By Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Sept. 20 -- It's no shock the U.S. and Israel oppose the Palestinian plan to ask the UN for recognition of a Palestinian state. More surprising is that the militant Palestinian group Hamas is also against it.
Established in 1987 during the first Palestinian intifada as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas was founded to eliminate the state of Israel and create an Islamist state in the areas that are now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The group is a political rival of Fatah, the main faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization, from which it won political control of the Gaza Strip four years ago.
That helps explain Hamas's first objection to the UN move. The plan to go to the UN Security Council is the initiative of Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader who governs in the West Bank and is the president of the Palestinian National Authority, the body charged with carrying out limited Palestinian self-rule in the Oslo peace accords. Hamas complains that Fatah acted on its own in deciding to take the statehood bid to the UN.
Mustafa as-Sawaf, editor-in-chief of the Gaza-based, Hamas-affiliated paper Felesteen, wrote that this is a "major national issue that should have been the subject of consultations between all the Palestinian parties. Such consultations might have led to disputes, but they would not have been as acute.”
He criticized the “monopoly mentality that prevails among the leaders of the Palestinian Authority” and argued that the lack of consultation about the UN bid has fueled the debilitating divisions among the Palestinian factions.
The lack of consultation is not the only problem with the UN bid, as-Sawaf said. Even if the Security Council approves the resolution, he wrote, "the Palestinians will not secure anything real. Occupation will still dominate the Palestinian territories."
In an interview with the Gaza-based, pro-Hamas Palestinian Information Center, a news agency, Sheikh Salih al-Aruri, a member of the political bureau of Hamas, argued that Abbas’s gambit will just produce more negotiations that will prove fruitless since Abbas rejects military resistance to occupation. Hamas, he wrote, supports a strategy of combining force with diplomacy. Al-Aruri left out, of course, that Hamas has long rejected direct negotiations with Israel and that it views Israeli civilians as perfectly legitimate targets of resistance. He said:
We in the Hamas movement have declared since day one that resistance is the way to liberation, and it should be accompanied by all other political and diplomatic efforts. This is the only way. We estimate that despite the fact that the Authority is now convinced of the futility of negotiations, it is still against the resistance.
In his newspaper piece, Mustafa as-Sawaf argued that a UN resolution might actually undercut the Palestinian cause by making it more difficult to secure additional Palestinian rights. In recent years, Hamas has said it would go along with a peace accord with Israel that created a border based on the armistice lines that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war -- as Abbas proposes -- so long as Palestinian refugees could return to their original homes in Israel and East Jerusalem became Palestine's capital. Now, as-Sawaf wants to hold out for more territory. Agreeing to the 1967 lines, as-Sawaf wrote, would mean giving up the negotiating card represented by the original UN partition plan of 1947, which gave Palestinians more territory. Statehood under the terms of the 1967 lines, he wrote, “would constitute a threat to the right of return and the issue of the refugees.”
In a debate on the Hamas TV station, Al-Aqsa, Dr. Ghazi Hamad, an official with the Hamas foreign ministry, took a different position, while agreeing that the UN bid was premature since the Palestinians themselves were not united on it:
We now say that we have common denominators. The minimum level of these common denominators is that we all speak of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Let us agree on it. We might disagree on the means. I support using all means, whether armed resistance, popular resistance, political pressure or diplomatic action. We must benefit from all these in resisting the occupation. But it is wrong to have every faction stick to its options and say that my option is the only one and I will not discuss any other. This is a strange and dangerous logic and we must give this up.
Other disagreements within Hamas over the statehood bid rose to the surface as well. Writing in the independently owned Ma’an News Agency, which is based in the West Bank, Hamas official Ahmad Youssef actually praised the effort to gain statehood recognition at the UN. He wrote:
On Sept. 23, the Palestinians will go to New York to seek recognition of Palestine as a full member state of the United Nations. The question that poses is: Why is the United States spearheading the campaign to oppose this bid, which enjoys the support of 120 countries that have agreed to give this right to the Palestinians?!!
If the American people want a “real and frank answer to the lingering question ‘Why do you hate us?’” Youssef wrote, “they must watch the position of their government regarding President Mahmoud Abbas’s request.”
Youssef, generally regarded as a moderate voice within Hamas, followed up his written remarks with an interview on the Voice of Palestine radio station where he more explicitly criticized the official Hamas stance. He said he does not accept that his movement opposes a step backed by the Arab states, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Turkey and hundreds of other countries.
Fatah official Zakariya al-Agha, a member of the group's central committee, offered encouragement for Youssef's point of view, telling the West Bank based WAFA news agency that Hamas “should not side with Israel and the United States in opposing Palestine's membership at the United Nations.”
According to opinion polls, a majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip agree with al-Agha and Abbas, that the statehood bid at the UN is the right move. Of course, they aren't the ones who will vote. To pass, a resolution of the Security Council requires the support of nine of its 15 members including the five permanent members, unless they abstain. One permanent member, the U.S., already has said it would veto an affirmative vote.
(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)
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