Downplaying Hamas is a Critical Mistake in Peace Talks
Before Israel released 26 Palestinian security prisoners on Tuesday night, Gaza based terror group Hamas held a press conference where it reiterated the movement’s blatant rejection of the current Washington-led peace negotiations.
At the Gaza press conference on Monday, Hamas declared that Mahmoud Abbas and his team of negotiators “do not have the right to give up any part of the land of Palestine or any of the people’s rights.”
According to the website of Hamas’ military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the movement emphasizes that the Palestinian people must unite together against negotiations. Hamas said the negotiations are “futile,” and called for active resistance “until the liberation of Palestine, the return of all refugees, the release of all captives, and the liberation of Jerusalem.”
Further, Hamas described the current negotiations as a cover and called on the Arab League and Arab and Islamic countries across the Middle East to “lift the cover on this negotiating process, amid the Palestinian Authority’s serious and continued concessions.”
Hamas, a terrorist offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, rules more than 1.8 million Palestinians living in Gaza.
While Hamas’ words do not play into the kind of peace language that Washington seeks for the renewed talks, doesn’t Hamas’ response carry weight as an outside player? Western analysts and Washington peace negotiators prefer to think not.
Western analysts currently say that the Hamas government is growing weaker in light of financial troubles and the Egyptian coup that removed Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, a strong backer of Hamas both financially and politically. According to analyst Jonathan Schanzer in a CNN report, while Hamas still appears to have the backing of Qatar and Turkey, it seems to have “buckled at the knees” following the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Even Hamas officials have admitted that recent events have been taking a toll.
A senior official in the Hamas foreign ministry, Ghazi Hamad, described the Gaza Strip as a “big prison as a result of the continued closure of the Rafah border crossing by the Egyptian authorities since June 30,” according to Khaed Abu Tomeh in a Gatestone Institute report.
Since Morsi’s fall, Hamad said that the number of Palestinian travelers at the Rafah terminal has dropped from 1,200 per day to 200 per day, and that only very few foreign delegations have been allowed to visit Gaza. The Egyptian Army has also put more effort into blocking the Hamas underground tunnel smuggling industry that connects Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to Gaza.
But others say that while Washington may choose to ignore Hamas during the peace talks, Gaza’s rulers cannot be overlooked.
“Hamas is the biggest elephant in the room…an elephant in the room that neither Israel nor the United States or even Abbas would like to come to terms with,” Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics recently said in a Politico report.
No matter what political analysts, negotiators, and academics have to say about Hamas, Hamas has had plenty to say about the peace talks, with the movement making it very clear where it stands on Israel, John Kerry, and Abbas.
Previously, on July 20, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zhuri told the AFP that “Hamas rejects Kerry’s announcement of a return to talks and considers the Palestinian Authority’s return to negotiations with the occupation to be at odds with the national consensus.”
Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahar said on Tuesday that Hamas should act to isolate Abbas and strip him of any representative capacity because of his decision to negotiate with Israel, according to the Times of Israel.
“The PA has dealt the final blow to reconciliation talks, and Hamas will never accept the negotiation track and its result,” Al-Zahar said. “We refuse to swap Palestinian principles for politicized money.”
And Hamas will do everything to ensure that Palestinians in Gaza follow suit, with its new Facebook and social media measures monitoring any potential anti-Hamas activism – including planned protests and hostile opinions from activists and journalists. In addition, public executions and hangings that take place in Gaza, despite international objections from human rights groups like Amnesty International, continue to instill fear into the local populace.
With Iran seeming to move into Hamas’s backyard again, the movement’s fundamentalist ideology, actions, and verbiage, while ignored by many at the negotiating table, do have significant meaning. That Hamas controls the densely populated Gaza Strip is in itself a concrete question mark for the kind of peace that Washington seeks to implement between the Palestinians and Israel.