Hamas and the old-new argument

In a nutshell, this argument runs: “While I run the regime in the Gaza Strip, I refuse to take responsibility for what happens there.”

By
August 27, 2019 03:04
2 minute read.
Palestinians take part in a rally marking the 31st anniversary of Hamas' founding, in Gaza City

Palestinians take part in a rally marking the 31st anniversary of Hamas' founding, in Gaza City. (photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)

By distancing itself from Sunday night’s triple rocket attack on Sderot and the recent incidents near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, Hamas is resorting to an old argument favored by Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.

In a nutshell, the ploy reads: “While I run the regime in the Gaza Strip, I refuse to take responsibility for what happens there.”

Yasser Arafat was the first to make that argument, when the Palestinian Authority assumed control of the Gaza Strip after the signing in 1993 of the Oslo Accords.

Each time Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any another Palestinian group carried out a terrorist attack against Israelis, Arafat’s first words would be: “What do you want from me? I can’t be responsible for everything that others do. However, I can promise to make a 100% effort to stop the attacks.”

And, sure enough, Arafat would periodically order a massive crackdown on Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders and members in the Gaza Strip, mainly after being pressured to do so by Israel, the US and Western donors. It later transpired that the clampdown was part of a “revolving door” policy which saw the detainees often freed hours or days after their incarceration.

Abbas adopted the same stratagem after being elected Arafat’s successor in 2005. Under Abbas, the PA’s security forces continued their crackdown on Hamas and other terrorist groups – an effort that later proved to be completely ineffectual.

In the eyes of some Palestinians political analysts, Abbas, like his predecessor, was not serious enough in his effort to curb Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip. In fact, Abbas seemed to endorse the very argument employed by Arafat: “It’s not me, it’s them.” This policy eventually led to Hamas’ 2007 coup in Gaza.

At the core of this argument is the claim that the rulers of the Gaza Strip cannot be expected to be in full control of what happens there, including terrorist attacks launched against Israel. The two Palestinian leaders sought to be recognized as the legitimate and sovereign rulers of the Gaza Strip – without accountability.

Hamas now seems to be playing the very same game: disclaiming ultimate responsibility over a territory where it claims to be the sovereign authority. Hamas is now saying that it’s not responsible for the individual attacks by “rebellious youths” near the border with Israel.

Furthermore, Hamas appears to have learned from Arafat and Abbas how to avoid accountability by blaming individuals or “rogue” and “dubious” groups for attacks launched from Gaza.

As in the case of Arafat and Abbas, the Hamas leaders have learned that it is indeed possible to have your cake and eat it too: to present yourself as the unchallenged authority in the Gaza Strip, while rejecting responsibility for anything that could harm your interests or make you look weak. A lesson well-learned.


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