A Palestinian Hamas militant takes part in a Gaza rally marking the twelfth anniversary of the death of late Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin..
(photo credit: SUHAIB SALEM / REUTERS)
Hamas Chief in Gaza Yahya Sinwar said on Tuesday that the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the internationally recognized body responsible for representing Palestinians abroad, should control Palestinians’ weapons. Sinwar’s comments came some two weeks after Hamas and Fatah signed an Egyptian-brokered agreement to advance Palestinian reconciliation efforts and restore the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority’s governing authority in the Gaza Strip.
“We, as a people, are still in the stage of national liberation. We cannot forgo our weapons,” Sinwar told a group of union leaders in Gaza on Tuesday. “[But] our weapons certainly should be under a unifying national umbrella in which every Palestinian participates. That umbrella is the Palestine Liberation Organization.”
Hamas’s armed wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades, and smaller militant groups in Gaza have tens of thousands of members, who possess thousands of guns, rockets and other weapons.
Over the past few weeks, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who also serves as PLO chairman and Fatah chief, has stated that he will not accept a scenario in which the PA controls Gaza and yet the Kassam Brigades and other armed groups are permitted to maintain their weapons. Before the signing of the Oslo Accords, the PLO maintained an army, but today it is not active.
“There must be one authority, one law and one gun, and there shouldn't be militias,” Abbas said in an interview published on Tuesday by Xinhua, a Chinese news outlet.
Meanwhile, Hamas officials have rejected Abbas’s statements, saying reconciliation will not influence the future of Hamas’s weapons.
“We absolutely will not give up on the rights of the Palestinian people and resistance. Any understanding or reconciliation will not affect the resistance weapons and their program,” Hamas Deputy Chief Salah Arouri said on Saturday in Tehran.
It is not clear if Sinwar’s remarks on Tuesday indicate a shift in Hamas’s position. Sinwar did not clarify under which conditions the PLO should control Palestinians’ weapons. For example, he did not say if Hamas would condition the PLO controlling Palestinians’ weapons on the organization adopting a strategy of armed conflict with Israel or rescinding its recognition of Israel.
The PLO currently recognizes Israel and has committed to achieving a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through peaceful means. Both are positions that Hamas has repeatedly rejected.
Nonetheless, Ahmad Majdalani, a senior PLO official and close confidante of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said on Wednesday that Sinwar’s comments were “important and positive.”
“We will be conversing with Hamas about the issue of arms,” Majdalani said. “We believe Sinwar’s statement is an important and positive step in the direction of accepting one authority and one weapon in Gaza.”
Hamas, Fatah and smaller Palestinian factions are slated to discuss the Kassam Brigades’ weapons in talks in Cairo in late November.
According to Majdalani, Sinwar’s statement that the PLO should control Palestinians’ weapons would mean the PA would ultimately take hold of the weapons.
“There is no difference between the PLO and PA. The PA is an extension of the PLO,” Majdalani said.
The PLO negotiated the Oslo Accords, which created the PA, the internationally recognized Palestinian body that was established to govern the Palestinian territories.
While the two organizations work in tandem on a number of issues such as foreign affairs, they are generally considered as two separate bodies.