Following new Hamas document, Islamic Jihad takes separate stand on the battlefield

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The discontent of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party with Hamas’s revised policy document, which recognises the pre-1967 lines as the realistic basis for a future Palestinian state, comes as no surprise given the current rivalry between the two movements. But an attack on Hamas by its comrade in arms Islamic Jihad sheds new light on the ideological struggle unfolding these days within the Palestinian religious-political camp.

Ziad al-Nakhale, deputy secretary-general of Islamic Jihad, gave an interview last week to his movement’s website “Palestine Today” in which he accused Hamas of adopting the PLO’s faulty principles in confronting Israel. Al-Nakhale was particularly dismayed with Hamas’s assertion that acceptance of the pre-1967 lines is the political common denominator of all Palestinian movements.

For Israelis, the PLO’s Ten Point Program is a red flag, a reminder that any agreement signed with the Palestinians may only be the basis for future demands, or even war from a better Palestinian starting point. Al-Nakhale believes the opposite. By adopting the PLO’s strategy of gradation, he argues, Hamas has eroded Palestinian principles predicated on non-recognition of Israel within any borders.

“First, accepting the June 4 lines as the borders of the Palestinian state is a tacit recognition of the neighboring state, occupying 80% of Palestinian land, namely ‘the State of Israel’,” al-Nakhale wrote. “This means that at the end of the day, we face [a]two states [solution], adopted by the PLO and unimplemented by Israel.”

Al-Nakhale lashed out at Hamas’s assumption of consensus surrounding the 1967 lines, its rationale being that Palestinians must now unite around a common denominator and leave factional disagreements to a later stage.

“What does ‘agreed upon national formula’ mean?” he asked rhetorically. “Are those who reject the two-state solution, like Islamic Jihad and others, unpatriotic and outside the consensus? We argue, therefore, that this is not an agreed upon formula, and that it offends the feelings of comrades in arms within the resistance camp … As long as there is one Palestinian who rejects the two-state solution, or refuses to confine the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, this is not an agreed upon plan nor a consensus.”

Al-Nakhale’s comments express the deep tactical differences between Islamic Jihad and Hamas. While Hamas – struggling to govern the Gaza Strip and bankroll its elaborate bureaucracy – strives for an international breakthrough leading to its acceptance as a legitimate liberation movement, Islamic Jihad – with the blessing of its Iranian patrons – prefers ideological stagnation, even at the severe cost of Gazans’ quality of life.

The Palestinian leader admits this openly: “In principle, this document contains a development. But the progress is in a dead-end street, the way of searching for solutions and half-solutions to the Palestinian issue under the banner of so-called ‘international legitimacy’.”

The ideologue al-Nakhale, unlike Hamas, is not interested in “half-solutions to the Palestinian issue”. As the leader of a movement that is not responsible for the fate of Gaza residents, and whose budget is not dependent on smuggling tunnels almost entirely destroyed by Egypt, it’s easy for him to formulate an “all or nothing” policy.

Islamic Jihad’s deviation from mainstream Palestinian discourse relates also to the continuing schism between Fatah and Hamas. The rival movements continue to pay lip service to reconciliation between them, even as they relentlessly strive for each other’s destruction. Not so al-Nakhale. For him, Palestinians can only unite around a renewal of the intifada, not around a political program.

Al-Nakhale makes his point in reference to the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, now a month old.

“We said, time and again, that reconciliation is impossible under current conditions, because conditions are not ripe on both sides of the divide, both in Fatah and Hamas. The only way to return to the straight and narrow path, and to defend the Palestinians and their cause at this sensitive time, is by supporting the noble prisoners and identifying with them through a renewal of a comprehensive prisoners’ intifada, which will in turn revive the betrayed Jerusalem Intifada [of last year],” he wrote.

Hamas, for its part, prefers to distract domestic public opinion from the new document, which was mainly drafted for foreign consumption. Deputy parliament speaker Ahmad Bahar pointed last week to three Hamas achievements: the exposure of the man suspected of assassinating militant operative Mazen Fuqaha in Gaza, the new policy document, and the victory of the Islamic bloc in the student elections of Bir Zeit University, outside Ramallah.

Hamas’s new political chief, Ismail Haniyeh, called the student victory “a new pledge of allegiance to the resistance movement” and a show of support for peaceful government change, a clear hint to aging PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

This Plus61J article may be republished with this acknowledgement: ‘Reprinted with permission from www.plus61j.net.au

Related: Hamas presents new charter

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Elhanan Miller

Elhanan Miller is a Jerusalem-based journalist specialising in the Arab world. Trained in Arabic and Middle East politics in the IDF and Hebrew University, Miller regularly comments on regional affairs in Arabic and English-language media.

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