Hamas’s diplomatic and leadership strategies unfold

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal arrived in Turkey today, in a very smart move which is the first visit by any Hamas leader to a non-Arab country– one that is majority-Muslim but also a member of NATO and has many links with Israel.
(He’s also been invited to Moscow and may well go there straight from Turkey? Russia is, of course, a member of the so-called ‘Quartert’ that backed but totally failed to implement President Bush’s failed ‘Road Map” to peace, when was it? a century or two ago?– oh no, just in 2002… How time flies, eh?)
Meantime, in what is most likely a carefully planned move, back at present Hamas “home base” in Damascus, Meshaal’s second-in-command, Moussa Abu Marzook has publicly announced the movement’s next move in the current, very complex diplomatic dance. Let me reproduce that AP story, by Albert Aji, almost in full:

    A senior Hamas official called on the United States Thursday to remove the militant Islamic group from Washington’s list of terrorist organizations and to open a dialogue without preconditions.
    Moussa Abu Marzook, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, told The Associated Press the U.S. should deal with Hamas “as it is, and later there could be a dialogue…but there should be no preconditions.”
    “Hamas is not the only side that wants peace. …All the Palestinians want peace because they are the only people whose rights have been encroached upon and who have been expelled from their lands,” Abu Marzouk said.
    Abu Marzouk described as “absolutely unacceptable” Israel’s call for Hamas to start an unconditional dialogue with the Jewish state, saying “Hamas…was chosen by the Palestinian people…this is democracy.”
    … Hamas, which has previously carried out a wave of suicide bombings that killed or wounded hundreds of Israeli’s, has not claimed involvement in any suicide attacks since February 2005.
    The radical organization has hinted at a readiness for a long-term truce or some other accommodation with the Jewish state, short of recognition.
    But the U.S. and the European Union have threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas forms a government without first recognizing Israel and renouncing violence.
    Abu Marzouk, who has been in Egypt, Sudan and Qatar, said Hamas found “all-out support” in the three countries, which back “the choice of the Palestinian people and the budget of the Palestinian Authority as it was in the past.” He did not elaborate.

Actually, I’m, wondering whether AP writer Aji got that quite right, when he wrote, “Abu Marzouk described as ‘absolutely unacceptable’ Israel’s call for Hamas to start an unconditional dialogue with the Jewish state.”
So far as I know, Israel has never called on Hamas to join an “unconditional” dialogue?
And indeed, right now, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and the Defense Ministry itself have been calling for tightening the already stifling movement controls that the IDF/IOF maintains on the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. And the bought-and-paid-for members of the US Congress have of course jumped into the collective-punishment act, voting to cut direct US aid to the Palestinian Authority, “unless Hamas renounces its call to destroy Israel.”
Hamas meanwhile looks looks as though it might be about to enact a winner-takes-all-ish political strategy at home, in the OPTs. They have named their candidates for Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). These are, respectively, university professors Aziz al-Duwaik, from the West Bank, and Ahmed Bahar, from Gaza.
That BBC story linked to there– like several other recent news stories– says that Hamas is likely to nominate one of its own people as prime minister. They say, Ismail Haniya, who headed the group’s national list of candidates in the recent elections.

    Update: Thursday afternoon: Yes, Hamas did apparently just nominate him.

I am not sure how wise a winner-takes-all-ish strategy is for them. (Hamas did, after all, get only 44% of the vote, so need to continue to show the Palestinian people that they will be acting in an inclusive and statesmanlike way rather than from triumphalism?) But anyway, Fateh has been quite adamant since the elections that it would not participate in a Hamas-led national unity government… And Fateh PA President Abbas might well have riled the Hamasniks when he steam-rollered a “clever” little constitutional-court resolution through the lame-duck PLC last week.
I wouldn’t have expected Hamas to nominate a Fathawi for PM, but earlier there was talk they would support a non-Hamas indpendent. Anyway, we’ll see who their nominee is, soon enough. I guess the PLC will hold its first session on Saturday. Most likely, given Mofaz’s recommendation to the Israeli cabinet re border-closings, this will be by videolink between Ramallah and Gaza. The Israelis did release one elected MP yesterday– a Hamasnik– but 13 other elected members of PLC, mincluding Marwan Barghouthi, remain in Israeli custody. Will they be able to participate via videolink, too, I wonder?
I guess when the PLC gets seated, it needs the Speaker and Deputy Speaker almost immediately. Then they have a further two weeks to name the PM. I think that is formally done by the President (Abbas). But obviously, if he names someone whom Hamas fails to support in the PLC, then the PLC wouldn’t even confirm the nomination, so they do all need to work together on this…
Gosh, isn’t it going to be an interesting time there in the next couple of weeks?
(Btw, if you’re interested in what’s been happening to the once-vaunted Fateh “Young Guard” sinc the Jan. 25 election, there’s a fairly interesting report on this issue here, from the “Arab Reform Bulletin.” It’s by Ben Fishman and Mohammad Yaghi, who write, “If the elites within Fatah were divided before the election, they are even more so in its aftermath and have yet to devise a strategy for moving forward… For Fatah to compete effectively with Hamas and lead Palestinian politics once again, it would need to develop a mechanism for handling disputes internally and find honest, respected, and popular leaders. Whether Fatah’s young guard can regroup and tackle these challenges depends entirely on its ability to solve the organizational and personal rivalries that became painfully evident during the electoral process. The very survival of secular Palestinian nationalism may hinge on whether such a transformation occurs.”
You can read my Dec. 30 musing on this latter question, here.)

11 thoughts on “Hamas’s diplomatic and leadership strategies unfold”

  1. But the U.S. and the European Union have threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas forms a government without first recognizing Israel and renouncing violence.
    I think the article also has this incorrect. The US, EU and UN have not threatened to cut off aid to the PA if Hamas does not recognize Israel or renounce violence, rather they have threated to cut off aid if Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist (as opposed to driving the jews to the sea), and if it does not renounce terrorism (as in suicide bombers blowing themselves up in bus stops, cafes, clubs etc.). The distinction is very important and the article fails to make it.
    The US, EU can refuse to give any funding to Hamas as long as it continues to pledge to drive Israel into the sea. In this way they can exert pressure on Hamas to accept the norms that come with democratic governance, mainly terrorism is not an acceptable form of protest. They cannot however, deliberately try to undermine the Hamas government with a view to having it collapse. We can recognize it as the elected government of Palestine, but it has to provide for its people what it promised, mainly better living standard and to clean up corruption. It does that, then it gains a measure of trust, otherwise, it will be voted out by Palestinians themselves.

  2. Interesting that Hamas is passing over people like Zahar and appointing relative pragmatists to the top positions. I’m not expecting Hamas to announce any policy changes soon (certainly not until there’s an Israeli government to negotiate with), but it seems to be putting itself in a position where it can if it wants.

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