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The sun sets over the Gaza Strip, as seen from the Israeli side of the border May 15, 2018.(Photo by: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Hamas divided: The Gaza Strip rulers' humanitarian aid dilemma
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
07/09/2018
Some of the humanitarian initiatives sound very tempting, to a point where it’s hard to see how Hamas can say no.
For years, Hamas has been complaining that the Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the Gaza Strip, as well as sanctions imposed by the Palestinian Authority against the two million residents living there, have created a “humanitarian and economic crisis” in the coastal enclave.

But now that some countries and international parties – including the US, Israel and the United Nations – have come up with a number of initiatives to improve living conditions in the Gaza Strip, Hamas does not seem to know what to do.

Here’s the dilemma Hamas is facing: On the one hand, if Hamas accepts these initiatives, its rivals – first and foremost the ruling Fatah faction – will accuse it of “selling out to Israel and the US,” and giving up Palestinian national rights in return for economic projects and humanitarian aid.

On the other hand, rejecting proposals to improve the living conditions its constituents could aggravate the situation and possibly prompt desperate Palestinians to revolt against the Hamas regime.

Some of the initiatives sound very tempting, to a point where it’s hard to see how Hamas can say no to a seaport in Cyprus or projects to create job opportunities to solve the serious problem of unemployment in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has nothing to lose by allowing Western parties to establish an industrial zone in the Gaza Strip that would provide thousand of jobs to Palestinians. In fact, such projects benefit Hamas because they exempt it from its responsibilities – as the de facto government in the Gaza Strip – toward its people.

This is why Hamas leaders and officials appear to be divided over the various initiatives that are being proposed by Israel, the US and the UN.

While some of them have categorically rejected the initiatives, others maintain that Hamas should positively consider these proposals as long as they don’t require it to make significant concessions.

The “rejectionist” camp in Hamas is headed by Mahmoud Zahar, who last week was quoted as saying his movement will not make any concessions in return for lifting the blockade or the sanctions on the Gaza Strip. “Gaza will not die of starvation,” Zahar said.

“Those who make sacrifices for their homeland don’t feel their homeland if there’s a blockade or if their salaries are halted.”

Zahar and his camp also argue that Hamas will not accept any prisoner exchange agreement with Israel unless Israel first releases all former Palestinian prisoners who were released in the Gilad Schalit deal (and were later re-rearrested by Israel).

Zahar and his followers further argue that any prisoner swap with Israel should not be linked to improving the living conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

However, the “pragmatic” camp in Hamas has a different view. Headed by Ismail Haniyeh and Osama Hamadan, this camp believes that it would be a mistake for Hamas to reject the recent proposals, especially humanitarian aid, as long as it is not required to “pay a political price.”

Hamdan, who is based in Lebanon, was recently quoted as saying that Hamas was “open to positively discussing and studying all the ideas and proposals, but without affecting our national rights or paying a political price.” The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, he added, were entitled to “a dignified life and an end to their suffering.”

Hamas’s conflicting messages over the proposals and initiatives concerning the Gaza Strip have even managed to confuse Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

Ambassador Mohamed al-Emadi, a senior Qatari diplomat who in the past few years has been spearheading efforts to resolve the crisis in the Gaza Strip, has thus far been unsuccessful in his attempt to persuade Hamas leaders to accept any of the initiatives, including a prisoner swap with Israel.

Both al-Emadi and the Egyptians have heard different messages from various Hamas leaders regarding the proposals and initiatives.

The message that Hamas is sending to the Qatari envoy and the Egyptians is one that says: Yes, these are very good and badly needed projects, but we are reluctant to accept them out of fear that we will be accused of betraying the Palestinian people and cause.

Hamas’s fear does not seem to be unjustified. The increased talk about humanitarian aid and economic projects in the Gaza Strip has prompted Fatah and PA leaders in the West Bank to accuse Hamas of being in collusion with Israel and the US to establish a separate Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip.

Last week, for instance, Fatah spokesman Osama Qawassmeh claimed that Hamas was part of an Israeli-American-Qatari “suspicious conspiracy” to promote US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-unveiled plan for peace in the Middle East. The plan, according to Qawassmeh, aims at “liquidating the Palestinian cause” in return for humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

The last thing Hamas wants is to be accused of being involved in any plot to eliminate Palestinian national rights. The Fatah accusations have made it hard for Hamas to demonstrate flexibility in the negotiations to reach a prisoner exchange deal with Israel and resolve the humanitarian and economic crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas is now trying to find a face-saving compromise that will allow it to agree to some of the initiatives to help the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, but without being seen as having made substantial concessions that could harm its image and undermine its rule in the Gaza Strip.

The words compromise and concessions have never existed in Hamas’s lexicon.

For many years, Hamas has been accusing its rivals in Fatah of making concessions to Israel and the US. Now, Hamas is afraid of facing the same charges as it considers the various initiatives to provide alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians living under its rule in the Gaza Strip.

It now remains to be seen which of the competing camps in Hamas will have the final say.
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