It is difficult, but try to put aside for a moment the appalling conflict in Gaza, with its daily toll of lives and destruction. We need to focus on a major difficulty, obscured now by bombs and rockets, but which stands in the way in of ending this conflict.
Peace between Hamas and Fatah may be more difficult than peace with Israel.
Days before the end of the truce between Israel and Hamas and the Israeli attack on Gaza, The International Crisis Group (“ICG”), a Brussels-based independent conflict resolution NGO , issued a briefing on Divided Palestine: ” Both Fatah and Hamas want reconciliation, but only on their own terms. They see time as an ally in consolidating their positions.” In the ICG’ opinion ,peace between Hamas and Fatah may take years to achieve and is becoming more difficult to achieve as time goes by. “The bottom line is that the kind of unity that seemed possible two ago years ago has become an appreciably more complicated endeavour. It will take a significant shift in the international and regional landscape to achieve it. “ Their key conclusion was that: “The division between the West Bank and Gaza is set to endure despite the growing number of international actors who acknowledge that without Palestinian unity, a genuine peace process with Israel is unattainable”.
In its most recent report following the ground assault on Gaza, The ICG, after noting that Hamas “missed the opportunity to act as a responsible political actor” ( presumably because it failed to mix politics and resistance successfully as it had promised it would) , concludes that “Palestinian reconciliation is a priority, more urgent but also harder than ever before.”
In a previous report ,following the Hamas takeover of Gaza ( Middle East report number 68 ) The ICG made a crucial comment: “But the Islamist takeover of virtually all PA institutions, the curtailment of basic freedoms and harassment of Fatah members bodes ill… Hamas owes the Palestinian people answers as to its ultimate political goals and how it wants the national movement to achieve them”.
The long-suffering Palestinian people and the international community are still waiting for this clarity from Hamas as to what its ultimate objective’s really are and what means it intends to use to achieve them. Without such clear/detailed information the split within the Palestinian national movement between Hamas and Fatah and the unwillingness of the international community (via the quartet of the UN, the EU, the US and Russia) to talk to Hamas ( as a terrorist organisation that will not renounce terrorism, recognise Israel, nor abide by previous agreements with it), will continue by default.
In addition In the absence of such long overdue clarification the international community must rely on the actions of Hamas and on an understanding of its history, background, and ideology to determine how to deal with it and what expectations to have of Israel in that regard.
A very significant contribution to such an understanding is Hamas: Unwritten Chapters, by Dr. Azzam Tamimi. (Hurst and Co, London, 2007). Tamimi is a Hamas supporter, and gives an insider’s account of Hamas after unprecedented access to its leaders and documentation. He also crucially includes a number of Hamas Arabic publications translated by him in the appendices to his book, which can usefully be compared to how Hamas normally explains itself to the West. Tamimi also has a helpful habit of “letting the cat out of the bag” on key issues such as why suicide attacks take place, Hamas’s primary political opponent (Fatah), and its all embracing religious focus. When that information is supplemented by a review of The Hamas Covenant, and the history of the development of the Moslem brotherhood (the parent organisation of Hamas), and Muslim Apocalyptic literature, a very different and unexpected picture emerges to the image deliberately portrayed by and of Hamas in the West.
To my surprise Hamas turns out to be a Nazi-influenced, anti-Semitic, conspiratorial group, which sees religion as all, is primarily concerned with its competition against Fatah, and has the ultimate objective of the re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate of old, an objective it shares fully with Al Qaeda. Hamas views on Jihad, Martyrdom, Western conspiracies against Islam since it was founded, and the absolute primacy of Islam in the world and in all areas of life are, to my amazement, nearly identical to those of Al Qaeda.
The Hamas Covenant, which is widely available and should be read by anyone interested in this issue, comprehensively reflects the views of Hassan al- Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and Abdullah Azzam, respectively the founder, key ideological influence, and patron of the Muslim Brotherhood.
These three, are (as set out in my book on the subject) also core ideologists of Al Qaeda , bringing their radical views on Jihad, militant Islam, martyrdom, the importance of a tiny vanguard leading the masses in the “right” direction, and a deep–seated belief in worldwide conspiracies, especially against the one true religion, Islam, into this completely religious document. The Oxford dictionary definition of a covenant is “An agreement held to be the basis of a relationship of commitment with God”. The Hamas Covenant begins with the words: “In the name of the most merciful Allah“, and very much continues in that vein.
The second paragraph of the Covenant contains a key quotation from Hassan al Banna — “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”
Sayyid Qutb, the godfather of Al Qaeda, wrote a paper in 1950, Our struggle with the Jews, which says: “the Jews were the enemies of the Moslem community from the first day… This bitter war which the Jews launched against Islam… Is a war, which has not been extinguished, even for one moment, for close on fourteen centuries, and which continues until this moment, its blaze raging in all corners of the earth… The Jews also utilised Christianity and idolatry in this comprehensive war… They attack every foundation of this religion in a Crusader-Zionist war.” This is all Al Qaeda anti-semitic commentary and ideology and is clearly at the core of the Covenant and belief system of Hamas.
Abdullah Azzam , the patron of Hamas, coined the famous aphorism-“Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences, and no dialogues”. This approach forms a core tenet of Al Qaeda and -as we will see – of Hamas.
These three core influencers on the Muslim brotherhood (the parent of Hamas ) are all highly anti-Semitic. Amplifying that anti-Semitism was the Nazi influence brought to the Muslim brotherhood and Hamas by the first leader of the Brotherhood in Palestine, Amin al -Husseini who held the office of Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921 onwords. The mufti spent most of the Second World War in Berlin with a staff of 60. A rabid supporter of Nazi Germany he broadcast on a Nazi Arabic-language station broadcasting out of the south of Berlin during the Second World War. After that war the Mufti was appointed leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine and deputy to Hassan Al-Banna.
Before the war the Muslim Brotherhood, part funded by the Nazi regime in Germany, distributed copies of Hitler’sMein Kampf and the Mufti himself acknowledged that it was only due to the German funds he had received that it had been possible to carry through the Arab Uprising in Palestine between 1936 and 1939. It is notable that during that uprising , more murders and homicides occurred inside the Palestinian camp than were perpetrated against the Jews or British. This trait of internecine Palestinian conflict has, unfortunately been worsened with the arrival of Hamas on the scene.
With this dual heritage from key Al Qaeda ideologists and from Nazi Germany, it is easy to understand why anti-Semitic comments are scattered throughout the Covenant. These refer to supposed Jewish world cconspiracies,The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, supposed Jewish control of the League of Nations, the UN and the UN Security Council, and Jewish responsibility for all wars, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution etc etc.
Article 5, among others, makes clear that Islam is at the centre of the Covenant and of the ideology of Hamas: “by adopting Islam as its way of life, the Movement goes back to the time of the birth of the Islamic message, of the righteous ancestors, for Allah is its target, the Prophet is its example, and the Quran is its constitution.” In case there is any uncertainty, Article 8 is clear: “Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Quran its constitution ; Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.”
Overall the primary and superior role of Islam in all areas of life and in all endeavours permeates the Covenant. The attitude to the superiority of Islam is well summarised by the infamous quotation of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood: “the noble Quran points to Muslims as guardians of humanity and grants them the right of suzerainty and Dominion over the world in order to carry out this sublime commission.”
In article 31 Hamas makes clear its view on other religions. “The Islamic resistance movement (Hamas) is a humanistic movement… Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions-Islam, Christianity and Judaism-to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that.
It is the duty of the followers of other religions to stop disputing the sovereignty of Islam in this region.” Tolerance on our terms clearly.
Article 11, and many other articles, make clear that Palestine is an Islamic Waqf (endowment land or an inalienable right) which cannot be negotiated away, given up, or a shared with any other religion. This logic applies to all other lands ever conquered by Muslims (such as Spain). This being so it is a betrayal not only of Palestinian rights but also of Islam itself to negotiate with respect to any part of Palestinian Land , as Fatah has done. This belief is identical to the views of Al Qaeda .
I was surprised to find that Tamimi confirms my interpretation of what I set out here and that the approach and logic applied by Hamas in Palestine can be applied equally to Spain, parts of France, southern Italy, India, and any other area once occupied by Muslims. What this means is that if Palestine is eventually liberated from the Jews and other non-Muslims, logically Spanish supporters of the Palestinian movement should then help “liberate” Spain for “the Muslims”.
Article 11 itself further clarifies this matter and the form of law that applies in Palestine: “ This is the law covering the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Muslims have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Muslims consecrated these lands to Muslim generations till the Day of Judgement.”
The views expressed in article 13 about peace discussions etc are an exact statement of the views of Abdullah Azzam the patron of Hamas as set out above. The Hamas Covenant says in this regard: “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavours.”
Finally and crucially with respect to the need for Palestinian unity to deal with the conflict in Gaza and to make peace with Israel, the Covenant has this to say in article 27: “Secularism completely contradicts religious ideology. Attitudes, conduct and decisions stem from ideologies.
That is why, with all our appreciation for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation-and what it can develop into – and without belittling its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, we are unable to exchange the present or future Islamic Palestine with the secular idea. The Islamic nature of Palestine is part of our religion and whoever takes his religion lightly is a loser.”
This Hamas Covenant is clearly expected to be acted upon. From the account of Hamas presented by Tamimi, it is very clear that the key driver of its activities for many decades was the desire to overcome Fatah and to win the competition for the Palestinian National Movement . This is because of Hamas’s belief that it should lead that Movement but also because of its unambiguous opposition to what Fatah represents-secularism, the left, and irreligious nationalism. Each of these “traits” are clearly seen by Hamas as fundamental enemies to their ideology and to Islam itself.
This opposition was clearly reflected in the appalling treatment meted out to Fatah supporters by Hamas when it took over Gaza by armed force. This led some leaders of Fatah to declare that the Hamas treatment of them, was “worse than the Israelis”. It has also led some Sunni political leaders in the Middle East to consider that Hamas is utterly opposed to Palestinian unity, unless such is fully on its terms and under its control and direction.
With this background I believe that, despite some possible short-term developments and agreements, it is now nearly impossible to have a united Palestinian movement which would include Hamas in any position of power. It may in fact be easier for Hamas to agree a truce (Hudna) with Israel than for it to make peace with Fatah to unite the Palestinian National Movement. Muslim apocalyptic thinking helps explain why.
Despite the Qur’anic prohibition on doing, so many Muslim scholars have tried to predict the end of the world. A Palestinian Hamas leader Bassam Jirrar read the Quran in ” geometrical fashion” and found that God ordained that Israel will exist for 76 years with breakpoints at 1967, 1986, 2003 with the end occurring in 2022. These predictions were modified somewhat by the late Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, ( spiritual leader of Hamas) who stated on a number of occasions that the true date of the end of the state of Israel is either 2026 or 2027 . The daily al-Bayan(based in the United Arab Emirates) cited him as saying that “the Hudna ( truce) is just a tactical move… Hamas still believes that Israel will disappear by 2027”.
For this reason it may be tactically easier for Hamas to agree a Hudna with Israel — one which of course may need to be broken if intra-Palestinian rivalries require — than for it to agree a final and real truce with Fatah which is seen as a life or death struggle to Hamas.
There are two further important practical difficulties involved in any negotiations with Hamas:
The first, impacting anyone negotiating with them, is whom to negotiate with . Tamimi points out in his book that Hamas agreed that following popular elections, when a member of Hamas is appointed to a ministerial position, that member must immediately resign all positions and offices within Hamas! Clearly then talking to elected Hamas ministers is a waste of time. Studying Tamimi’s writings and other information on Hamas, real power appears to lie either in the Istihari/Shura council, or perhaps in the Jihaz Filastin, or with the Political Bureau currently in Damascus, Syria. None of these entities have a democratic mandate, nor is there any clarity on their real roles or activities, or on their method of arriving at decisions.
The second practical difficulty is the possible illegality to certain parties of negotiating with Hamas, given its stated anti-Semitic/Nazi views. This certainly would prohibit Germany from negotiating with it, and so may inhibit the EU, and potentially the US and the UN in any such negotiations unless those unacceptable Hamas views are formally withdrawn or changed.
A legitimate question with respect to this analysis is whether the conclusions are based on out of date information. Any such doubts can be quickly eliminated by a review of more up-to-date comment and documentation from Hamas and from Tamimi himself. Appendix VI of Tamimi’s book includes the Hamas election manifesto for the Palestinian January 2006 elections. A review of this document confirms that the key concerns set out above with respect to Hamas continue to exist. It is notable that the manifesto concludes with the following words: “however, together we aim and proceed towards the achievement of our national project along the path towards our greater goals; a single, free and guided Ummah .” (Islamic Caliphate).
Many, including myself, have assumed that the lack of action on the part of the Quartet (the EU, the US, Russia, and the UN) with respect to Middle East peace has been because of the inaction or unhelpful approach of the Bush administration. An alternative explanation, and one which will be clarified shortly when the new administration comes into power in the US, would be that the Quartet, fully appreciating the real objectives and ideology of Hamas , saw any such effort as impossible or a complete waste of time.
Unfortunately, Hamas may see its room for manoeuvre declining daily, which will severely inhibit its ability to make peace with Fatah and Israel. There are a number of reasons for this.
On top of its belief system and ideology set out clearly in its Covenant and election manifesto, which severely inhibits it from any such peace negotiations, its recent row with Egypt narrow its room to manoeuvre further. As noted in Terrorism Focus ( September 24, 2008): “the activities of Salafi-Jihadi groups have become more prominent in Gaza following the Hamas takeover.” In its own eyes then Hamas may see its room to manoeuvre severely limited by the challenge of Fatah on the secular nationalist left, and the growing challenge from the “religious” Al Qaeda on the right , and in particular the Al Qaeda groups Jaysh al-Ummah,Jaysh al-Islam,and Suyuf al-Haq, now said by the Jamestown Foundation to be active in Gaza. As explained in Terrorism Focus ( December 12, 2008): “the Gaza-based Salafist leaders with Al Qaeda’s blessing-are also seeking to recruit fighters from the groups (Hamas) Izz ad –Din al Qassam Brigades. Media reports claim that many of the fighters are “exasperated” with Hamas leaders talks with Israeli officials, as well as with the on-again, off-again military “calm” between Hamas and Israel. In June, for example, some Hamas fighters used a public appeal to Al Qaeda’s leadership to rebuke their leaders for “drifting away from the path of Jihad and engaging in the political process with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority that has resulted in a further tightening of the noose around Palestinian necks.” These Hamas fighters also pledged support for the “global Jihad” and asked that Al Qaeda lend its support to the military effort”. ( Arrahmah.com, June 29).”
I agree with the opinion of the ICG that peace with Israel will be impossible until the Palestinian National Movement is united. Unfortunately I believe that because of its belief system and ideology, Hamas is incapable of making peace with Fatah unless it’s on its own terms. Its objective of achieving the Islamic Caliphate of old, its desire for religion to control all, and its focus on Fatah as traitors in this regard both politically and in religious terms, and its stated desire to obliterate Israel (with Fatah committed to a two- state solution) seems to make such unity on a reasonable democratic basis impossible.
Adding to the difficulty of uniting the two movements is the fact that the Palestinians are once again caught in the middle of other battles. Hamas is part of the rejectionist front which comprises Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas itself. Each opposes peace with Israel and wishes to see the Zionist entity as it puts it, eliminated. Fatah is allied to an opposing front which is prepared to make peace with Israel in certain circumstances. It comprises Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia particularly. Although Hamas is a Sunni Muslim group, this deadly strategic competition is much worsened by the fact that it is led by Sunni Arab states on one side and by Shia Muslims on the other,with Hamas in the Shia camp.
Like Al Qaeda, may believe the time is on its side and that it can wait out Fatah. That could be a lengthy period and in the meantime the Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza will continue to suffer. If Hamas takes total control of the Palestinian National Movement, without a fundamental change in its ideology, I believe that would be as disastrous for Palestine as the Taleban takeover eventually proved in Afghanistan.
It behoves the international community, and particularly the supporters of the Palestinian people, to force Hamas to state its aims and methods of achieving same in the short term clearly and unambiguously. Hopefully that clarity will either lead to Hamas being led to change its unacceptable views, or the international community and the Palestinian people turning away from it, thereby making peace with Israel possible. In the meantime the international community and particularly supporters of the Palestinian people in the Western media should focus on the ideology of Hamas, and on its actions particularly in Gaza. Such actions which appear to include orchestrated attempts to introduce sharia law, attacks on a variety of secular activities, and continuing ill-treatment of religious minorities, particularly Christians, should no longer be muted by political correctness but instead exposed to international gaze and evaluation. Such will help the Palestinian people and the international community determine whether Hamas is the future for Palestine or a deadly , bloody cul-de-sac.