Breaking ranks with his Islamist political movement, Hamas’s deputy foreign minister Ghazi Hamad has penned a rare op-ed of self-criticism, blaming both Hamas and Fatah’s shortsightedness for “losing Palestine.”
It is not often that a senior Hamas leader, a former chairman of the movement’s border crossings authority, bitterly accuses his group of “clapping with one hand at its festivals, singing of its heroism, listening to itself and describing the other as faltering.” It is even rarer for such a leader to allow his words, published in recent days in Arab media, to be translated for a wider, non-Palestinian audience.
Hamad’s op-ed, “Now I understand how and why the Palestinians lost Palestine,” published here, is iconoclastic in two meaningful ways. Firstly, it tears the mask off the political deal reached last June between Fatah and Hamas in the form of a unity technocrat government, exposing it as no more than a charade for public consumption.
“Rather than focusing the struggle against the occupation, the struggle has become exclusively intra-Palestinian. It is a struggle in which each of the sides tries to prove that his option is best and the other’s has failed. How long has this battle lasted, undecided? Is it really necessary for us to do this?” he writes.
Secondly, the op-ed points to the shortcomings of Hamas’s policy of “armed resistance and nothing else,” arguing instead that military struggle and smart diplomacy are two essential aspects of a sound Palestinian strategy.
Nonetheless, what he does not do is suggest that “armed resistance” in the Palestinian cause is either morally or practically wrong, and neither does he explicitly suggest any acceptance of Israel.
Hamad’s op-ed is iconoclastic in two meaningful ways. Firstly, it tears the mask off the political deal reached in June between Fatah and Hamas. Secondly, it points to the shortcomings of Hamas’s policy of ‘armed resistance and nothing else’
“It is true that we, as Palestinians, fought and struggled, presented an amazing model of sacrifice, and created revolution after revolution, intifada after intifada,” he writes. “But where is the practical result on the ground? Where is the Palestinian expansion – after 65 years – versus the cancerous occupation? Where are the foundations of victory and liberation that we release as empty slogans?”
As audacious as these words are from a Hamas leader, they are not unique in the Arab world. The series of revolutions beginning in late 2010, referred to collectively as “the Arab Spring,” have revived the old genre of self-critical editorializing. “Where have we gone wrong?” ask many Arab intellectuals today, as the familiar world around them crumbles. “What could we have done better?”
Nor is this the first extraordinary step by Hamad. In April 2007, he responded to an appeal by Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin to negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier captured by Hamas in Gaza 10 months earlier. For three months, Hamad conveyed messages from the Hamas government to then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, through Baskin and Olmert’s daughter Dana, writes Shlomi Eldar in his 2012 book “Getting to Know Hamas.”
In July 2007, Hamad, as director of Hamas’s border crossings authority, overtly proposed direct ties with Israel in return for the opening of Gaza’s gateways, promising to halt all rocket fire into Israel and all terror attacks. “Hamas’s proposal was unprecedented,” writes Eldar. Israel’s prime minister Olmert and defense minister Ehud Barak, notes Eldar, wouldn’t hear of it.
How might Hamad’s new article impact Israel? Unlike his 2007 gambit, Hamad offers no overture to Israel here. Quite the contrary. If Hamad’s advice is heeded by the Palestinians, to whom it is directed, Israel would find itself confronting a more potent Palestinian opponent, unified and belligerent. Currently, such Palestinian cohesion is nowhere in sight.
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
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