The Palestinian daily Al-Quds, based in eastern Jerusalem, recently published an article by Hamas politburo head Ismail Haniyeh aimed at “clarifying Hamas’s position on and vision of” the upcoming Palestinian elections.

The Palestinian Authority is preparing to hold elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (May 22), the presidency (July 31) and the Palestinian National Council (Aug. 31). The various Palestinian factions wrapped up the second round of National Palestinian Dialogue talks in Cairo last week to finalize the preparatory steps for the elections.

In the article, published on March 17, Haniyeh states that Hamas sees the elections as a way to end the Palestinian schism and build a new political system incorporating all the Palestinian factions, both inside Palestine and in the diaspora. The terror group also sees them as a means to unite the efforts of the Palestinians and of the entire Arab and Islamic nation to confront Israel and stop the regional process of normalization with it. Haniyeh stresses that Hamas is committed to the elections and to the understandings that have been reached in this context.

Two essential points stand out in Haniyeh’s article. First, he emphasizes that Hamas prefers to run for the PLC elections, as part of “a joint national list encompassing the widest possible spectrum of national [forces].” Second, he stresses that after the elections the Palestinians will have to formulate a strategy for confronting Israel “using all forms of struggle that are possible for our people—chief of them military resistance, while focusing on popular resistance at the present stage.”

These two statements give rise to significant questions regarding Haniyeh’s intentions and their practical implications. The issue of a joint list has been debated for some time by Hamas and Fatah officials but has yet to be settled. The suggestion is that Fatah and Hamas, and all other movements wishing to join the list, will agree on the number of members from each movement and on their place on the list.

The advantage of a joint list for Fatah and Hamas is that it enables both movements to secure places for their members in the next PLC, and also to determine in advance the division of seats between them—so that neither side will face a landslide victory of the other.  A joint list can therefore serve as an effective compromise, ensuring that elections will indeed be held and will not be postponed again and that the PLC will renew its activity—even if its makeup does not necessarily reflect the will of the voters.

For Hamas, which lacks international legitimacy because it refuses to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism, running in a joint list has another advantage. Entering the PLC with a Fatah seal of approval may prevent a scenario whereby the international community refuses to recognize the outcome of the elections.

However, a joint Hamas-Fatah list is at odds with the years-long hostility and deep political rifts between the two movements, and especially given Hamas’s aforementioned lack of international legitimacy. In recent weeks, Fatah and Hamas officials have admitted that a joint list is indeed unlikely, however, the option continues to be mentioned by other Fatah and Hamas officials and in reports leaked to the media. Until the final lists are published, the fate of this initiative will remain unclear.

Then there is Haniyeh’s ambiguous message regarding the strategy of “resistance” against Israel to be adopted after the elections. His vague statement on the subject is apparently aimed at holding the stick at both ends. It expresses, on the one hand, that Hamas remains committed to armed struggle and in fact considers this to be the chief form of struggle, while on the other hand seeming to state that at present, Hamas means to focus on popular resistance.

This latter statement may be intended for the ears of the Quartet, which demands that Hamas abandon the path of violence. According to reports, in preparation for the planned P.A. elections, Hamas has agreed to temporarily give up armed resistance and focus on popular struggle, apparently to convince the Quartet and the international community to recognize the elections and their outcomes. Hamas has not denied these statements, although at the same time its officials continue to encourage armed resistance. Thus, it cannot be ruled out that this is a temporary tactic by Hamas, to last at least until the completion of the elections, aimed at ensuring the establishment of new institutions in which Hamas is represented.

Y. Yehoshua is vice president for research and director of MEMRI Israel.

The full article is available on the MEMRI website.


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