The results of the Gaza war have caused Hamas serious distress, something its leadership did not foresee before launching the war with Israel. The movement now appears to be in a process of stocktaking and reassessment in light of its situation, including the difficulties in rehabilitating the Gaza Strip, the bitter rift with the Palestinian Authority, and the deterioration in relations with Egypt. Among other things, Egypt has been constraining Hamas’s ability to arm itself.
To this must be added the effects of the weakening of the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent-movement of Hamas, and of the strengthening of the Islamic State as an organization that, in the name of Islam, has been challenging Arab regimes and Western states as it acts to establish the Islamic Caliphate-the goal to which Hamas also aspires.
A recent conference at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah addressed the issue of “The Political and Strategic Status of the Gaza Strip.” Among the topics discussed were the difficulties Hamas is encountering in the domestic, national, and regional spheres and the need for a thorough rethinking of its tactics and strategy.
Dr. Khaled al-Hroub, a conference participant and researcher at Cambridge University, published in the newspaper Al-Ayam several ideas of Sheikh Ahmed Yusuf of Gaza, a prominent Hamas leader. In the framework of the conference, Sheikh Yusuf presented a study focusing on the outcomes of Operation Protective Edge and on the need for a new ideology and political strategy for Hamas.
Al-Hroub provides quotations from Yusuf’s article that harshly criticize the Hamas government in Gaza, claiming that it “was not on the level required of the movement and lacks vitality and innovation.”
Hamas Leader: Time to Rethink Policies
Yusuf asserts that “there is a need to rethink how it behaves in light of the local, Arab, and international changes.”
Yusuf’s words indicate that Hamas leadership in the West Bank and Gaza did not take part in the decision to go to war with Israel and that the movement’s decisions sometimes were not brought to the Hamas Shura Council for deliberation.
Yusuf emphasizes the need for a major revision of the movement’s aims, which, he says, were written down in December 1987 and are outmoded.
Al-Hroub presented several main points from Yusuf’s recommendations to the Hamas leadership:
- Military activity must be discussed, and a plan must be formulated to halt it for a limited period of up to five years and thereby enable the recovery and rehabilitation of Gaza and the attainment of a national consensus.
- Discussion of direct negotiations with Israel must be continued, in line with previous statements on this issue by Dr. Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy chief of the movement’s Political Bureau.
- Assessing relations with Egypt, Iran, and the Gulf states, and especially with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and bolstering ties with Qatar and Turkey.
- Give the highest priority to the achievement of stability and security in the Sinai Peninsula so that relations with Egypt can be improved.
- Hamas and Fatah will run in the coming elections on a single agreed list.
- In the next presidential elections, if Mahmoud Abbas decides not to run for the post, Hamas must support Dr. Salam Fayaed.
- Consideration must be given to changing the Hamas Charter of 1987, which is exploited by Israel, especially the articles that are viewed as “anti-Semitic” and are exploited by Israel to attack the valid Palestinian problem.
- Support for Mahmoud Abbas’s plan to join international conventions, while enhancing his legitimacy as leader of the entire Palestinian people and allowing him freedom of movement.
- Recalibration of the Hamas movement’s relationship with the West while distancing it from everything connected to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
Sheikh Ahmed Yusuf’s positions are seen as courageous among Palestinians, especially their presentation in a document published in a Palestinian news outlet. They reveal the true condition of the movement and prescribe for Hamas leadership a real change and a way out of its current malaise.
It is doubtful whether Hamas leadership will adopt most of Yusuf’s proposals. Palestinian commentators, however, believe that the adoption of some of these recommendations would probably improve the movement’s status both in the Palestinian street and from a regional standpoint.