Downplaying Hamas a critical mistake in peace talks

Downplaying Hamas a critical mistake in peace talks

JERUSALEM — Before Israel released 26 Palestinian security prisoners last week, Hamas held a press conference the previous evening where it reiterated
the movement’s blatant rejection of the current Washington-led peace negotiations
between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
At the Gaza press conference, on Monday Aug. 12, 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 Hamas’s military wing website, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades,
the movement emphasized that the Palestinian people must unite together
against the political move. Hamas called the current peace negotiations “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.”
The Hamas terrorist group, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, rules over 1.8 million Palestinians living in Gaza. While Hamas’s words do not play into
the kind of peace language that Washington seeks to frame with the renewed
talks, does Hamas’s 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,” recently reported by Khaed Abu Tomeh in a Gatestone Institute report.
Since Morsi’s fall, Hamad also added that the number of Palestinian travelers at the Rafah terminal has dropped from 1,200 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 between Egypt and Gaza.
But others still point out that while Washington may choose to ignore Hamas during the current 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 about the movement.
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 with frequent statements to the press.
Earlier on July 20, Hamas’s spokesman Sami Abu Zhuri told AFP, “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, told the Hamas daily Al-Resalah last week that Hamas should act to isolate P.A. President Abbas and strip him of any representative capacity over his decision to negotiate with Israel, according to the Times of Israel.
“The P.A. has dealt the final blow to reconciliation talks, and Hamas will never accept the negotiation track and its result,” said Al-Zahar. “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, which include 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 such as 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, ignored by many at the negotiating
table, do have significant meaning, at the very least, to its Israeli neighbors on the other side of Gaza.
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.

(Anav Silverman is an international correspondent in Jerusalem who writes
for Tazpit News Agency, The Huffington Post and several other publications and
news agencies.)