Nakba Day highlights Fatah, Hamas differences on Israel

On the anniversary of Israel’s founding, Hamas vows to continue armed struggle, while Abbas appeals for Israeli empathy

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Mahmoud Abbas (center right) and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal speak to reporters after talks in Cairo in February 2012 (photo credit: Amr Nabil/AP)
Mahmoud Abbas (center right) and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal speak to reporters after talks in Cairo in February 2012 (photo credit: Amr Nabil/AP)

Nakba Day, marked by Palestinians on May 15 to commemorate the “catastrophe” of the creation of Israel and the war that surrounded it, finds Fatah and Hamas days before the announcement of a unity government comprising 15 technocrat ministers.

But the circumspect progress of Palestinian reconciliation can hardly conceal the deep gap between the two movements on how to engage Israel following the collapse of negotiations, as reflected by the official statements issued by the movements on the 66th Nakba Day.

In a statement published on Hamas’s official website, the group described the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the War of 1948 as “the most heinous crime and ethnic cleansing in modern history,” carried out “by the Zionist occupation in collusion with Western forces.”

Hamas vowed in the communique not to forgo any of the Palestinian principles; it rejected concessions on “even one inch of Palestinian land,” pledging to continue in the path of resistance “in all its forms, first and foremost armed resistance, which has proven its capacity to deter the occupation and break its vanity.”

Meanwhile, a statement by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was markedly different in tone. Abbas paid homage to his predecessor Yasser Arafat, pledged allegiance to Jerusalem as the future Palestinian capital, and boasted of the fact that the Palestinian cause had reached the world stage “not as a refugee issue, but as an issue of national liberation and independence for a great and noble people.”

While blasting the Benjamin Netanyahu government for intransigence, Abbas nevertheless reached out to the Israeli leadership, seeking sympathy and understanding for the Palestinian narrative.

“It is time for the Israeli leaders to understand that Palestinians have no homeland but Palestine. They will remain here. This is where the eyes of the Palestinians turn to, and this is where their hearts yearn to.”

A poster featured on Fatah's official Facebook page reading 'we will return to you, Jaffa oranges' (photo credit: Fatah Facebook page)
A poster featured on Fatah’s official Facebook page reading ‘we will return to you, Jaffa oranges’ (photo credit: Fatah Facebook page)

The refugee issue — traditionally the focal point of Nakba Day events — was played down in Abbas’s comments. Expressing solidarity with the suffering of Palestinian refugees forced out of Syria, Abbas thanked the refugees of Lebanon for taking in their brethren from across the border. He appealed to residents of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon not to harbor Sunni extremists fighting Hezbollah and respect the laws of the land.

“We are temporary guests [in Lebanon] pending return to our homeland,” he wrote.

But tension existed not only between the positions of Abbas and Hamas, but also between those of Abbas and his own movement, Fatah.

A statement posted on Fatah’s official website Thursday underscored the right of return as the personal right of every individual refugee, a stark contrast to the “just and agreed upon” formula adopted by Abbas based on the Arab Peace Initiative, alluding to Israel’s veto power.

The communique, which revolved almost entirely around the refugees’ right of return, ended with the following menacing statement: “Either our land and home in peace, or self-sacrifice until we return.”

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