Hamas's predicament - self-inflicted?

Caught between its principles and realpolitik.

Hamas, with gun AP 88 (photo credit: )
Hamas, with gun AP 88
(photo credit: )
Long before the Palestinian elections, I met in Ramallah with Hassan Yousef, a senior West Bank leader of Hamas. Before he began the interview, on our Ramallah TV station, to discuss the upcoming elections, Hassan Yousef told me that it would be a mistake for Hamas to win more than 25% of the Palestinian Legislative Council seats. Yousef, who was reported to have had some problems with his own leadership, is now held administratively by Israel without trial or charge. He was arrested in September during a roundup of more than 200 Palestinians following a wave of rocket attacks. Hamas nominees (including the imprisoned Yousef) won four seats for the Ramallah district. The fifth Ramallah seat was won by a Fatah candidate who competed for the district's seat set aside for Palestinian Christians. Yousef's comments were based on his intuition that winning the elections would be disastrous to Hamas. I THOUGHT of Yousef as I was reflecting on the predicament Hamas is finding itself in these days. Not given much of a breathing space, Hamas has wasted precious opportunities and has found itself ostracized internationally to the point that it is unable to pay salaries or carry out the most basic responsibilities of governance. Now, Israel's Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants to remove the residency rights of the four Hamas MPs - as well as the minister for Jerusalem affairs - even though they have not violated any laws and were elected in a legitimate election that was also held in east Jerusalem. The removal of their permanent residency rights in Jerusalem would be equal to "deporting" them in the sense that their right to live and work in their own homes and in the city they were born in would be curtailed. Their case will be appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court. But there is no doubt that according to my reading of the fourth Geneva Convention, revoking their Jerusalem residency rights would be a form of collective punishment and therefore illegal according to international humanitarian law. THE HYPOCRISY of the international community is glaring. The Islamic Resistance Movement of Hamas is discovering that the world is run based on realpolitik, not the lofty values of democracy espoused by American and western officials. Arab countries are also not helping much out of quiet fear that similar sanctions could be applied to them or as an open result of US and European pressure. Consequently, Arab countries have not made any serious moves to help Hamas out of its financial crisis. On his recent trip, PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar met no civilian Egyptian official (though he met briefly with the head of the Egyptian intelligence). And Jordan cancelled a planned visit by Zahar as a result of what a Jordanian spokesman said was the discovery of a Hamas explosives cache in Jordan. International and even Arab banks refuse to deal with the Hamas government and its minister of finance, making the simple transaction of transferring money to the Palestinian Authority next to impossible. Without banks agreeing to open an account for the Hamas minister of finance, and with Israelis controlling the borders, it remains to be seen how whatever money raised in Iran (or any other country) can be transferred to the newly sworn-in government. As Hassan Yousef predicted, this unenviable position which Hamas finds itself in now will result in either the fall of their short-lived government or in the collapse of their political principles. Americans and Israelis, who seem to be smelling blood, are not letting up on their pressure against the freely elected government whose members have been careful not to have carried out a single violent act since long before the recent elections. A close look at the way the noose has been tightened against Hamas shows - at worst - their political blunders and - at best - their political naivete. At almost every turn, the international community, mostly propelled by the US, has tried to send signals to Hamas, which the latter ignored and disregarded. Various friends have tried to advise Hamas leaders by providing them with ideas of how to get out of the mess they have found themselves in. For instance, left-wing groups have suggested that Hamas use the umbrella of the PLO which was the signatory of various peace agreements. Fatah leaders have suggested that Hamas recognize the Palestinian Basic Law (constitution) and do what any new government does, accept existing agreements and treaties. Arab leaders have suggested the adoption of the Beirut summit's peace plan as a way of getting around the condition of recognizing Israel. For its part Israel also appeared willing to deal with Hamas if it reined-in the radical groups which are launching rockets from Gaza and sending suicide bombers from the West Bank. In every political test that they have faced, Hamas failed miserably to understand what was happening - and the consequences of their decisions. The writer is founder and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah.