A Hamas gov’t might not be recognized internationally

However, experts say the Islamist movement may take steps to avoid an aid boycott, including by nominating more pragmatic candidates

Hamas members burn a coffin draped in an Israeli flag, rally marking 13th anniversary of Second Intifada, 2013 (photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)
Hamas members burn a coffin draped in an Israeli flag, rally marking 13th anniversary of Second Intifada, 2013
(photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)
PA President and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, with the agreement of the opposition Hamas movement, has scheduled the first Palestinian elections in 15 years and experts say that if the Islamist group forms a government after the vote, it might not be recognized internationally.
The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government formed after the movement won the 2006 legislative election faced a Western aid cutoff that hurt its ability to pay the salaries of the more than 160,000 PA employees.
Washington demands that Hamas accept the three conditions for recognition by the Middle East Quartet (the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations): Recognize the State of Israel without prejudging what various grievances or claims are appropriate, abide by previous diplomatic agreements, and renounce violence as a means of achieving goals.
Ghassan Khatib, a professor of political science and cultural studies at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, expressed skepticism to The Media Line that a government formed by Hamas would be recognized internationally, or that foreign aid would be provided through it.
He cited the experience of 2006, when Hamas formed a government and the outside world dealt with the Palestinian people, including channeling aid, through the Fatah-held presidency. “That might be the case again. This scenario might be repeated,” the professor said.
“In terms of Israel, it isn’t negotiating with either the [PA led by] Fatah or with Hamas, as it left the path of negotiations and the two-state solution a long time ago, for reasons related to Israel itself, not us [the Palestinians],” he said, referring to Israeli domestic political considerations.
Khatib indicated, however, that a government formed by Hamas would be welcome in Israel, as it would justify what he called its current lack of desire to negotiate. “It would remove the embarrassment from Israel, as no one would blame it for not doing so.”
Fatah and Hamas have not ruled out forming a joint candidates list for the May 22 Palestinian Legislative Council and then forming a unity government.
Abbas set the presidential election for July 31, and the vote for the Palestinian National Council, the legislature of the PLO, for August 31.
Prof. Ayman Yousef, a professor of political science and international relations at the Arab-American University in Jenin, told The Media Line having a joint list would be “impractical and unthinkable.”
“The topic may have been raised in narrow discussions between Fatah and Hamas, for media consumption, as both parties have popular bases,” he said.
Yousef said it was in the Palestinian interest to go with candidates lists composed of factions and political parties so that there would be room for a “third way” to emerge.
“A joint list [of Fatah and Hamas] would kill opportunities for other options, especially lists represented by independent personalities,” he said.
Hamas might win the PLC vote, but there are those within the movement’s leadership who believe that taking 40% of the 132 seats would better serve them at this stage, even if this means they have to run fewer candidates, Yousef said.
“I think Hamas has evaluated its experience well and may not try for a majority,” he said.
Hamas does not want to enter into the campaign with all its force, as it realizes that things are complicated at present and that it is in its interest to exercise political leadership from the second or third rank, Yousef said. “I believe that Hamas will pursue more rational and realistic options.”
He clarified that if Hamas won, Palestinians would again face “political blackmail, given that the Palestinian government is internationally recognized and recognizes Israel, to pressure Hamas to recognize Israel.”
One option is to keep the important diplomatic files in the hands of the PLO, as the latter is an internationally recognized Palestinian body and Hamas is not a member, he said. “It [Hamas] is part of the [Palestinian] Authority but not part of the organization [the PLO],” Yousef noted.
Benjamin Weinthal, an Israeli-American analyst and a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan Washington-based think tank, told The Media Line it would be a dangerous move if Fatah joined a candidates list with Hamas.
“Fatah is currently experiencing isolation due to its failure to negotiate with Israel. A joint Hamas-Fatah list would contaminate Fatah with terrorism,” he said.
Weinthal explained that if Hamas won the parliamentary election, the international community would not recognize its government, because the Islamist movement is a US- and EU-designated foreign terrorist organization.
“Hamas has refused to meet the preconditions that the international community outlined for talks with the jihadi entity, namely, that Hamas should renounce violence, agree to a two-state solution, and recognize the right of the Jewish state to exist,” he said.
Weinthal pointed out that if Hamas agreed to the three elements outlined by the international community, Israel would very likely negotiate with it.
He added, however, “I strongly believe that Hamas will remain a jihad terrorist entity that continues to carry out lethal anti-Semitism.”
Additionally, he said that Hamas should end its cooperation with Iran as part of any talks with the international community and Israel. “The Iranian regime is the leading state-sponsor of international terrorism,” Weinthal said.
Dr. Hussam al-Dajani, a political analyst and professor of political science at Ummah University in Gaza who specializes in the Palestinian issue, told The Media Line that if Hamas again won control of the PLC, whether a government it formed would be boycotted would be entirely up to donor nations.
“The answer is not one of yes or no. It is at the discretion of these international parties. If the belief is that blockading Hamas will contribute positively to regional and international stability, the [2006] scenario will be repeated,” Dajani said.
Dajani added that Hamas had a duty to help these countries “take a more positive attitude toward not returning to a siege, which didn’t affect the resistance, but rather the components of Palestinian society.
“In my opinion, Hamas is smarter now. In addition, the American administration, which was led by [President] George Bush at the time it besieged Hamas, is different today. The leadership of the Democrats headed by [President Joe] Biden seeks to restore the political process and regional and international stability, and Hamas is part of that stability,” he said.
Dajani suggested that Hamas might not go with a colorful list as in 2006, but with one composed of technocrats and independents, or with candidates from the second or third ranks of the movement. “This will make it easier for the international community to deal with Hamas,” he said.
He elaborated that in his opinion, the condition for Hamas to recognize Israel was no longer valid internationally or in the eyes of the Middle East Quartet.
“Moscow presented that [condition] and the Europeans don’t care anymore, neither does the UN. And in the Biden era, this condition may not be in place [for the US] either. There is an international welcome [available] for a joint [Fatah-Hamas] list,” Dajani said.
He warned that Israel’s efforts to keep Hamas isolated and outside the political system would not serve it. “The philosophy of ending Hamas and disarming the movement is no longer acceptable to the Palestinian street.”
Adjusting course was required not only of Hamas − in terms of ending provocative speeches that were not acceptable internationally, and nominating more pragmatic candidates, he said. “It’s also required [of the international community] to give Hamas a chance and to deal with Hamas as part of the solution, not the problem,” Dajani said.