Vol. 6, No. 20 February 15, 2007
- The Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah does not presage a favorable diplomatic turn. It is merely a tactical political measure calculated to create a false impression regarding Hamas’ political flexibility in order to whitewash the organization into being accepted as a legitimate player in the international arena without it having to meet the three preconditions of the Quartet.
- In practice, Gaza under Hamas rule continues to be a hotbed of terror organizations, including those with ties to al-Qaeda.
- The political flexibility of Hamas, as expressed in the Mecca agreement, derives first and foremost from Hamas’ inability to score a decisive triumph, as well as from the international political and economic pressure which eroded public support for the Hamas government and the carrot and stick policy of Saudi Arabia (Hamas’ financial patron). Hamas’ main objective is the removal of the international boycott on the Palestinian Authority.
- Despite the desire of the EU countries to see a stable and democratic Palestinian government, past experience demonstrates that the billions of dollars poured into the Palestinian Authority since the Oslo process commenced have only served to strengthen the radical forces. If assistance is now extended to a Palestinian government where Hamas predominates, the West would be sawing off the limb of the tree which constitutes its Middle Eastern perch.
- Hamas, as part of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, does not conceal its aspirations to foment Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East, which would topple the moderate regimes allied with the West and establish an Islamic caliphate which will threaten Europe.
The “Mecca agreement” between Fatah and Hamas of February 8, 2007, regarding the establishment of a national unity government constitutes an important landmark for internal Palestinian relations, a year after the political turnabout in elections to the Palestinian parliament which brought the Hamas movement to power.1 The passages in the agreement are general and they do not bridge the gaps in positions, but the more important factor is the sincere (at least at this stage) obligation of the two sides to attempt to implement the agreement in a manner which will prevent a continuation of the violent conflicts and provide an opportunity to establish a stable regime in the Palestinian Authority. The agreement betrays a number of tendencies of political import for Israel, most notably Hamas’ attempt to rearrange the political building blocks in terms of internal Palestinian affairs in order to pave the way toward international recognition.
Soul-Searching in Hamas
In negotiations with Fatah which continued over many long months to establish a national unity government, Hamas went part of the way toward Fatah. After the euphoria which accompanied its sweeping electoral victory, Hamas was gradually persuaded to accept Fatah’s demand for a piece of the governmental pie. In the Mecca talks, Hamas made a most significant step by agreeing to the principle of “political partnership” in decision-making. This translated into a division of ministerial portfolios which awards significant political power to Fatah, to other political parties in parliament, and to independents as well. Hamas will have nine ministers, Fatah six, including a deputy prime minister, and the independents will have five ministers including the important portfolios of the interior, foreign affairs, and finance.2
The fundamental reason for the change was the collapse of the governmental structures and the deterioration toward a general civil war as the political crisis deepened. Hamas’ inability to score a decisive triumph, as well as the international political and economic pressure which eroded public support for the Hamas government and the carrot and stick policy of Saudi Arabia (the financial patron of Hamas) all contributed in the end to Hamas flexibility. The Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, admitted in an address to the Palestinian community in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that Hamas had conceded to Fatah on “a number of issues in the negotiations” and justified this as devotion to “the interests of the Palestinian people” and the desire to prevent a reversion to violent conflicts.3
A Possible Turnabout in the PLO
One of Hamas’ fundamental conditions for agreeing to joint political action with Fatah was the institution of a comprehensive organizational and ideological reform in the PLO which would pave the way for the absorption of Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the organization. Hamas is attempting to revive PLO activity by conducting new elections in the Palestinian Authority and in the diaspora for the PLO institutions. Hamas expects that in such elections the movement will secure a respectable representation and perhaps even a majority. In other words, Hamas’ objective upon its entry into the PLO is to take control of the Palestinian national movement, which brings with it exclusive representation of the Palestinian people together with control of the PLO’s financial institutions and its international status. Afterwards, it is but a short distance (and Hamas leaders declare this openly) to an ideological reform which will expunge any sign of recognizing Israel.4
Adopting a New Political Tactic
The Mecca agreement does not bring in its wake any positive diplomatic tidings for Israel. The issue of recognizing Israel is not mentioned at all in the agreement and, according to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (Al-Hayat, February 7, 2007), it was never discussed. The agreement is predicated on the “National Accord Document” (the “Prisoners’ Document”) which deals with delineating a Palestinian strategy for a single stage along the road of the Palestinian struggle to liberate Palestine – namely, the liberation of the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state in anticipation of the next stage, the implementation of the “right of return” by millions of Palestinian refugees to the territory of the State of Israel.
To its credit, one must admit that Hamas does not hide its intentions. Mashaal defines this explicitly as the adoption of “a new political language…which coincides with the (present) stage and conforms to a political line which is shared by all the Palestinian factions…and is a matter of national exigency.”5 This is accompanied by an “oral law” which clearly explains Hamas’ intentions. Hamas’ spokesperson Ismail Radwan emphasized that “Hamas’ positions are fixed and well-known and they are predicated upon non-recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity….The Hamas movement is one matter and the unity government is another matter. The national unity government rests upon the ‘National Accord Document’ (the ‘Prisoners’ Document’) which does not recognize the Israeli entity.”6 The spokesperson for the Palestinian government, Ghazi Hamad, a member of the Hamas elite, explains that despite its obligation to the Mecca agreement, the Hamas movement has never changed its outlook since its establishment and in the present stage it will endeavor to manage the conflict with Israel in a manner that will redound to the Palestinian interest.7 A Hamas member of Parliament, Fathi Hamed, presented a most interesting explanation, which argues that Hamas has agreed to honor the agreements which the PLO signed with Israel, but without obligating itself to them.8
Azam al-Ahmed, head of the Fatah parliamentary bloc, confirmed that the question of recognition of Israel never once entered the Mecca discussions and Hamas was not required to announce its recognition of Israel, just as Fatah was not required to do so (Al-Hayat, February 11, 2007). The PLO, he explained, serves as a quasi-Palestinian government. All the organizations are obligated to PLO decisions, but they can preserve their own unique ideology. In his opinion, the Hamas movement is the one that moved closer to the direction of the PLO’s diplomatic plan, which does not constitute an obstacle to Palestinian relations in the international arena. Furthermore, on this basis, the PLO reached agreements with Israel and entered into the peace process with Israel.9
Al-Ahmed further noted that the platform of the new government will be in accordance with Abbas’ letter of appointment for the new government, which stipulates abiding by the decisions of the Palestinian National Council and decisions of the Arab League including the Arab Peace Initiative (of March 2002). The letter of appointment, according to al-Ahmed, expresses Hamas’ readiness to honor the agreements which the PLO signed and, first and foremost, the Oslo agreement including the two-state solution (Palestine and Israel) as expressed in the Independence Document of 1988.
Breaching the International Boycott
In establishing a Palestinian national unity government, the Palestinians are attempting to reap diplomatic profits without having to make a substantial change in their fundamental positions. They hope to recruit international support on the assumption that the overriding interest of the West will be to establish a stable regime, which takes precedence over meeting the conditions of the Quartet (recognition of Israel, acceptance of the agreements signed with Israel, and a condemnation of terror). The first omens from Russia (Putin called for lifting the boycott) and from Europe (“the unity government is a positive first step”) are considered encouraging by the Hamas leadership and they place great hopes in Saudi Arabia, the mediator of the agreement, as a party that can convert the Mecca agreement into political and economic dividends in the international arena. A Hamas delegation will shortly tour Arab and European countries in an effort to turn a new page in its relations with the European Union. In anticipation of the tour, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is attempting to dampen expectations among the Palestinian public for a speedy removal of the international boycott of the Palestinian Authority. He estimates that the expected diplomatic battle will not be easy and in its course the Palestinian government will be subjected to heavy diplomatic pressures.10
Major Conclusions Following the Mecca Agreement
The Palestinian government headed by Hamas does not meet the three conditions set by the Quartet. The Mecca agreement is but a tactical political measure intended to create the false impression of Hamas diplomatic flexibility in order to whitewash Hamas into being accepted as a legitimate player in the international arena. But Hamas has not undergone any change. Under its rule, Gaza constitutes a base for Palestinian terror organizations including those with ties to al-Qaeda.
The countries of the European Union find themselves trapped in their policy vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority. Their main interest is to enhance the consolidation of a stable and democratic central government which embraces the path of negotiations as a means for resolving conflicts. Unfortunately, the signals from the Palestinian arena attest that we are dealing with a political maneuver devoid of real substance. Past experience informs us that economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority does not create the conditions for reinforcing a Western-style democratic approach or economic development which spurs political moderation. Despite the billions that have been poured into the Palestinian Authority since the Oslo process began, it is precisely the radical forces that have become stronger, and presently there is no political body prepared to reach a compromise with Israel on the basis of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
Furthermore, Hamas has an interest in exploiting the consolidation of its governmental power with the use of Western assistance in order to foment Islamic revolutions in moderate Arab states that are the West’s allies in the Middle East, and to establish an Islamic caliphate in the entire region, which will unite all Arab states. In other words, as part of the strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, Hamas aspires via Western assistance to create a new reality in the Middle East that will remove Western influence and foster conditions that will menace Europe.
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8. Al-Arabia TV, February 11, 2007.
9. Al-Hayat (London), February 11, 2007.
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Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.