Can the Palestinian national movement re-emerge as Hamas and Fatah lose ground?

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Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas addresses journalists following a meeting with Robert Serry (unseen), the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 13, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Abbas Momani)

By: Nahed Hattar

Published Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In Palestine, in the heat of the confrontation with the Zionist enemy, some surprising attitudes have been voiced, often frenzied and contradictory, which indicate that internal conflicts are developing in a way that encourages a crystallization of a new balance of power in a new Palestinian landscape.

The main theme of this new reality could be the end of the Fatah-Hamas duality, which has, since the Oslo Accords, dominated Palestinian politics. However, these two factions are now disintegrating internally, and are retreating, objectively, making room for a political role for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), and other smaller factions that are effective on the field.

On the Fatah side, the captive leader Marwan Barghouti has leapt over the traditional stances that have brought the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to marginalization, with his public call from his Israeli prison for a “comprehensive popular movement” in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the territories occupied in 1948 against the aggression and occupation. Popular action as such is possible, though it is currently being impeded by Palestinian security services based on a political decision, from which Israel benefits inside the Green Line.

This schism between the national faction in Fatah, led symbolically by Barghouti – who is more popular among Palestinians and is a serious contender for the post of president – and Fatah’s leadership does not constitute political estrangement as much as it pushes in the direction of measures that Ramallah cannot tolerate at present. These include Barghouti’s appeal to President Mahmoud Abbas, and Fatah and Palestinian Authority leaders to, “immediately go to the Gaza Strip, to participate in the battle of steadfastness, resistance, lifting the blockade, and reconstruction.”

Barghouti has not broken with Fatah, but he has put forward an alternative political program that takes into account the joint slogan of the State of Palestine that can be established, according to Fatah’s vision, through diplomacy, by going to the United Nations and “signing up for all UN conventions and institutions, led by the International Criminal Court,” a move President Abbas has so far used as a bargaining chip in the negotiations.

Barghouti has put the Palestinian leadership in a very embarrassing position. In reality, he is asking it to end its security and political agreements with Tel Aviv and Washington. Perhaps this popular Palestinian prisoner is expressing through his call his serious concerns of the possibility that Fatah’s leadership role could collapse, in tandem with its complete marginalization, if the conflict between Israel and the Resistance in Gaza continues.

Barghouti wants to tell the Fatah leadership that is has two options: Either go to Gaza to lead, or remain in Ramallah, and lose many of your cards. Perhaps he is aware that the third Palestinian intifada is beginning to form, and so he sees that Fatah can either be its leader or the policeman who keeps it in check.

In short, Barghouti’s statements are a historical appeal to save Fatah, but we do not know how the latter will respond, internally and at the popular level. What is certain is that Fatah is facing a crisis and a real split in visions, orientations, and interests.

On the Hamas side, the internal conflict is much more dramatic. There are increasing doubts about whether the Hamas leadership, which has been associated to the axis consisting of Qatar, Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood, has any control over the decisions of its military wing, which is closer to the resistance axis.

Analyzing the situation within Hamas is not possible without taking into account the regional conflict raging between these two axes. And while the hallmarks of Syria and Iran have been obvious through Gaza’s steadfastness and resistance, Qatar and Turkey’s presence has declined to the point of being nonexistent, even though these two countries were strongly involved in previous rounds of the conflict.

The former head of the Hamas government, Ismail Haniyeh, seems eager to take advantage of the Resistance in Gaza to conclude a truce with the Israelis, which Hamas can then exploit politically. In an explicitly pragmatic language, he said, “There should be a political follow-up to the Resistance’s work, to reap the fruits of its efforts on the field.” Such was the thinking of Hamas’ leaders since the start of the conflict with Israel, with a view to luring Egypt once again to mediate between Gaza and Tel Aviv, that is, between Netanyahu and Haniyeh-Meshaal, to achieve common goals for the two sides, namely:

Reaffirming the truce that Israel wants to be backed by Egyptian guarantees, which would also remove the Egyptian veto on Hamas, and end the latter’s isolation resulting from its defection to the anti-Syrian axis – as Syria has endured and is on its way to achieve victory in the war that Hamas joined against the Syrians. Reassuring Israel that the resistance in Gaza will, in the end, remain under the Qatari roof, and under the control of Hamas’ leaders, who also have a major interest in bringing all armed factions in Gaza to their political fold.

Fulfilling the priority of both Tel Aviv and the pro-Qatari Hamas leaders to turn the page and restore the anti-Syrian momentum, especially since Damascus has refused, adamantly, all pressure for reconciliation with Hamas leaders involved in the bid to bring down the core of the Arab Resistance.

However, the calculations of Israel and the pro-Qatari faction in Hamas are inconsistent with the changing Palestinian and regional realities and developments. To be sure, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is close to Tehran, Damascus, and Hezbollah, has become a major fighting force in Gaza that can no longer be ignored politically.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad received the Egyptian ceasefire initiative perhaps even before Hamas did, and rejected it, while Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesperson for Hamas, claimed that his group had not seen the points of the initiative except in the media, saying that Hamas refuses to negotiate through media outlets. If Abu Zuhri is being honest, then this is reason for the pause. Indeed, what he said means that the Egyptian regime gave the Palestinian Islamic Jihad precedence over Hamas, despite its links to the resistance axis, at the expense of Hamas, which is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. In the midst of complex political intersections in the region, this means that the Egyptian role intends to marginalize Hamas leaders.

Most likely, Hamas’ military wing, contrary to the political wing, prefers gaining from its armament, confrontation with Israel, and its alliance with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other factions linked to the resistance axis, over taking advantage of sacrifices to achieve political gains for Meshaal, Haniyeh, Abu Marzouk, and other Hamas leaders now facing accusations that are difficult to rebut or efface among the supporters of the resistance axis.

Perhaps there is a possibility now for reforming the Palestinian national movement out of the nationalist factions within Fatah, Hamas’ fighters on the ground, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, the PFLP-GC, and other factions and groups that have similar stances. This great goal, however, without which the Palestinian cause is at risk of total collapse, faces many hurdles, including profound internal disputes that will not be resolved during this round or in the short term.

Nevertheless, the Palestinian scene is starting to move towards change. The most important achievement of the Resistance so far, is that the dominance of the Fatah-Hamas duality is receding. This has been expected, because Palestine can never remain outside the resistance axis for too long, and will always find its way back.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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