Hamas and the Urge to Power

By Issa Khalaf

When in opposition, and after winning legislative elections in 2006, Hamas was a principled alternative to the wretchedness of the PA. It won not because Palestinians necessarily agreed with its atavistic Islamist socio-political vision, but because there was little alternative to the deep corruption of Fatah. It refused to give the store away, including recognition, for nothing in return from Israel.  But only as a political alternative—manifesting voters’ rejection of Abbas and company—for lack of any other.

Most of us gave it a pass and have done so until recently—even though I reject its ideology—putting the onus of blame for the national disunity, factually and rightly so, on Fatah. Hamas’s recent, March 15 crack down on protestors and the attachment of a green sheet to the Palestinian flag is idiotic, and as if the social agenda of covering and excluding women will get the Palestinians anywhere in the context of cruel occupation and urgent need for liberating Palestinian energy and creativity in the cause of freedom and dignity. It wasn’t enough that the PA is trying its level, repressive best to shut down or silence the protestors in the West Bank. Hamas may be coming into its own as that other mini-security state.

Really?  Did it make sense to send out Hamas goons to intimidate, beat up, and chase away protestors, to carry “Hamas” flags, while the covered, officially moral “Hamas” women distributed leaflets? Were not the peaceful protestors demanding what Hamas demands, end of Palestinian division and democratic representation? Or is that the March 15 movement represents the “threat” of real independence, pluralism, and democracy? What does it say about Hamas political culture except that, like the PA, it’s intent on monopolizing public space, on controlling all those—the vast majority—who are independent of it? What does the additional green attached to the flag mean—that Islamist ideology trumps nationalist or that Hamas is firmly in control or both? Is it because Hamas has an authoritarian mindset that views any activity outside its sanction as a challenge if not threat to itself?

It seems, like their West Bank counterparts with their evolving security “state” composed of atomized, isolated geometric shapes, the rulers of Gaza are addicted to power, settling down into what increasingly has become an Islamist police state, denying individual freedom to, out of all people, the Palestinians, one of the most vibrant civil societies on the planet.  Albeit its stand that reconciliation with Fatah comes before elections is reasonable, I suspect that this has now become its latest modus operandi to indefinitely putting off the inevitable: loss of elections—along with Fatah of course—to a younger wave, a new generation of Palestinian democratic activists who supersede the comfortable, self-aggrandizing corruption of the old elites.

I think it can hardly countenance the emerging alternative leadership, even though it, along with Fatah, says otherwise, while Fatah is annoyed as hell that Hamas insists on obtaining a quota of control over the security forces, insisting on the fiction that the security forces are apolitical and that Hamas wants to politicize them. Only one command, that of Fatah.  One party, Fatah, fancies itself as a real state, while the other, Hamas, apparently wants to have more of such a state.  It seems both want that “state” but can’t get themselves to reconcile. So much ego, so many interests—except the interest of the Palestinian people.

Why not emulate the PA’s raison d’etre, remaining committed to negotiations in an interminable peace process, by also justifying their rulership in Gaza as a temporary or transitional measure on the way to two states—except, like (even worse) than the PA, Hamas offers no political and strategic clarity of how to get there or anywhere else?  Hamas criticizes the PA for its pursuit of two states and unilateral intent to declare a state in the fall while, itself, essentially supporting a two state “strategy” that’s obviously gone nowhere. Nor does it present a viable program for ending the endemic factionalism in Palestinian politics. To be fair, it makes clear that, if the Israelis actually recognize the rights of the Palestinians as a nation, then they, Hamas, will talk/negotiate about a state in the occupied territories. Although Hamas is still way cleaner than Fatah, including spending the vast part of its tiny budget on the social and economic welfare of Gazans, the acceptance of two states also serves as a safe default in continuation of the inter-Palestinian status quo and in service of Hamas’s (apparent) prized goal of sharing power with Fatah.

It may be that the Palestinians have as their vision freedom, equality, and self-determination and as their strategy a non-violent campaign of resistance. The Palestinians, as their young people know so well, vitally need a transformative, democratic, pluralist, cohesive alternative to this nauseating situation. They, the people, must decide where they’re going and how to get there.

– Issa Khalaf has a Ph.D. in political science and Middle East Studies from Oxford University. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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