Palestinian Statehood; some see the move as a huge blow to Hamas’ popularity in the Gaza Strip and the entire Palestinian occupied territories most especially, since Hamas is considered a terrorist organization and not recognized by major powers.
Irrespective of the different perception and the existing marginalization of Hamas, the aim of this writing is to determine whether there can ever be a Palestinian State without Hamas. To arrive at a meaningful conclusion, one must revisit the preliminary events that gave birth to the conflict and eventual occupation of Palestine. The 1948 Arab-Israeli war or the war of independence as it is called was the first in the series of wars fought between the State of Israel and its Arab neighbors. The war took effect after the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine and the establishment of an independent Israel on the 14th of May 1948 when Arab armies invaded Palestine. The conflict took place mostly on the former territory of the British Mandate and also in the Sinai Peninsula and Southern Lebanon. This later became a main trigger for Jewish exodus and concluded with the Armistice of 1949.
In 1967 following a six-day war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Israel launched a successful attack on Egypt which led to the eventual annexation of the 22% of Palestine that eluded it in 1948 the West Bank and Gaza Strip were taken as occupied territories including some parts of the Golan Heights. However, till this day, the Palestinian Authority, the European Union, and the United Nations consider East Jerusalem to be a part of the West Bank, a position seriously disputed by Israel. After the six-day war of 1967, UN Security Council Resolution 242 called for “the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East” to be realized by the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the territories occupied in the recent conflict … Termination of all claims or state of belligerency” and respect for the right of each State in the region to live side-by-side within both secured and recognized boundaries.
The withdrawal from the occupied territories was conditioned on a “peaceful agreement” by the parties. However, this condition was rejected by the Arabs in accordance with the Khartoum Resolution. Till date, the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980 and the Golan Heights in 1981 by Israel failed to garner support from the United Nations and the UN Security Council via Resolution 478 declared the annexation “null and void.”
Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in September 2005 declaring it no longer occupied the Gaza Strip; however, it still control the airspace and coastline earning it the name “occupying power” as it is referred to by the UN, U.S., the UK and many human rights organizations.
Till present, the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas has been fighting for the establishment of a Palestinian State, the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories, return of the refugees and the establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestine. The proposed establishment includes the Gaza Strip currently in control of Hamas (a faction of the Palestinian Authority); the West Bank is under the control of the Fatah Movement and East Jerusalem under the control of Israel. Despite agreement between the Fatah Movement and Hamas on the establishment of a Palestinian State, there exists a rivalry as to who should take control of the administration of an established Palestinian State. Many nations and most especially the major powers, recognized the government of Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah establishment, as the genuine and legitimate representatives of Palestine while on the other hand, they considered Hamas to be a terrorist organization with whom no one should negotiate. But can there be a Palestinian State without Hamas?
Hamas is an Islamic Resistance Movement with a political party and a military wing the Al-Qassam Brigades. Hamas has taken control of the Gaza Strip since 2007 after winning a huge majority in the Parliamentary election. Even though, the U.S., the EU, Israel, Canada and Japan consider it a terrorist organization, nations like Russia, Turkey, Switzerland, and many Arab nations disagree with such connotation. Though isolated by majority of the West, Hamas enjoys popular support in the Palestinian territories and it is hailed in the Arab world as a liberator and a Resistance Movement fighting for the emancipation of the Palestinian people. The Hamas affiliated military wing the Al-Qassam Brigade has launched series of attacks including the use of suicide bombings on Israeli military targets which to some in the Arab world, is the proper response to Israeli occupation and killing of Palestinians.
Since Hamas’ victory in the Parliamentary election in 2006, the U.S. and the EU seized all financial assistance to the Hamas led government. Tensions over control of the Palestinian Security Forces led to the 2007 battle of Gaza after which Hamas retained Gaza but ousted from government positions in the West Bank led by Mahmoud Abbas. Despite the financial strain on Hamas, the Movement has been able to gain support from majority of Palestinians most especially the poor who see the organization as the ultimate provider. Many support the movement for its ability to resist Israeli occupation through its military wing which helped force Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in mid 2009.
The popularity of Hamas has its origin not only in its resistance to Israeli occupation but also in its social welfare wing providing all forms of social services in the occupied territories. The Fatah Movement and the Palestinian government in the West Bank led by Mahmoud Abbas have failed to provide such services giving Hamas the opportunity to fill the vacuum. Hamas funded Health Services where people could receive free or cheap medical care, serves as attraction for the poor and needy; it facilitated Hospital Physician Services in the occupied territories and gives financial support to families of those killed as a result of the resistance including suicide bombers and those labeled as martyrs. Hamas funds education services, built Islamic charities, libraries, Mosques, education centers for women; nurseries, kindergartens, and supervised religious schools are among the contributions of Hamas to help the poor in the occupied territories.
Besides these services, Hamas is also responsible for providing free meals to children, it provides habitation for refugees and those rendered homeless due to the occupation including financial support. Because of the social services and its ability to resist Israeli occupation, it has gained a lot of support and respect from Palestinians both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It is regarded by majority of Palestinians for its effectiveness and lack of corruption; public assessment show Hamas with increasing popularity with 52% compared to 13% to the opposition Fatah Movement. Luxury resorts, tourist facilities, zoo and restaurants all have the prints of Hamas on it and are created as well as maintained, to provide employment for the common people. 90% of Hamas activities revolve around providing social and welfare services and most of all, Hamas has been able to win the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. In October of 2011, Hamas was able to secure the release of 1027 Palestinian prisoners in a prisoner swap which led to the release of Gilad Shalit an Israeli soldier kept in captivity by Hamas in exchange for Palestinians jailed by Israel.
All facts as stated gives Hamas undisputed popularity both at home in Palestine and in the Arab world. The goal here is to show that the politics of marginalization and isolation of Hamas may fail as the rest of the world makes all efforts to establish peace between Israel and Palestine; all facts will point to the conclusion that a Palestinian State without Hamas is not only impossible but a wishful thinking. A peace process or a government in Palestine that does not include Hamas is nothing but a recipe for disaster and destabilization of the peace process. Hamas has the support of Palestinians and as a result a “necessary evil” with whom the U.S. and the rest of the world must deal to have a peaceful and viable Palestinian state. Hamas on the other hand, must recognize Israel as a nation with rights to exist in peace or else, getting a Palestinian State may be hard to come by. Interested nations must begin a process of rehabilitating Hamas and a gradual process of integrating the movement to find a lasting peace in Palestine and the Middle East.
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Categories: Foreign Affairs