Middle East — 06 July 2006

Amongst other things, government implies: the existence of state machinery, functioning and utilising viable methods of finance and a competent administration and security apparatus. It also requires having control over all these areas. A cursory look at the Palestinian situation is enough to conclude that there is little semblance of sovereignty – actual power, both political and economic, rests outside the Palestinian parliament. Hamas may have won the elections, but in reality, has it inherited a poisoned chalice?

Fundamentally, the immediate core challenges for Hamas can be split into four main categories.

Doctrinal

It is no secret that the pronounced raison d’etre of Hamas is the liberation of land considered to be occupied. Hamas has always advocated a material struggle against the combination of Israeli aggression and oppressive authority. The fact that the Palestinian population is united in its view that Israel was forcibly established on their land, as part of a plan hatched by Western powers has been a current which Hamas has successfully tapped into and utilised. However, the real strength of Hamas comes not simply from its stated commitment to free the Palestinian people from the shackles of Israeli hegemony – that, after all, is a slogan raised by many an organisation in the region – but rather its identification with Islam and the synthesis of Islam with such a cause. The intertwining of these two things has enabled Hamas to build a solid foundation amongst the local populace. Unlike many other secular parties, Hamas projects itself from an avowedly Islamic basis. It is from this premise that the party has refused to accept the existence of Israel as a valid entity, and has justified physical actions as a legitimate, and necessary, response to attacks on the Palestinian people.

Neither of the clear cut options available to Hamas is particularly appealing. Officially recognise Israel, denounce violence and solely enter the political fray which leaves itself open to a backlash from both Hamas supporters and Palestinians in general. Refuse to do so and the Israeli’s won’t play ball, Fatah will foment trouble on the ground and the international community keeps the door closed. What, then, is the way forward? The early signs are of a ‘middle’ way. There has been talk of a longer-term cease-fire, a hudna. Although there has been talk of such a truce in previous years, it has now been revived more explicitly. Senior officials have strongly hinted that Hamas is willing to enter into a peace agreement with the Israeli’s, provided they too are willing to be flexible. If Israel can stomach a discussion on the pre 67 borders, Hamas will entertain the concept of an existence alongside their neighbours. Using the idea of hudna provides an Islamic veneer to such a stance. Though Hamas has so far steered clear, from stating that it is prepared to completely reject violence and recognise Israel’s right to exist, it is partly implicit within the talk of a possible mid to long term peace agreement.

In an interview with Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Dr. Mahmoud Al-Rumhi explained “..that [Hamas] is willing to accept an interim solution based on the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital in the territories that were occupied in 1967, removal of the settlements, and return of the refugees – all this in return for a hudna of limited duration..”.

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