September 4, 2018 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1414

Hamas Officials, Pro-Hamas Writers Legitimize Indirect Negotiations With Israel, Explain The Benefits Of A Deal With It

September 4, 2018 | By S. Schneidmann*
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1414

In recent weeks, indirect contacts and negotiations have been taking place between Israel and Hamas, with  Egyptian, Qatari and UN mediation, aimed at achieving an "arrangement" for a long-term ceasefire allowing the easing of restrictions on Gaza and the provision of humanitarian relief. Some proposals also include the launching of economic enterprises for Gaza's benefit, such as the construction of a seaport and airport and the rebuilding of infrastructures. Alongside these talks, Egyptian elements have been working to promote the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and to restore Gaza to the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Amid these developments, a change has occurred in the discourse of Hamas, which has begun legitimizing the contacts with Israel. After years of attacking Fatah and the PA for their security coordination and talks with Israel and for halting the armed struggle against it, Hamas officials have begun stressing the need for indirect negotiations with the occupation and for a long-term ceasefire with it. This change was first apparent in late June on social media, as pro-Hamas journalists and activists in Gaza began posting messages in favor of a deal with Israel; these posts may have been intended to assess the public mood and its response to the idea. For example, pro-Hamas journalist Ibrahim Al-Madhoun, who writes on Hamas websites, wrote on his Facebook page on June 21: "I believe that Hamas will not oppose any deal in which Gaza will be freed and the siege will be lifted [by building] a seaport and airport, a prisoner exchange deal will be made, and the weapons will be stilled by means of a ceasefire, without relinquishing a single right of the Palestinian people..."[1]

Ibrahim Al-Madhoun's Facebook post

The same day, Islam Shahwan, a Hamas activist and a former spokesman of the movement's interior ministry in Gaza, likewise wrote a post calling for negotiations with Israel. In fact, he even spoke of direct, rather than indirect, talks: "What would happen if the decision-makers in Gaza invited the decision-makers of the occupation state to a meeting at the Beit Hanoun border crossing to discuss the tragic situation in Gaza and find a direct solution [acceptable] to both sides...?"[2] Hamas journalist Ahmad Mansour posted in a similar vein: "I call on the Red Cross to initiate direct dialogue... between Israel and Hamas, with international mediation. Face-to-face dialogue, without mediators, to promote a comprehensive agreement that will prevent both sides from sliding [into the abyss] and in an attempt to create a different reality..."[3]

Subsequently, statements about the need for negotiations with Israel began to be heard from Hamas officials and in articles in the movement's press and websites. Hamas leaders and spokesmen admitted that efforts were underway to reach a long-term arrangement in Gaza, stressing that the goal is to end the siege and alleviate the economic and humanitarian crisis there. They declared that any agreement that failed to address all of Gaza's problems would be rejected, and that Hamas would not pay a political price for the agreement, i.e., relinquish any of the Palestinian "national principles" or the resistance.[4] Articles in Hamas's mouthpieces Al-Risala and Filastin advocated indirect negotiations to achieve temporary goals, such as the lifting of the siege and the prevention of war, without relinquishing Hamas's long-term goals, including the elimination of Israel.

The PA and Fatah were enraged by the reported contacts between Hamas and Israel, and voiced concerns about the possible inclusion of Hamas in the U.S. initiative for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, known as the Deal of the Century. Fatah accused Hamas of treason, of selling out the Palestinian national principles in return for economic and humanitarian relief, of thwarting the reconciliation with Fatah and of acting to establish a separate state in the Gaza Strip.[5]

It should be noted that indirect talks between Israel and Hamas were already conducted in 2015 and even earlier, and that then, too, Hamas officials justified them as a means to end the siege and alleviate the suffering of the Gazans.[6] It should also be noted that, alongside the talks, Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza have been persisting in their armed actions against Israel, apparently as a means to pressure it in the negotiations, although there have been some calls to restrain the armed action for now.[7]     

This report reviews recent statements by Hamas officials and in the Hamas and pro-Hamas media justifying the negotiations with Israel and the reaching of an arrangement with it.

Hamas Officials: We Will Not Pay A Political Price For The Arrangement; Even The Prophet Muhammad Negotiated With His Enemies

In late May and in June 2018, sporadic reports began to appear that Hamas had received proposals, relayed by various elements, for a long-term ceasefire and the alleviation of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Hamas officials admitted to receiving such proposals, but denied that any negotiations with Israel were taking place. For example, on May 30, 2018, Hamas political bureau member Moussa Abu Marzouq confirmed that Hamas had received verbal proposals regarding aid to Gaza, but denied that a long-term ceasefire was being discussed.[8] Other officials likewise admitted to the existence of various suggestions, but stressed that Hamas would not accept partial solutions or solutions at the expense of the Palestinian principles or the resistance. In a June 6 speech,  Hamas political bureau chief Isma'il Haniya said: "The Palestinian people and its [various] factions are willing to consider any genuine initiative that will put a complete end to the siege on Gaza, but not at the expense of the Palestinian cause as a whole."[9] Political bureau member Khalil Al-Haya also addressed this topic, promising that "we will by no means accept any initiative or idea that undermines the refugees' [right of] return, the establishment of a Palestinian state or the elimination of the occupation."[10] Similar statements were made by Hamas official Ahmad Yousuf.[11]

When Qatari envoy Muhammad Al-'Amadi revealed in early July that indirect negotiations were underway between Israel and Hamas – an admission that evoked shrill protests from the PA and Fatah – Hamas officials hurried to deny the existence of such negotiations. In an interview on the Almayadeen satellite channel, Hamas official Ghazi Hamad denied that talks were taking place, and clarified that Hamas would welcome only proposals "for humanitarian projects in Gaza that do not carry a political price."[12] Hamas official Isma'il Radwan said that the movement would not oppose "any international step to restrain Israel's attacks," but stressed that there were no negotiations with the occupation, either direct or indirect.[13]

However, as reports about the negotiations multiplied, and as details from the talks themselves began to leak, Hamas officials admitted that they were takin place and began talking about them more freely, while persistently reassuring their public by stressing that Hamas would not cooperate with the Deal of the Century, would oppose any initiative aiming to separate Gaza from the West Bank, and would not relinquish any of Hamas's principles or the resistance, even in return for a ceasefire and the lifting of the siege. They underscored that Hamas was negotiating from a position of strength, and some even emphasized the religious legitimacy of Hamas's moves, noting that the Prophet Muhammad himself had negotiated with his enemies.          

Hamas political bureau member Osama Hamdan confirmed on July 4, 2018 that a mediated dialogue was underway between Israel and Hamas aimed at improving the situation in Gaza by easing the restrictions on trade, granting open access to the sea, and significantly easing the siege, but emphasized that Hamas would "refuse any easements for Gaza if required to pay a political price for them or relinquish any of the national principles."[14] At a funeral of a member of Hamas's military wing, political bureau member Khalil Al-Hayya said: "We will not pay a political price in return for the lifting of the siege, and our resistance and [return] marches will continue until the soil [of Palestine] is liberated."[15]

Mahmoud Al-Zahhar: A Ceasefire Is In Our Favor: It Carries No Political Price, Alleviates The Gazans' Suffering, Leaves The Weapons In Our Hands

Political bureau member Mahmoud Al-Zahhar spoke in a similar vein in a July 11 interview on Al-Jazeera: "We will not accept the Deal of the Century or agree to give up a single inch of our soil in return for easements."[16] One month later, Al-Zahhar addressed the ceasefire agreement with Israel, saying: "A ceasefire is in our favor, because our arms [remain] in our possession and there are no terms limiting Hamas's right to wage resistance. The ceasefire does not come at a political price. It is not part of the Deal of the Century, but only a humanitarian measure to benefit the people of Gaza." He also stressed that "the talks taking place regarding a prisoner exchange are completely separate from the talks about the ceasefire... The dossier [of prisoner exchange] has its own terms, and the [Hamas] movement will not agree to any measure unless its terms are met, starting with the demand to free all the Palestinian detainees arrested after the Gilad Shalit deal."[17]   

Haniya: We Are Negotiating From A Position Of Strength; The Siege Will Be Lifted Without Us Giving Up Our Principles, Our Guns, Or The Right Of Return

In an August 21 Eid Al-Adha sermon, Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya said in a similar vein: "The Palestinian people will not pay any political price for the lifting of the Israeli siege from Gaza... Any humanitarian relief for Gaza must be free of political price-tags, [and must be] a national consensus and [accompanied by] an Arab safety net to guarantee its implementation... [But] the most powerful guarantee [available] to the Palestinian people is the resistance, which forces the occupation to proceed towards lifting the siege, not out of its own free will or generosity, but thanks to the steadfastness and sacrifices of our people." He added: "As we turn to formulate the guidelines for our resistance at this stage, we are acting from a position of strength and ability... The siege will be lifted, and not as part of the Deal of the Century or any preparations for separating Gaza from the West Bank, and without any relinquishing any of our principles, our guns or the right of return..."[18]  

Ghazi Hamad: Negotiating With The Enemy Is Legitimate; Even The Prophet Muhammad Did It

A notable example of the shift in Hamas's discourse can be found in statements by Ghazi Hamad to Al-Jazeera. A month after he denied the very existence of the talks, he stressed that negotiations were legitimate from an Islamic point of view, because the Prophet Muhammad and other Muslim leaders in Islamic history negotiated with their enemies. He added that the Palestinians must secure their interests in changing circumstances, and that, in the current stage, talks were the best way to achieve this. He also emphasized that Hamas's negotiations are different from PLO's, which had been "toothless," unbacked by a Palestinian consensus and based on exclusive Fatah decisions.

On another occasion, Hamad stated that "the ceasefire is temporary and vital, and aimed at improving the lives of the Gazans, not at giving up the option of resistance and paying a political price... Nobody should be concerned about the ceasefire, because we will not agree to the severing of Gaza from the West Bank."[19]

Articles In Hamas Newspapers Justify The Negotiations: They Will Lead To The Lifting Of The Siege, Release Of Prisoners

As stated, articles in Hamas newspapers likewise emphasized the need for a ceasefire with Israel. Like Hamas officials, some of them focused on the legitimacy of the negotiations while stressing that this does not entail abandoning the Palestinian principles or the struggle against the occupation. Others focused on the potential benefits of a ceasefire agreement, including an end to the siege, an improvement in the economic situation, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the prevention of a devastating war.

Negotiations To Secure Temporary Interests Are Legitimate, Must Not Be Compared To The Talks Conducted By The PLO

Wisam Abu Shamala, a columnist for the Al-Risala newspaper, wrote that the conflict between Hamas and Israel is a zero-sum game which, in the very long run, will be decided by eliminating Israel; however, in the short term, there is no reason not to negotiate with Israel in order to achieve temporary goals, as long as this does not entail recognizing it, as the PLO did in the Oslo Accords. Abu Shamala wrote: "The relationship between occupier and occupied is necessarily a zero-sum [game]... Until the zero-sum equation ends in defeat for the enemy and elimination of its [Zionist] enterprise, the conflict with it will remain open, and no agreements will be reached to end the conflict. The relations [with it] will be in a state recalling the model of warfare [involving] attack and retreat... [The conflict] can sometimes heat up to the point of explosion, escalate via attrition, and sometimes die down with a bilateral ceasefire that takes into account the temporary interests of both sides of the zero-sum equation: i.e. the resistance and the enemy. 

"Our Palestinian people has maintained the format of this burning dispute with the occupier for 70 years. The resistance [to the occupier] is split into popular [resistance], armed [resistance], and nonviolent [resistance], and it has included indirect negotiations for  prisoner exchanges...

"All negotiations with the occupation for achieving both sides' temporary interests in the zero-sum equation (of the resistance and the occupation) is a form of the ongoing conflict, which has ups and downs, and which cannot be compared to forms of political negotiations that led to official Palestinian recognition of the occupation. The Fatah movement and the [Palestinian] Authority leadership continue to cling to this recognition, despite the impasse in their negotiations project, which broke the zero-sum equation..."[20]

Hamas Is Negotiating From A Position Of Strength, In Partnership With All Palestinian Forces

Al-Risala columnist 'Imad 'Afana wrote that the policy shapers in the region recognize that Hamas has become the major and most important player in the Palestinian arena, and therefore seek to involve it in political talks towards an arrangement. He added that Hamas is at the pinnacle of its success and is conducting the talks in partnership with all the Palestinian forces and resistance factions. He wrote: "Since Hamas is the major and most important player in the Palestinian arena, and since the shapers of policy in the region certainly recognize its role by now and wish to involve it and even bring it into the thick of diplomatic activity, Hamas must try to leverage its popularity, its popular presence and the strong cards it holds in diplomatic circles to attain a political achievement that will meet the demands of the resistance without disregarding the needs of the people...

"Hamas, which is presently leading the most extensive popular campaign in years, manifested in the marches of return, is at the height of [its] political activity on the regional level, and is the lead [story] in news broadcasts, not only in the context of resistance actions but also in the context of the political issues that have surfaced due to the hectic American efforts as part of implementing the so-called Deal of the Century.

"The greatest and most successful fruit of the marches of return today is that a political dialogue is being conducted with the enemy and his supporters, rooted in a broad national [Palestinian] basis that includes all the forces and resistance factions, without repeating Fatah's efforts to [claim] exclusivity. [Fatah] is the one who made the greatest, most devastating and most dangerous mistake regarding our cause since 1948, namely [the mistake of] signing the Oslo Accords [with Israel] while disregarding the general public, which opposed them..." [21]

Fayez Abu Shamala, a columnist for the Filastin daily, stressed that a ceasefire with Israel is a regional political interest and that Hamas's deterring military might enables it to negotiate from a position of strength. He wrote: "The reconciliation meeting [between the Palestinian factions] in Cairo and the meetings [to negotiate] a ceasefire in Gaza complement one another, and each of them involves the supreme political interests of more than one element in the region. Therefore, the next stage will focus on calming down the hornets' nest [of Gaza], instead of deploying the immense Palestinian will, which is capable of imposing a new equation. This is the trump card that the resistance movements stubbornly retain, while negotiating from a position of strength as long as they lean on the bedrock of the stubborn [Palestinian] people, which never breaks."[22]

The Cards Held By The Resistance Will Allow It To Make Another Shalit Deal And End The Siege

Al-Risala columnist Ibrahim Al-Madhoun stressed that Hamas's position of strength will enable it to attain great achievements in the negotiations with Israel, including the lifting of the siege and a prisoner exchange deal, which are worthwhile even if they come at a steep price. He wrote: "The occupation has begun to give serious consideration to the matter of a prisoner exchange, which means that this is the beginning of the road, not the end. The cards held by the resistance will be powerful and impressive in the eyes of the Israeli public, and will allow it to achieve another 'Loyalty to the Free' deal [Hamas's name for the Shalit deal], calmly and securely. This will take time and require [us] to skillfully seize the opportunity and moment...

"The Israeli soldiers in exchange for the Palestinian prisoners – that is a formula that cannot be undermined or dismissed, for it is a national obligation, whatever pressures [we face]. Breaking the siege is one track, [and will be achieved] in return for a long-term ceasefire that the region needs and the people want and are completely committed to. The March of Return has begun to exert real and extensive pressure on the occupation, and continuing it will provide our people with even stronger cards...

"I believe that Hamas will not oppose any deal in which Gaza will be freed and the siege will be lifted [by building] a seaport and airport, a prisoner exchange deal will be made, and the weapons will be stilled by means of a ceasefire, without relinquishing a single right of the Palestinian people. I always say and propose that it is important [to maintain] a calculated flexibility when impulsive force [is used].    

"Gaza will no doubt pay a heavy price [for such a deal], but it is able to tolerate this for the sake of lifting the siege while giving the prisoners hope for freedom..."[23]

The Ceasefire Is A Dire Necessity Right Now; It Does Not Mean An And To The Struggle Against The Occupation

Another Filastin columnist, 'Issam Yousuf, slammed those opposed to an arrangement with Israel, accusing them of preferring political considerations over Gaza's needs and of disregarding the difficult situation in the Gaza Strip. He stressed that an arrangement with Israel, which will restore normal life in Gaza, is a necessity at the present stage, and would not mean an end to the struggle against the occupation: "All Gaza wants is to express its humanity and breathe free after the long siege... Is this not its right?! Why should it not enjoy some semblance of normalcy, [which can be achieved by] opening the [border] crossings,  rebuilding what has been destroyed during the long years of siege, repairing its infrastructures, and constructing water desalination plants and electricity networks that work full time and light up the Gazans' homes throughout the day?! The restoration of normal life in Gaza as part of a ceasefire arrangement is a vital necessity and a top priority. This does not in any way mean an end to Gaza's struggle against the occupation and its exclusion from the fight for an independent state. On the contrary, this means diversifying the means of struggle and using [the means that are] appropriate to the present stage. Gaza, along with all the geographical, political and social sectors in the Palestinian homeland, will continue to be a vital element that the Zionist occupation will have to consider, and a permanent obstacle to the implementation of [the Zionists'] goals."[24]

We Should Support An Agreement With Israel To Prevent Another War In Gaza

Amid the recent rounds of escalation in the Israel-Gaza tensions, other articles in the Filastin daily expressed support for an agreement with Israel to prevent another war in Gaza. Columnist Hussam Al-Dajani reviewed several possible developments in Israel-Hamas relations, stating that the best scenario would be  an agreement requiring concessions from both sides that would delay the next round of fighting in the Gaza Strip. He wrote: "A deal [between Hamas and Israel] may be the least costly scenario for all sides, but reaching it requires enormous efforts and painful concessions one everyone's part. The scenario of a limited confrontation [between Hamas and Israel] in Gaza could ensue before [the agreement has a chance] to happen, and we Palestinians, the international community and all those who preach human [values] have a duty to preempt it by making serious efforts to promote the scenario of an agreement."[25]

Columnist Iyad Al-Qara wrote that the next war between Israel and Hamas is waiting only for a spark to set it off, and that all sides have a duty to prevent it by pursuing an agreement: "To prevent the next war from breaking out, and [to avoid] a confrontation that [neither side] is interested in, it is necessary to accelerate the lifting of the siege, the opening of the [border] crossings and the construction of the seaport; to remove the occupation's [meddling] fingers from Gaza through definite arrangements... and to work towards rebuilding the economic institutions... The possibility of a confrontation still exists, and is waiting [only] for a spark to set it off. This may [happen] more easily than both sides think, and despite their will, and then the flames will consume us all. But the responsibility will rest with those who delay addressing the conditions [that will lead to the conflagration], God forbid."[26]


   * S. Schneidmann is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1], June 21, 2018.

[2], June 21, 2018. It should be noted that the post was later removed from Shahwan's Facebook page.

[3], June 20, 2018.

[4] See for example statements by Hamas official Osama Hamdan,  Al-Risala (Gaza), July 4, 2018.

[5] See for example statements by Fatah spokesmen Osama Al-Qawasmeh and 'Atef Abu Saif in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida on July 2 and July 3, 2018, respectively.  It should be noted that the three mediators (Egypt, Qatar and the UN) tried to reassure the PA leadership, stressing that the initiative has nothing to do with the U.S. Middle East peace initiative and that any agreement between Hamas and Israel would also involve the PA. Qatar's envoy to Gaza, Muhammad Al-'Amadi, clarified to Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas that Qatar's aid to Gaza would be provided via the PA (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, PA, July 3, 2018); Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, clarified that the initiative had nothing to do with the Deal of the Century (Al-Hayat, Dubai, July 12, 2018), and Egypt told the PA that it would oppose a separate Palestinian state in Gaza (, July 21, 2018).

[6] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1174, Israel-Hamas Talks: Hudna In Exchange For Lifting Of Blockade, July 13, 2015.

[7] Ahmad Abu Rutema, a prominent activist in the March of Return campaign, called on August 1 for a "tactical withdrawal" and for restraining the campaign activity. 

See MEMRI TV Clip #6701, Gaza Return March Spokesman Ahmad Abu Rutema Calls for "Tactical Withdrawal" from the Return March: "We Have Lost the Battle for Public Opinion" and Must Invent New Tactics, August 1, 2018.

[8] Al-Risala (Gaza), May 31, 2018.

[9], June 7, 2018.

[10] Filastin (Gaza), June 23, 2018.

[11], June 30, 2018.

[12], July 3, 2018.

[13], July 10, 2018.

[14] Al-Risala (Gaza), July 4, 2018.

[15], July 20, 2018.

[16], July 11, 2018.

[17], August 19, 2018.

[18], August 21, 2018.

[19], August 19, 2018.

[20] Al-Risala (Gaza), June 25, 2018.

[21] Al-Risala (Gaza), June 30, 2018.

[22] Filastin (Gaza), July 30, 2018.

[23] Al-Risala (Gaza), July 2, 2018.

[24] Filastin (Gaza), August 19, 2018.

[25] Filastin (Gaza), July 29, 2018.

[26] Filastin (Gaza), July 22, 2018.

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