By signing the agreement deal between Fatah and Hamas earlier this year; Palestinians have exploded the status quo that has prevailed in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The recent meeting between Abbas and Mishel has shed light on what appears to be a good level of seriousness to start implementing the principles of the agreement: reforming the PLO, preparing for elections, and building an independent Palestinian State.
The crux of the recent rounds of behind doors meetings in Cairo between the two parties; sometimes involving president Abbas has shown an unprecedented shift in the Palestinian political system. As both parties appear to be quite serious about ending the division and sharing power, Hamas’ incorporation into the PLO is likely to impact the whole framework of the Palestinian politics.
What is the significance of this Shift?
Depending largely on the accuracy of the reports from Cairo concerning the reconciliation efforts, Hamas’ incorporation in the PLO will definitely break its political isolation and give it more space to maneuver.
Quit obvious, the past few months have been very decisive in Hamas' politics. Despite the Nemours reports and public opinion polls regarding the decline in the movement's popularity, Hamas managed to capitalize and reconstructed its image by striking the swap deal with the Israeli side. With this in mind, the incorporation of Hamas in the PLO is quite significant for several reasons.
First, Hamas has never been a member of the PLO; the umbrella body of the Palestinian national movement. Second, no one can deny the damaging effects of the rift between Hamas and Fatah on the Palestinian national movement; and to the Palestinian people in general. Furthermore, reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is a substantial step on the path towards peace and democracy. Let’s face it and be realistic! Without it, no agreement on the creation of a Palestinian state would have any chance of success . additionally, any peaceful settlement with the Israeli side cannot be achieved with only those representing half of the Palestinian people.
More importantly, influenced by the waves of revolution in the Arab world, Hamas has signaled that it would now focus on popular resistance, while keeping the right of militant resistance in case an Israeli attack should occur. Quite fundamental, this step will help constructing a more inclusive PLO that could help trigger a paradigm shift to more unified strategy to resist the Israeli occupation and apartheid. This is exactly the stance of the African National congress during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
Hamas has sent some signals that it might be willing to reach some sort of accommodation with Israel. The group has largely adhered to a cease-fire with Israel since a brief war three years ago, and Mashaal has said he would not stand in the way if Abbas decides to resume negotiations with Israel.
But how long can Hamas remain committed to armed resistance, maintain an unofficial ceasefire with Israel, respond to Israeli incursions and airstrikes, carry on with unity talks and reconciliation with Fatah, rebuild Gaza under siege and break out from its political seclusion, while also remaining committed to its old charter?
There are indications that Hamas is currently changing its political landscape. Some commentators and experts argue that the movement is suffering a political crisis due to the uprising and civil war under way in Syria. Others have predicted Hamas’ regional ascendency based on the current political reshuffling in Egypt and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Regardless of which reason is more fundamental, Hamas will most likely find ways to adjust and survive — if not thrive under any possible scenario (already surviving the damaging siege and the 2009/2010 war on Gaza). The challenge, however, is maintaining a balance that would allow Hamas’ incorporation into the PLO which could facilitate the end of its political isolation and permit its leaders to appeal to millions of Palestinians as the vanguard of Palestinian resistance.
Difficulties on the way:
The difficulties in maintaining both positions are already becoming clear. Mesha’al told AFP recently that “every people has the right to fight against occupation in every way, with weapons or otherwise. But at the moment, we want to cooperate with the popular resistance … We believe in armed resistance but popular resistance is a program which is common to all the factions” (Time online, November 27). This logic alone is a considerable shift from Hamas’ old resistance manual, and is not exactly consistent with Haniyeh’s recent speech in Gaza.
In his speech in front of the rally, Ismail Haniyah, Hamas’s Prime Minister said “We affirm that armed resistance is our strategic option and the only way to liberate our land, from the sea to the river,” He also stated “God willing, Hamas will lead the people ... to the uprising until we liberate Palestine, all of Palestine.” Haniyeh also asserted that Hamas “will not recognize Israel” (AP, December 14).
The question remains to whether Hamas can manage to keep one foot in the Abbas camp, and another in its old resistance-based political program. Even for a robust and resourceful movement like Hamas, such a conundrum may prove too difficult to solve.