Wednesday, January 25, 2006

# Posted 3:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

HAMAS, 2.0?: Whither Hamas? The green party looks fairly set to poll strongly in today’s polls, and one of the two analytical questions which follows is this. With Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizb ut Tahrir and a purported new Al Qa'eda presence in Gaza now outflanking Hamas on its extreme wing, how likely is the Islamic Resistance Movement from today to follow in the footsteps of the Provisional IRA and, like it, be trapped into moderation by enveloping democratic rhetoric, its own ambitions for power and from its outflanking on its radical wing (to switch peace processes, Islamic Jihad here taking the place of the Real IRA)? Put a different way, as Ha'aretz phrases it this evening, Does Hamas still want you dead? (with Islamic Jihad, at least you know where you stand).

So, Hamas (2.0?) – add to the above its talk of a 100-year hudna and its (more recently) expressed openness to discuss negotiations with Israel with its coalition partners, multiply by the rise of its political wing with a winning language of reform, and you see why observers like Birzeit’s Nader Said have raised the question whether Hamas by taking part in today’s elections has reached a point of no return. By taking part in the bashing together of legislative coalitions, Hamas will be forced to enunciate public reasons in favour of their policies such that in certain important fora at least they cannot say, contra their organisation’s driving motto, that Islam is the solution to everything. If true, the fact of its participation and cooptation would increase the PA's parastatal capacities precisely at its Achilles's Heel where it is weakest, in its abilities to control paramilitarism in its bailiwick, and especially those attacks upon civilians which divide the paramilitaries acting in its territories from the established laws of war commonly accepted by the grand sweep of humanity. The other question of the moment about Hamas is intertwined - what factions and cleavages can be traced within an organisation frequently depicted as monolithic and lock-in-step? The elections being over, activists and candidates may be slightly more willing to talk at least on background to differences in view within the organization.

The second analytical question concerns likely dynamics within a coalition between Hamas, Fateh and a third party - let's say perhaps for the sake of international credibility the list formed in the present elections by Salam Fayed and Hanan Ashrawi. Coalition juggling begins when the count ends and plays out until the ministerial composition of the next government is finalised at the end of February. The legislature itself plays little actual political role apart from setting up wrangling for the makeup of the cabinet, where power is exercised. Given that Hamas's strong showing at the polls today has been a foregone conclusion, the interesting politics takes place after. Now.

Asked, not answered. But I’ll get moving toward making my best stab at both.
(7) opinions -- Add your opinion

Good stuff, thanks.
All this theorizing is impressive, but in fact, changes nothing.

Hamas does not have to budge from its principled demand that Israel disappear. It can get quite a bit more creative with its rhetoric, so that if it does decide to "budge," it can always declare---and has mentioned the possibility of---a temporary truce (a 10-year, 20-year, 100-year hudna, whatever) to demonstrate that while it's willing to bend a bit to practical exigencies, its principles remain untarnished.

And if, by any chance, Hamas feels really, really, pressed, it can, while claiming to be purer and less corrupt than Fatah, always adopt the PA strategy of claiming it wants peace on the one hand while on the other listing its conditions for such peace as:
* the return to the May 1967 boundaries
* the division of Jerusalem
* the return of 1948-49 Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their homes within Israel

(the meaning of which should be crystal clear to all except the willfully blind, or those who have already decided that Israel is a liability whose time has come), all the while continuing its terrorist activities (or having one or more of its "provisional wings"---along the lines of Fatah's Al Aksah Brigades---continue planning and executing terror attacks) while insisting that peace would break out were it not for an intransigent and belligerant Israel.

So that while the configuration could change slightly, the net effect will remain the same: the conflict will continue---the need to find continued justification for conflict (or rather, the need to sabotage any possibility for ending it)---while insisting that peace is the goal---being the whole point of the exercise, just as it has been until now.

Been there. Done that. But still, to make things just a mite easier, as has been mentioned in the post, there will always be some other supposedly more radicalized group lurking not so far in the background, so that just as the PA could point to Hamas and claim "It's not our fault," Hamas will able to point to these next set of more principled types and make the same crafty lament.

But it is a tactic that does work; thus one can expect more pressure on Israel to further reduce her deterrent capabilities.

And so the deadly game will not end (of course, according to the script, it's not supposed to end); leaving the key question: How long will the charade continue? (about which, Iran may be planning some input, which somewhat ironically, ought to make the Palestinians concerned in more way than one).
Hi Barry. I appreciate your points, but it seems to me that the Hamas interest hudna is a bit like getting pregnant. It's far from irreversible, but it's a heckuva lot harder to go back once you're halfway there.
Yes, Hamas still wants me dead.
Which means, I guess, that the PA has been pregnant now for 12 odd years.

Though some would say it's important not to rush these things....
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