Over 39 years of the Israeli occupation, Palestinians have been able to survive by devising a variety of techniques to beat the system. Before the Palestinian Authority was established, non-governmental organizations created a state-like infrastructure that dealt with people's needs.
Various charities working on a local zakat (tithes) system allowed devout Muslims to help the needy. Medical and agricultural groups organized themselves to help people in these important sectors. A higher educational council was even set up to regulate the university system, maintain academic standards and steer students toward fields in which they could eventually find jobs. Professional and trade unions were active, as were student and women's organizations.
In all these activities political factions were very active behind the scenes. Because membership in the various factions was illegal, their supporters worked using telltale labels such as national (for Fatah), popular (for PFLP), Islamic (for Hamas), and people (for Communists). While everyone knew generally who represented whom, so long as they didn't formally name the factions they were legal as far as Israel was concerned.
This changed after the Oslo Accords. The various factions began using their names and, for the most part, Israeli military powers turned a blind eye. The two groups that remained illegal even after Oslo were the Islamic ones, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Their supporters continued to use the code names, as all the groups did before Oslo.
The situation was no different when the Palestinian elections took place last January.
Fatah and the other PLO groups ran in the elections using their own names, while Hamas ran in the elections using the name "The Reform and Change List." While everyone knew that this was the Hamas list, they seemed to be careful not to say that in their campaign propaganda.
For its part, the press never made such a distinction and members of the list at times seem to have forgotten that they were still living under Israeli occupation and that they had decided not to run on an official Hamas list. In fact, those on the Reform and Change list were said to have officially resigned from Hamas.
THE RESULTS of the elections and the furor that accompanied them seem to have resulted in the pro-Hamas candidates forgetting that they had technically run on a non-Hamas list. Instead of distancing themselves in word and deed from Hamas, the jubilant winners of the elections fell into the trap and began talking like Hamas victors, and not as the victors of the Reform and Change List, on which they had actually run and won.
Many in the international community tried to give prime minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh a chance by waiting before taking a position on the new government until it issued its program. This proved to be a problem.
On the one hand, Haniyeh and company said they were bound by the program they ran on in the elections. On the other hand, President Mahmoud Abbas, who was constitutionally compelled to invite the winner of the parliamentary elections to form a government, was himself elected with an even bigger margin, but on a completely different political program.
SUCH DIVERGENCE between the government and the presidency is not unknown in democracies. France, for example, has a president from one party and a prime minister supported by a different parliamentary faction. The upcoming midterm elections in the US could also produce a Democratic Congress with a Republican president.
In all these cases a division of authority exists. The president's office is usually responsible for external policies, as well as for national security issues. The prime minister usually runs local issues.
Ismail Haniyeh and his chosen government could easily have avoided the siege that they now find themselves in by simply focusing on reform and change relating to local issues. Various polls since the elections have shown that fighting corruption and ending lawlessness are high priorities for Palestinians. Regarding the diplomatic track, the majority still favor Abbas's moderate direction with Israel.
In a recent press conference following the Israeli elections, Haniyeh in fact said that his government has no problem with Abbas pursuing talks with the Olmert government. But Haniyeh and company simply refuse to do what Palestinians have done over 39 years to survive: accept the reality that living under occupation forces one to accept.
Every Palestinian, including Prime Minister Haniyeh, holds an ID card whose number is part of the Israeli security system and is listed on their computers. Whether he likes it or not, Haniyeh is still living under Israeli occupation, even though for Gazans it is largely an indirect one.
Recognizing this reality is not a political compromise. It is simply recognizing what the whole world knows, that Palestine is still under occupation.
The writer is founder and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah.