Following Hamas' June 2007 Gaza coup, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas fired its ministers from the national unity government. Hamas, for its part, did not recognize the dismissal, nor does it recognize the legitimacy of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's government and of Mahmoud Abbas's presidency. Instead, it regards Isma'il Haniya and his government as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people. Recently, it has instructed the media to stop calling it al-hukouma al-muqala ("the dismissed government").
Hamas' view of its government as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people was reflected in its recent response to the Goldstone report. The response, delivered to Curt Goering, head of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Gaza, was submitted not in the name of Hamas but in the name of the PA. Signed by Hamas' Minister of Justice, Muhammad Faraj Al-Ghoul, it bore the PA seal and the PA Ministry of Justice letterhead (see image below). In fact, Al-Ghoul explicitly stressed that the document was not a Hamas response to the Goldstone report but rather the official response of the Palestinian Justice Ministry. He emphasized that "the government is the one issuing the response, because it is the body handling the issue, rather than the resistance factions," thereby indicating that the Gaza government does not represent Hamas, but rather the entire Palestinian people.
Apparently, Hamas' goal in submitting this report is to improve its international status and to gain the UN's recognition. The rationale is that by accepting the document, the UN would in effect be recognizing Hamas' status as the official representative of the PA.
The Hamas response, which was published in the movement's magazine Al-Risala, contained an apology for rocket attacks that harmed Israeli civilians; later Hamas denied issuing an apology.
Hamas Apologizes for Harming Civilians, Then Denies the Apology
The document states, "The Palestinian government stresses the right of the occupied Palestinian people to resistance and self-defense, which are sanctioned by international law and by the U.N. Charter." It states further, "Though it is hard, and sometimes impossible, to reach the armed groups, the Palestinian government in Gaza has often called upon the armed Palestinian groups to refrain from harming civilians. The armed Palestinian groups have indeed affirmed their commitment to the directives of the international humanitarian law in their media announcements, and they have also announced on several websites that they attack only military targets and avoid attacking civilian ones."
The document also emphasizes that the resistance is not an organized army with precision weapons, and that "during firing, [projectiles] can veer off course, resulting in harm to civilian targets, despite the considerable efforts to avoid causing casualties among civilians. The resistance does not deliberately aim at civilian targets." The document explains that the firing of rockets is a response to Israeli "aggression," and adds: "We express sorrow over every Israeli civilian who was hurt, as well as hope that the people of Israel will understand that the ongoing harm caused us by their government is the reason for the firing of rockets, which is a limited and restrained response."
The apology evoked criticism from several quarters, including from Fatah, prompting Muhammad Faraj Al-Ghoul to issue a statement denying that the document included any "apology for hurting Zionists" during the Gaza war. Hamas leader Isma'il Haniya likewise issued a statement renouncing the apology.
Fatah: The Hamas Apology Is a Capitulation to Israel
Fatah spokesman Ahmad 'Assaf expressed puzzlement that Hamas "apologizes to Israel for killing Israeli civilians, but at the same time refuses to apologize to the Palestinian people for crimes it has committed against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, for killing hundreds of Fatah members and for injuring hundreds of other Palestinians... during and after the blood-soaked Gaza coup."
The Fatah movement in Nablus likewise rebuked Hamas harshly for its "disgraceful apology," saying that "the number of Israeli civilians killed during the aggression in Gaza was only three, whereas the Israeli army killed 1,400 innocent Palestinian civilians, and nobody has apologized to their families or to the Palestinian people." The movement expressed deep sorrow that Hamas "is debasing itself in the face of the enemy and pleading [with the enemy] when the blood of [senior Hamas operative Mahmoud] Al-Mabhouh, whose death Hamas has sworn to avenge, has not yet dried."
On the other hand, Muwaffaq Matar, columnist for the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, attacked Hamas for denying the apology, and wondered why its leaders prefer to utter blatant lies rather than deal with the truth. He wrote: "[The Hamas leaders] must be reminded that the sanctity of human life is a value that cannot be [dismissed] by means of tricks and interpretations that are casually thrown about.
Hani Al-Masri, a columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam and a senior official in the PA information ministry, said that neither the PA nor Hamas had carried out any investigation of the Gaza war. This, he contended, "reflects the lack of seriousness of both 'governments,' and harms the image of the Palestinian cause and of the Palestinian leaders, who are unable to agree even on an issue as important as the Goldstone report... Hamas cannot defend itself or the Palestinian cause, nor can it reply to the accusations of the Goldstone report regarding the crimes committed by armed Palestinian groups, as long as its rule is illegitimate and nobody recognizes it."
The first page of the Hamas document, bearing the PA seal and PA Justice Ministry letterhead
*C. Jacob is a research fellow at MEMRI.
 Al-Risala (Gaza), February 3, 2010.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), February 8, 2010.
 Al-Ayyam (PA), February 6, 2010.