Palestinian Affairs: Hamas's trigger

The missile-and-threat campaign launched by Hamas this week was part of a stab at self-preservation.

pal gunman jenin 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
pal gunman jenin 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hamas's decision to fire dozens of rockets at Israel this week, and its leaders' threats to resume suicide bombings, are seen by many Palestinians as a sign of the pressure the Islamic movement has been under since the formation of the Palestinian Authority "national unity government" earlier this year. Hamas leaders have been complaining they have yet to be rewarded for the "concessions" they made when they agreed to the formation of the new coalition. Moreover, the feeling among the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip and Damascus today is that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, with the backing of the US, Israel and the European Union, is still trying to remove Hamas from power. They maintain that while Hamas had "good intentions" when it agreed to the formation of a unity government, Abbas and his Fatah faction came with one objective in mind: to get rid of Hamas. By dragging Israel into a military confrontation in the Gaza Strip, Hamas is hoping to undermine Abbas's status and scuttle attempts to remove it from government. But Hamas also needs such a confrontation to save itself from schism and internal bickering. The unity government has created deep divisions in Hamas. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal are facing sharp criticism from several top movement officials for agreeing to join hands with Abbas and Fatah. This "rejectionist" camp is headed by former foreign minister Mahmoud Zahar and former interior minister Said Siam. They argue that the unity government deal is nothing but a "trap" to extract concessions from Hamas and to eventually bring about its downfall. They and their supporters cite a number of examples to back up their claims: • One day after the unity government was sworn in, Abbas issued a "presidential decree" appointing Muhammad Dahlan, a sworn enemy of Hamas, as PA national security adviser. This was not coordinated with Haniyeh or any other Hamas figure and has been openly challenged by Hamas. Last week, Hamas legislators demanded that Dahlan be dismissed from the Palestinian Legislative Council, saying he could not serve simultaneously as a legislator and a security official. Reports that Dahlan has just received $3 million from the US have increased Hamas's suspicions as to his hidden agenda. • The US decision to provide $59 million to Abbas and his security forces is seen as a blunt intervention in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. Hamas leaders and spokesmen have strongly condemned the US move as an attempt to drive a wedge between the Palestinians. Hamas is convinced that the money is intended to encourage Abbas and his loyalists to wage a war against it. • Abbas's ongoing attempts to undermine Hamas's control over security-related issues. The resignation last week of interior minister Hani Kawassmeh, who was formally in charge of security in the PA, reflects Hamas's frustration over Abbas's efforts to prevent it from playing any role in security. Kawassmeh decided to quit after he discovered that security commanders loyal to Abbas had ordered members of all the security forces not to deal with him. • The continued financial sanctions by the international community. Hamas leaders were hoping that the unity government agreement would persuade the Quartet to resume financial aid to the PA and turn them into welcome guests in European capitals. "HAMAS FEELS that it got nothing in return for the heavy price it paid when it agreed to the establishment of the unity government," explained a senior Hamas representative in Gaza City. "Don't forget that Hamas won the election in 2006. Yet Hamas, for the sake of national unity, agreed to relinquish control over most of the key ministries, such as Finance, Foreign Affairs and Information. And what did we get in return? A spit in the face." The official quoted Haniyeh as telling his close associates this week that he will wait for another few weeks before submitting his resignation to Abbas. "Haniyeh said he will not hesitate to resign and form a new Hamas government," he said. "There's nothing Abbas could do, because Hamas still enjoys a majority in parliament, which has to approve any government." Hamas has also come under fire from the rejectionists for allegedly making political concessions by accepting the Arab League peace plan and a temporary truce with Israel. Leaflets distributed in the Gaza Strip by hitherto unknown groups with apparent links to Islamic Jihad and al-Qaida have branded Hamas leaders as traitors, accusing them of abandoning the armed struggle to retain their jobs in government. The leaflets have also mocked members of Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin al-Kassam, claiming many of them have found new jobs as bureaucrats in the government. Hopes on the Palestinian street that the unity government would put an end to the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah have been replaced with a growing sense of despair and anger. At least 150 people have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded in street fighting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the first three months of this year. And there are no signs that the anarchy is about to end. Reflecting the gloomy mood, Hafez Barghouti, the savvy editor of the PA's Al-Hayat al-Jadeeda daily, said: "Unfortunately, our leaders are not offering us any hope. On the contrary, they are giving us more reason to be depressed and pessimistic. Our conditions haven't changed since the signing of the Mecca deal, and some are trying to solve our internal problems by rushing toward creating a major confrontation with the occupation. This will not solve any problem. It will only worsen things for us."