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memri
October 4, 2017 No.
1349

After A Decade Of Hamas Rule In Gaza, Movement Officials And Former Officials Call For Self-Scrutiny Within It

By: C. Jacob*

Introduction

After a decade of Hamas rule in Gaza, internal criticism from Hamas officials and former officials is on the rise. This criticism comes against the backdrop of the movement's regional isolation, the flagging economy, the decline in security and the suppression of free speech under Hamas's rule. Hamas is also accused of contributing to the intra-Palestinian schism and thereby preventing any progress – political, diplomatic, economic and social – in the Palestinian arena.

The criticism against Hamas has been expressed on websites, some of them affiliated with the movement, and on private social media accounts. One prominent critic is senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad, who called for self-scrutiny within Hamas, a reassessment of its relations with Fatah, and the formulation of a national strategy offering a chance for progress in the peace process vis-à-vis Israel. Another critic was Hamas member Ahmad Yousuf, who protested his movement's suppression of dissent and free speech, saying that this prevents an in-depth treatment of the movement's problems. 

Zaher Kuhail and Khadar Mahjaz, former Hamas members who left the movement and have been known for their criticism of it, likewise voiced dissatisfaction with Hamas's performance and policies. The former even expressed regret he had ever been part of the movement and called on West Bank Palestinians to prevent any possibility of a Hamas takeover there.  

It should be noted that internal criticism in Hamas is not unprecedented.[1] However, the current criticism seems unusual in its harshness and extent, and also in the public support it has found, including among figures known to be close to Hamas.

The following are excerpts from some of the critical articles:

Hamas Official Ghazi Hamad: Hamas Has Achievements, But No Political Horizon Or Culture Of Government

In two articles he published this year, Ghazi Hamad listed a long series of Hamas failures and called to revolutionize the movement. He wrote that Hamas has failed in leading the Palestinian national enterprise, in transforming itself from a militia into a national institution and in governing the Gaza Strip. He also accused it of inciting the public against Fatah and causing internal schism that undermines the Palestinian cause. He called on it to adhere to national principles and to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which, he said, has failed to establish proper government in the countries where it rose to power.

This criticism by Hamad, a senior Hamas official, may be intended to prepare the ground for concessions Hamas will have to make as part of efforts to achieve reconciliation with Fatah or with Muhammad Dahlan – efforts that are currently underway with Egyptian mediation.   

In the latter of his two articles, published September 7, 2017 by the Palestinian news agency Sama, which describes itself as independent, Hamad begins by acknowledging Hamas's achievements: "Hamas's greatest success is maintaining [its status as] a strong and united organization that recruited thousands of young people and imbued them with the culture of Islam and of sacrifice. Hamas also managed to build a military force that has carried out heroic operations, dealing the enemy heavy losses and threatening Israel's national security. [In addition,] it built a solid infrastructure for social activity, and withstood the attempts to eliminate the Palestinian cause or impose ridiculous solutions or settlements [on the Palestinians]. It must [also] be said in Hamas's favor that it adhered to its national principles, especially the commitment to Palestine in its entirety as the homeland of the Palestinian people. It refused to recognize Israel and reinforced the perception and the culture of resistance. Furthermore, it formed a network of foreign relations that helped spread its ideas and garner political and financial support [for the movement]."

After listing these achievements, Hamad goes on to address the movement's failures, asking: "Has Hamas managed to lead the [Palestinian] national program and present a diplomatic alternative to the failed Oslo Accords? Did it present a model of proper government? Has it managed to develop its ideological infrastructure and its political and social path, adapting them [to the shift] from a narrow organizational framework to a broad national one?"

Hamas Must Transcend Its Narrow Organizational Orientation, Adopt A Broader National Palestinian Outlook

Hamad urges Hamas to focus on its national Palestinian identity and formulate a clear political strategy: "The younger generation in Hamas often questions the bitter reality, the absence of a political horizon and the diminishing sources of livelihood. What is the movement's vision and strategy, and how successful has it been in managing Gaza's affairs? The young generation also raises other questions that obligate the movement's leadership to reassess its internal discourse and its texts, and adapt them to the sophisticated perceptions of this [new] generation... Hamas must revolutionize itself in order to develop the curricula and texts that many generations were raised upon. [It must] especially develop political awareness and praxis, which were absent in [certain] Islamic movements that rose to power, rendering them unable to present a model of success... In how many Muslim states did the MB manage the state affairs successfully and skillfully?...  Hamas must transcend its [narrow] organizational boundaries, give greater scope to its national identity and national slogans, endorse national causes and issues and weave the national strand into all its texts and events...

"Hamas has been operating for 30 years without formulating a clear, detailed and consolidated political strategy that can harness all the political and social sectors, and this is a grave flaw that it must address. Hamas missed a golden opportunity when  – due to political inexperience and a lack of strategic planning – it failed to use its power, its presence and its electoral win in order to establish its political program and vision at home and abroad. Preoccupied with the burden and the troubles of governing, Hamas was prevented from being a major player in the regional political arena."

Adhering To Armed Resistance, Hamas Neglected The Political Arena And Incited The Public Against Fatah

Hamad writes further that "Hamas left the political process entirely in Fatah's hands... focusing on the idea that resistance is the only way to achieve liberation. But eventually it discovered that resistance unaccompanied by a political process cannot achieve the hoped-for results. Hamas could have been part of the PLO and could have brought about change, if it had [only] maintained its presence and influence and taken part in deciding the political orientation of the Palestinian cause, presented [its own] national program and joined the national institutions, and skillfully managed the disagreements with Fatah while recruiting the support of the other [Palestinian] forces...

"It is vital that Hamas continue adhering to its weapons and to the option of resistance and to non-recognition of Israel, and persist in its stubborn commitment to national principles while firmly opposing the Oslo Accords. However, it is [also] necessary to act wisely and with political acumen and flexibility...

"Fatah has tended to monopolize the government, while Hamas has tended to incite against Fatah, ideologically and politically, while excluding it and refusing to recognize it. These relations [between Hamas and Fatah] led to conflict, bloodshed and deaths, to the destruction of political systems, to the loss of [our] national conscience, and to a great setback for [our] national enterprise."      

Ghazi Hamad (image: alquds.co.uk)

Mutual Recriminations Lead To Bankruptcy

In his earlier article, titled "Silence Is a Crime" and posted in January 2017 by the Palestinian news agency Sama, Ghazi Hamad castigated Hamas for not doing enough to achieve national unity and reconciliation with Fatah, and for not raising realistic and creative ideas for solving the problems of the Palestinian people. He wrote: "With its public presence, military strength and diverse abilities, Hamas can prove that it is not only a military player but also a political one that can score significant achievements. The public expects a lot from Hamas, [namely] that it will act quickly and expand the circle of its thinking and messages, making them more comprehensive and realistic in addressing the Palestinian crises...

"It has been proven that endless waiting, or mutual recriminations [that endlessly] shift the ball to the other's court, are inefficient, and lead to bankruptcy in terms of [the ability to] bring positive change to the Palestinian arena. In the present circumstances, [merely] surviving and treading in place is deadly, corrupting and disgraceful, and causes us to lose our way. We must make a radical course correction... We can do a lot: we can start a comprehensive national dialogue with all the political and national elements, or launch a rescue mission [by] proposing solutions to some of the domestic problems such as the electricity shortage or the [border] crossings, or improve the people's livelihood."[2]

Pro-Hamas Writers: Hamas Should Heed Hamad's Criticism

Despite his sharp criticism of Hamas, Hamad's articles were received positively, even by figures close to the movement. One of these was Mustafa Al-Sawaf, who said in response to Hamad's September 2017 article: "Dr. Ghazi Hamad can write as he pleases and criticize anything he disagrees with. I agree with him on many points, but disagree with him on others... Everything should be subjected to criticism and assessment by writers and analysts, who must [be free to] voice their opinion about various organizations. Hamad is a Hamas member [himself], and everything he said was from the viewpoint of a discerning critic who understands the important issues. So our friends in Hamas should take his message to heart."[3]

Political analyst Dr. Hussam Al-Dajani, who is also close to Hamas, wrote: "[Hamad's] article is an important criticism of Hamas's leadership, which will enable [the movement] to make progress and achieve the noble goal of leading the national enterprise. Regular criticism and comprehensive assessment of the movement's performance are necessary... There is a broad consensus among researchers, especially among experts on Hamas, as well as among the elites, that what Dr. Hamad presented [is correct]. Nobody can deny the magnitude of Fatah's and Hamas's mistake. The national movement, both Fatah and Hamas, has made mistakes.

"Dr. Ghazi raised an important point, namely that the relations between the factions must be based on joint action to promote the national plan and the plan for liberation. The relations [between Hamas and Fatah]  transformed from a political confrontation into an armed one, until they reached the point of a complete disconnect and a [willingness to make] a pact with the devil just to harm the other side. Hamas must examine the proposals in [Hamad's] article, in order to change the course of this movement, which is no longer considered a small movement but rather one that leads the people." [4]

Hamas Member Ahmad Yousuf Denounces His Movement's Violent  Suppression Of Protests

Hamas also incurred criticism for its suppression of protests and free speech. An example is an article published by Hamas member Ahmad Yousuf on the Palestinian website amad.ps on January 8, 2017. Gaza was experiencing an acute electricity crisis at the time, with power available only three hours a day, which triggered public protests against the government. Yousuf castigated Hamas for its treatment of the protesters, accusing it of using "methods of oppression and intimidation" against them. He wrote: "When an injustice has been done, or someone feels that an injustice has been done, he has a right to demonstrate or take part in a non-violent [protest] march. This is [regarded as] natural in all countries, and does not necessarily reflect hostility between the government and the people. The [Gaza] protests were natural and intended to convey a firm message to the government, [namely] that one of its apparatuses had been inept and incompetent... Why do our comrades in the security apparatuses try to present Gaza as a stable and peaceful place to live in, when problems and disasters beset it from every direction?!...

Ahmad Yousuf (image: paltoday.ps)

"I call upon my comrades in the security apparatuses not to be excessive in their reactions and [to respect] the public's natural right to protest against the prolonged power outages – although they should remind people that the [protest] marches must be peaceful, must take place in the area designated for them, and must be held in the presence of the media, so that their message goes out to the world. Methods of oppression and intimidation lead to tension, to an impasse, and eventually to rebellion. We are a people under occupation, so we must save all our energy for the conflict with the oppressing occupier, instead of exhausting ourselves in marginal [internal] wars over mundane demands."[5]

Columnist In Hamas Daily: Gaza Needs A Unified Army, Not A Chaos  Of Weapons

Criticism was also voiced by Ibrahim Al-Madhoun, who writes for Hamas's Al-Risala daily and other dailies. In a February 6, 2017 article, he held Hamas responsible for the proliferation of armed groups and organizations in Gaza, which he said create chaos there. He wrote: "It is time to give serious thought to eliminating the weapons chaos in Gaza and merging the armed Palestinian factions into a single resistance army that bears the banner of Palestine and includes all the people of Palestine. [This army will be subordinate to] a national central command and will fight according to orders and for the sake of Palestine's interests, and prevent disrespect [for authority], chaos, improvised and whimsical [action], and provocations in the course of the struggle against the occupation. There are dozens of armed groups with different names and opposing ideologies, each one comprising 10 or 20 armed fighters without a [joint] commander and without responsibility."[6]

Former Hamas Official Zaher Kuhail: I Regret My 40-Year Acquaintance With Hamas Leaders

Two former Hamas officials who left the movement and are known for their criticism of Hamas, and have even been arrested for it by the movement, also spoke against Hamas this year. One of them is Zaher Kuhail, an academic who was a candidate for prime minister of the Palestinian national accord government and today heads the Palestinian Democratic Assembly (a Gaza-based organization established after the Arab Spring to promote free speech and reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas). In March 2017 – after he was beaten and arrested by members of Hamas's military police over a real estate court case that is pending against him in Gaza – he harshly condemned Hamas's leaders and even expressed regret that he had ever known them. In a post on his Facebook page, he addressed Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya and the Gazan members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, saying: "Dear sirs, [members of] the Legislative Council in Gaza, brother Isma'il Haniya and honorable leaders of the [Hamas] movement. May Allah reward you handsomely for killing the law and offending religious scholars... After you allowed [Hamas's] violent takeover [of Gaza] and cancelled the three branches [of government], conflating them into one, I regret having known you for 40 years... and regret the destruction of the Islamic Movement's achievements. I regret that your behavior towards others has crossed every red line. I regret every day I spent in the jails of the Jews and of the Palestinian Authority apparatuses for the sake of the [Hamas] movement... I feel sorry for the people, whom we promised so much, and who have begun greeting the government with curses... I am sorry for honorable people who have been humiliated. I feel sorry for comrades in the Legislative Council and in the [Hamas] movement whose [names] I have happily removed from my lexicon and from my life after [having known them for] half a century."[7]      

A statement issued by Kuhail's organization condemned the Hamas military police for circumventing the courts and arresting him illegally.[8]

Author Khadar Mahjaz, A Former Hamas Member: Nothing Can Be Worse Than Hamas's Rule In Gaza

The same day Kuhail published his post, statements against Hamas were also published by writer and former Hamas member Khadar Mahjaz, who in the past has been arrested by Hamas several times for his criticizing it and the MB movement, and was even fired from his post in Gaza University.[9]  In a March 15, 2017 post on his Facebook page, which was subsequently deleted, he called on the people of the West Bank not to replace the PA with a Hamas government: "If the Ramallah government prevents you from fighting the occupation, in Gaza the internal security [apparatuses] will arrest you for opposing the occupation... Whoever thinks of replacing the [current] West Bank government, whatever its advantages and disadvantages, with a hell like that [created by] the rulers of Gaza is a madman. There is nothing worse than the experience of the [Hamas] rule in Gaza. Don't try it in the West bank..."[10] 

 

*C. Jacob is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 

[2] Samanews.ps, January 2, 2017.

[3] Samanews.ps, September 7, 2017.

[4] Samanews.ps, September 7, 2017.

[5] Amad.ps, January 8, 2017.

[6] Alresalah.ps, February 6, 2017.

[7] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), March 15, 2017.

[8] Pssawa.com, March 13, 2017.

[9] Karamapress.com, April 11, 2013. 

[10] Wattan24.com, March 15, 2017.