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Tuesday Sept. 13, 2011 11:40 AM (EST+7)
ANALYSIS: Hamas ambiguity on Palestinian statehood bid is calculated

Read more: Hamas, United Nations, statehood, independence, occupation, Palestinian politics

GAZA CITY, September 13 (JMCC) – When Palestinians led by President Mahmoud Abbas appeal this fall to the United Nations for its blessing of a Palestinian state, opposition group Hamas may well remain silent on the issue.

So far, the Islamist group that governs the Gaza Strip has not come out for or against the statehood maneuver.

Palestinians have said they plan to request a vote in the Security Council for full U.N. membership--a resolution the U.S. has said it would veto. The Palestine Liberation Organization could also seek support from the General Assembly, where more than 130 states have declared their support for the creation of a Palestinian state, and ask for an upgrade in status at the world body.

Naji Shurrab, political science professor at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University says that Hamas’ political stance on the request for statehood remains mysterious.

Up to this moment, there is no obvious attitude from Hamas whether it is with or against, he said. “It is hard to believe Hamas would say ‘we are against’, simply because that would be the same position as that of the US administration and Israel.


Israel has sharply criticized the U.N. bid and described it as a unilateral step to avoid negotiations. Its close ally, the U.S., has promised to veto any resolution at the Security Council and called on the parties to return to talks. Analysts have warned that violence could erupt in the occupied territories as Palestinians demonstrate in support of the U.N. resolution or if they are disappointed by the international response.

Hamas continues to advocate armed struggle against Israel. For the most part, however, it remains an observer in the countdown to the new U.N. session, which kicks off in New York on September 19. While the group won 2006 parliamentary elections, it is considered a terrorist organization by some western countries and was isolated in Gaza after its armed forces took control of the Palestinian Authority there in 2007.

If Hamas offers a clear position [on the U.N. move], this means a turning point in its political platform,” Shurab explains. “’Yes’ puts it completely on the political path of the PLO, and ‘no’ puts it with US and Israel.”

Analyst Akram Atallah argues that, ideologically, Hamas is opposed to U.N. intervention in the Palestinian conflict. He refers to last week’s release of a U.N. report that legitimized Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, despite previous U.N. opinions that the blockade is a violation of international law.  

Hamas does not believe that the U.N. is a reference to be depended on,” Atallah explained. “Several days ago, it was reported that the Palmer report said the siege on Gaza is legal. It is not logic for Hamas to trust the U.N.

Nevertheless, Hamas cannot go out of its way to object to the PLO’s U.N. appeal, Attallah continues. “The National Agreement Document signed by various Palestinian factions [in 2006] including Hamas, says that the Palestinian goal is to establish a Palestinian state on the Palestinian lands occupied in 1967.

He believes that Hamas has little to lose in the U.N. gamble. If Abbas succeeds, Hamas will be a part of a Palestinian political regime enjoying international legitimacy, and if Abbas fails, it will say ‘we were right’.


When asked, Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum did not criticize or support the Abbas plan, but slammed its unilateralism.

Hamas is not against any political effort that supports the rights of the Palestinian people, he told JMCC by phone.

But Abbas made this decision on his own. He did not consult any of the other various Palestinian political powers, which means it falls outside the internal Palestinian consensus, he said.

Barhoum went on to say that Hamas opposes moving to the U.N. if the bid is intended to restart negotiations with Israel. Abbas has repeatedly said that Palestinians are seeking to restart bilateral talks, before or after the U.N. vote. This means he linked his step at the U.N. with the reduction of Palestinian rights through fruitless negotiations, Barhoum explained.

Hamas’ attitude is enigmatic, said analyst Hani Habib. It opposes any achievement by the PLO, either internally or externally. At the same time, the group knows that the U.N. appeal is supported by most Palestinian factions and the public. This makes it difficult for Hamas to declare its opposition, said Habib.

Because the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank did not consult Hamas or ask its opinion, observer Ibrahim al-Madhoun says Hamas has not been forced to take a position.

Hamas believes the priority is to reorganize the internal Palestinian situation by implementing the reconciliation between Fateh and Hamas, said al-Madhoun. Abbas’ Fateh and Hamas signed a reconciliation deal in May that would have created a shared government in preparation for elections. The deal has stalled, however, over a lack of political will.

Still, Hamas may yet take a position, argued columnist Mustafa al-Sawwaf in an article in the Gaza-based “Palestine” newspaper.

Hamas' position is ready in the [desk] drawers of its political leaders, waiting for the suitable time to be announced,' al-Sawwaf wrote Monday. He said the group has a dim view of Abbas’ political brinkmanship, believing he may yet back down when faced with world pressure.

Abbas’ goal is to go back to negotiations. If he succeeds at returning to negotiations, he will not move to the U.N., al-Sawwaf went on.

The PLO has engaged Israel in bilateral negotiations for almost 20 years, seeking to end Israel’s 1967 occupation and establish a Palestinian state. The talks last broke down in the fall of 2010, after Israel refused to renew a freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.






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