Middle East Roundtable
Edition 32 Volume 5 - August 16, 2007
Hamas: jumped or pushed?
• Ideologically inspired - an interview with Sufian Abu Zaida
Hamas believes democratic means alone will not be enough for it to exercise complete control over everything in Palestine.
• The American angle - Mark A. Heller
There is a large measure of truth to the argument that the United States has retreated on democratization.
• Jumped, provoked and pushed - Bruce Riedel
Hamas was also pushed to act by at least two outside parties: Iran and al-Qaeda.
• A reaction to unacceptable provocation - Ahmed Yusuf
We were not fighting the Fateh movement and Fateh did not fight us.
an interview with Sufian Abu Zaida
BI: Was Hamas pushed or did it jump when it took control of the Gaza Strip in June?
Abu Zaida: From an ideological perspective and in view of historical events, Hamas has considered itself the replacement for the secular PLO since it was founded in 1987-88. Hamas believes that in time it will lead the Palestinian cause and will do so by mixing religion and armed struggle. Hamas has therefore used the second intifada--under the pretext of fighting Israel--to build a strong and well-organized militia. But I have no illusions that most of the military strength that Hamas has built during these years is directed mainly against the Palestinian Authority and not against Israel. The final proof was the military coup in June in Gaza.
BI: Hamas had already won parliamentary elections, so why the need for the military action?
Abu Zaida: Hamas used democracy to get to power, but as an ideological Islamic movement it has nothing to do with democracy. Hamas believes democratic means alone will not be enough for it to exercise complete control over everything in Palestine. They did, however, have enough power to do so in Gaza, hence the coup.
I have no illusions that if the situation were different in the West Bank they would do the same here. If you listen carefully to the spokespeople of Hamas, people like Mahmoud Zahar and others, they have been saying very clearly that they planned the June attack, that they meant it, and that they wanted the control. Look at what Nizar Ayyan said after the coup. He asserted that, "now we've cleaned Gaza from the secular and the unbelievers". Those were the true intentions of Hamas. It's not that they had difficulties to function as a government or problems with people like Mohammad Dahlan as some of them claim. The real battle was what Nizar Ayyan so clearly expressed: they were fighting the secular powers in Palestine.
BI: And you think they would do the same in the West Bank?
Abu Zaida: Of course. But the West Bank is a little different.
BI: Hamas also said they were cleaning Gaza of criminal elements and now that they are in control there is law and order. What is your reaction?
Abu Zaida: I won't even go back to June. Let's look at the last three or four days. You can't claim, when you see the TV footage of how Hamas members destroyed a wedding party in a very brutal way, that this is security. The day before yesterday Hamas fighters occupied buildings to prevent journalists from taking photos and witnessing what they are doing. And they call this security and order?
BI: Do you think that the course adopted by President Mahmoud Abbas is the correct course or is there room for dialogue?
Abu Zaida: Without an admission from Hamas that they committed a crime, without an apology and the evacuation by Hamas forces of all Palestinian security headquarters in Gaza, I cannot not see that there is any room for dialogue.- Published 16/8/2007 Â© bitterlemons- international.org
Sufian Abu Zaida is a former PA minister for Fateh in Gaza and now lectures in political science at Al Quds University.
The American angle
Mark A. Heller
For those who think that the essence of political analysis is to point the finger of blame, Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June provides an object lesson in American responsibility for everything that goes wrong. According to this narrative, the United States (abetted by Israel), provided both the remote cause for this development by pushing Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) into a parliamentary election in 2006 for which he was not prepared, and the proximate cause by then encouraging Fateh to resist coming to terms with the results of the election and, in particular, to refuse to subordinate Fateh-controlled security forces to the duly-elected government.
In Gaza, it is argued (and not just by Hamas apologists), American efforts to finance, arm and train those forces provoked Hamas to launch a preemptive move against what looked like preparations for a coup. In short, American advocacy of democracy and then rejection of its results played a major if not decisive role in bringing Palestinian politics to their present impasse.
Of course, this is not the only example of inconsistency in American policy on Palestinian politics. When Yasser Arafat was president of the Palestinian Authority, the United States demanded an empowered prime minister; when Ismail Haniyeh became prime minister, the United States insisted on an empowered president.
The Palestinian case, moreover, is not the only example in the last year or two of rapidly cooling American ardor for the cause of democratization that had been the centerpiece of the Bush administration's Middle East policy after 2002. Pressure on the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt to open up more political space was eased following the unexpectedly strong showing of Islamists in Saudi municipal and Egyptian parliamentary elections in 2005. Reservations about the character of the Qaddafi regime in Libya were suppressed once other issues (weapons of mass destruction, terrorism) were resolved to American satisfaction. Support for the embattled government of Fuad Siniora in Lebanon was stepped up in order to confront the threat of Hizballah, even though it is the latter that calls for "one man, one vote" in order to remove the confessionalist obstacle to proportional Shi'ite representation in Lebanese politics. And even in Iraq, the United States continues to support the elected government of Nuri al-Maliki but is clearly unnerved by the Islamist bent of some of his coalition partners and of the major paramilitary forces in both the Shi'ite and Sunni communities.
As a result, there is a growing chorus of voices claiming that the United States (and most Europeans) have effectively abandoned commitments to democratization and reverted to traditional preferences for stability in regional and international behavior, regardless of the nature of domestic political systems. Like most such sweeping generalizations this one involves some oversimplification. The Palestinian constitutional reality, for example, is considerably more complex than that admitted by theories of American hypocrisy. At the very least, the basic law does reserve ultimate authority to the president in matters of security; support for the idea that Abu Mazen should retain control of security forces is not a total violation of democratic principle. By way of analogy, French security forces are also ultimately subordinate to the president of the republic, not the prime minister or defense minister. Besides, there is no intrinsic reason why the United States or anyone else should not confront hostile forces just because those forces enjoy popular support.
On the whole, however, there is a large measure of truth to the argument that the United States has retreated on democratization; while the commitment in principle remains, the vigor with which the cause is pushed has clearly diminished in the face of recent experience. The explanation for this is quite straightforward. The Bush administration adopted a stripped-down version of the theory of "the democratic peace" that overlooked one of its critical qualifications: developed democratic societies may indeed be more inclined to compromise and pursue the peaceful settlement of disputes, including international disputes, but societies in transition are actually more prone to the allure of ideological consistency (i.e., extremism) and the violent promotion of ideological visions and values.
This pattern does not apply only in the case of religiously-inspired values in democratizing societies--it was, after all, the "civic religion" of post-revolutionary France that so terrified Edmund Burke--and there is no need to resort to theories of "Islamic (or Arab) exceptionalism" to explain the phenomenon in the contemporary Middle East. At the same time, the phenomenon does seem particularly potent where religion is closely bound up with collective identity. Unless and until this link is weakened in the Middle East as a result of domestic dynamics, transformation agendas will remain stymied by the ease with which "liberal/secular" can be equated with "foreign/alien," and western governments will continue to see only short-term solutions to long-term problems.- Published 16/8/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org
Mark A. Heller is director of research at the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University.
Jumped, provoked and pushed
Hamas' swift victory in the June 2007 battle of Gaza was a stunning defeat for American interests in the Middle East. Hamas, an organization the United States has blackballed for 20 years, took control of 1.4 million Palestinians in less than a week, humiliating not only the US-backed Fateh but also the US-created coalition of Israel, Egypt and Jordan that had been training and equipping Fateh to defeat Hamas.
Hamas' victory was clearly well planned and executed. According to accounts from Hamas commanders, the planning for the takeover had been underway for months. Certainly some of the preparations, like the digging of a 220 meter tunnel under Fateh's Khan Yunis headquarters to blow it up, must have taken considerable time. Hamas had carefully built up its arsenal to include new weapons like mortars to gain battlefield advantage. Hamas used the tactics it had developed against the IDF to defeat its Arab enemy with speed and precision. No doubt it was helped by considerable advance penetration of the corrupt Fateh security apparatus.
At least some of the fighters in Hamas jumped at the chance to humiliate Fateh and especially Mohammad Dahlan, whom they saw as collaborators with the Israelis akin to the old South Lebanon Army. The military apparatus of Hamas was never very enthusiastic about the February Mecca agreement and was quick to argue that Fateh, Israel and America were subverting its outcome. Hamas military commanders have said they were surprised at the ease of their victory; but those who argued against Mecca from the beginning were eager to take on Fateh.
Yet Hamas was also deliberately provoked both strategically and tactically. The US and Israel made no secret of their doubts about the Saudi deal and of their efforts to train and equip the PA and Fateh to crush Hamas. American General Keith Dayton was clearly trying to build a force to overcome Hamas with help from Egypt and Jordan and with tacit Israeli approval. The allies just underestimated Hamas, and not for the first time. The attempt to kill the imam of the largest mosque in Gaza provided an immediate spark for a battle that was long coming.
And Hamas was also pushed to act by at least two outside parties. Iran saw the Mecca deal for what it was: a calculated Saudi attempt to contain and then reverse Iranian influence in the Palestinian movement. Palestinian politics have been a central political battlefield in inter-Arab politics for decades and could not be allowed to fall under Shi'ite influence. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Ministry of Intelligence and Security along with their Hizballah partners have been training key Hamas officers for years and would have had every reason to encourage them to thwart King Abdullah's Mecca accord and the danger it represented to their interests. It is likely the IRGC and MOIS helped with the military planning and may have expanded their presence in Gaza since June.
Al-Qaeda also made abundantly clear its opposition to the Mecca agreement and used its position at the center of the global Sunni jihadist movement to encourage Hamas to repudiate it and to kill Dahlan in particular. Last March, Qaeda's key ideologue Ayman Zawahri was particularly harsh in condemning Hamas' deal with Fateh in Mecca. Zawahri said the Hamas political leadership had "sold out" to the Saudi monarch: "I am sorry to have to offer the Islamic nation my condolences for the virtual demise of the Hamas leadership as it has fallen into the quagmire of surrender." In May he repeated these charges. Hamas responded by saying, "we are a movement of Jihad and of resistance. We in the Hamas movement remain loyal to our positions and we assure Dr. al-Zawahri and all those who remain unwavering in their attachment to Palestine that today's Hamas is the same Hamas you have known since its founding." After the coup, Zawahri was quick to signal his support for it and to urge all Muslims to help defend Gaza, while still repeating his concerns about the Hamas political leadership's "collaborationist" tendencies.
So a heady mix of Hamas firebrands eager for war, the barely concealed American and Israeli desire to reverse the results of the 2006 elections and pressure from both the Shi'ite and Sunni global jihadist centers created the explosive mix last June. Finally, of course, there was also the incompetence of the Fateh leadership. How much each factor alone counted is impossible to know; the combination is what mattered. The question now is, will Hamas be able to exploit its posture as the "real" voice of Palestine to undermine a "quisling" Fateh in the West Bank, where it is even more dependent on Israeli and US support and especially IDF bayonets to survive?- Published 16/8/2007 © bitterlemons- international.org
Bruce Riedel is a senior fellow in the Saban Center at Brookings. A 30 year CIA veteran, he served as a senior advisor on Arab-Israel issues for president's Bush, Clinton and Bush.
A reaction to unacceptable provocation
Following the bloody events in Gaza in June many have wondered what next. Hamas' position is clear: the government headed by Ismail Haniyeh will keep calling for dialogue. It will work toward this by exhorting Arab, Islamic and other international parties to encourage a Fateh-Hamas dialogue. This dialogue will aim at national reconciliation to end the disagreements and the boycott and install the political partnership that was rejected by influential parties who succeeded in hijacking the Fateh movement and determining its political direction.
We know that the Bush administration is working to obstruct any dialogue between President Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh, indeed is planning to expand the rift between Palestinians, and we don't count on any breakthrough in the American position. But we are working with a view to the post-Bush phase by reinforcing our ties with European states even if at the unofficial level and behind the scenes. We have sensed there is a better European understanding of Hamas; that Europeans understand that the movement enjoys credibility and stays away from exercising violence outside the context of its legitimate resistance against the occupation.
Thus it is important to clarify what happened in Gaza during those bloody days in June. First, what happened was not a preplanned matter as some try to claim. It came as a result of the repeated failure of attempts to control the security chaos and the blatant violations against leading figures in and members of Hamas as well as parties sympathetic toward the movement. The escalation was a clear provocation and took on an unacceptable dimension to the point where killings were based on the shape of one's beard or attendance at prayers and there were several violations against mosques and Imams.
The response to these acts overtook attempts by Major General Burhan Hamad and the Egyptian security delegation and the National and Islamic Follow Up Committees, and everyone was drowned in waves of war that no one planned--even if our information reveals that there was a wing inside Fateh that was storing weapons and mobilizing men to confront Hamas and launch a strike at its military wing.
Second, neither logic nor reason underpin the claim that Hamas was manipulating the dialogue in Cairo set up to reform the security apparatuses to undermine national unity. As I recall the events of the past 18 months, whenever we (Fateh and Hamas) approached reconciliation, there was always a party ready to frustrate the understandings. We used to inform President Abbas of the details of these schemes and the identity of the elements behind these plans, and we appealed to him to discharge the elements of corruption and subterfuge in some of the security apparatuses but all our warnings went unheeded.
Third, Hamas had no intention of turning the tables in the region. What happened was a result of rage among Hamas members after which matters developed very quickly at the security level. This was reflected in the collective and mass evacuation of the security headquarters because many members of the National Security Forces and the Presidential Guard didn't view this battle as their battle but considered it as an act taking place outside the national context. But by them departing to their homes, the whole affair appeared as if it were planned by the military wing of Hamas. It was not so. We have said it many times and we still say it: we were not fighting the Fateh movement and Fateh did not fight us. The battle was against elements that were working for external American and Israeli agendas.
Fourth, Hamas has affirmed, through PM Haniyeh, that it will not deviate from the principles it believes in, namely the unity of the homeland, the unity of the political system and respect for all Palestinian perspectives as expressed through the legitimacy of elections and the process of democracy.
Fifth, all issues remain open to dialogue, whether the restructuring of the security services based on professional and national principles, the formation of a national coalition government, or political partnership along with serious efforts to reform and restructure the PLO so that it can act as the legitimate umbrella of our national cause inside the homeland and abroad.
Sixth, all institutions of the Palestinian Authority belong to the Palestinian people and not to Fateh or Hamas. They must remain separate from any factional considerations or disputes.
Mediation efforts will eventually bear fruit, this month or next, and the situation will return to normal in terms of relations between the Palestinian factions and forces because everyone knows that no one can lead the Palestinians to any political or military settlement without national consensus. President Abbas will not succeed at the international conference in the autumn in light of the continued boycott against Hamas. He has to reconcile with Hamas and with the government of Haniyeh so he can negotiate with strong cards in his hands. Otherwise, he will go to the conference empty handed and he will return with neither homeland nor dignity.
Most probably, the November 2008 American elections will bring about the victory of a Democratic presidential candidate. All signs indicate that there will be radical changes in US policy toward better balance with regards to the Arab conflict with Israel. The United States is concerned to protect its strategic interests in the Middle East region, deeply damaged by the reckless policies of a Bush administration that was completely biased toward Israel. Combined with a reactivation of the European role, we are expecting a change in the political atmosphere.
With the efforts of our nation, the justice of our cause and the awakening of the western conscience, we can achieve our independence and freedom and we can establish our state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with Jerusalem as its capital.- Published 16/8/2007 © bitterlemons- international.org
Ahmed Yusuf is an advisor to PM Ismail Haniyeh.
Bitterlemons-international.org is an internet forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its specific concerns. It aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at email@example.com and yossi@bitterlemons- international.org, respectively.