memri
March 8, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1562

Senior Hamas Officials: We Intend To Run For Office In Elections While Maintaining The Armed Struggle For The Palestinian Land 'From The River To The Sea'

March 8, 2021 | By S. Schneidmann*
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1562

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is beginning preparations for elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the PA presidency, and the Palestinian National Council (PNC), with coordination and partnership among Fatah and Hamas and the other Palestinian factions.[1] The decision to hold elections was made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas because of the new U.S. administration, with the aim of preparing the ground for renewing negotiations with Israel with the participation of the Quartet – the U.S., the U.N., the E.U., and Russia – and of extricating the PA from its Trump-era political and economic crisis.[2]

Abbas's decision to hold elections raised questions in the international community, including the Biden administration, about how Abbas intends to combine two contradictory elements: a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and general elections in which Hamas will run, versus Hamas's failure so far to implement the Quartet's demands – recognition of Israel and agreements with it and abandoning its armed struggle – as a precondition for international recognition of any Palestinian government of which it is a part.

According to Arab and Palestinian media reports, the Biden administration has recently demanded that the PA provide it with clarifications on how this contradiction will be resolved, and to let it know whether the Palestinian government that will be established after the elections will recognize Israel, will relinquish violence, and will respect the agreements.[3] It was also reported that in reaction to this demand, the PA sent both the Biden administration and the Quartet a letter stressing that all the Palestinian factions that are running for election, even non-PLO members such as Hamas, are committed to "a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders," to recognition of the PLO "as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," and to nonviolent popular resistance.[4] It should be noted that recognition of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders means recognizing Israel or the principle of two states for two peoples, and that some of the Palestinian factions, for example Hamas, are demanding reforms in the PLO prior to acknowledging it as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. On February 22, PLO Executive Council member 'Azzam Al-Ahmad confirmed, on the official PLO TV channel, that the letter had been sent to the Biden administration and to the Quartet.[5]

While some of the Palestinian factions, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) have denied that they are committed to what the letter reportedly stated, Hamas has refrained from doing so; such a response could be interpreted as consent by silence. However, along with its the silence on the issue of the contents of the letter, Hamas officials have made various statements that completely contradict the letter's alleged contents. In recent days, they have reiterated that Hamas does not intend to stop armed resistance, nor to relinquish one inch of historic Palestinian territory – that is, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.  

This paper will review reports about the letter sent by the PLO to the Biden administration and the Quartet, and statements by Hamas officials that contradict the content of the letter.


Hamas militants (Source: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London)

Reports: Palestinian Leadership's Letter States That All Factions, Including Hamas, Are Committed To Recognizing A Palestinian State In The 1967 Borders And Abandoning Violence

On February 20, 2021, the Palestinian website Amad, which is affiliated with supporters of Abbas rival Muhammad Dahlan, published the text of a letter that was reportedly sent by Palestinian Minister for Civil Affairs Hussein Al-Sheikh to Hady Amr, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.[6] The first section of the letter sets out the alleged agreement among all the Palestinian factions – both PLO members such as the PFLP, and nonmembers such as Hamas and PIJ – on the following points:

1. Commitment to international law

2. Commitment to a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital

3. Commitment to the PLO as a political umbrella organization and as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people

4. Commitment to the principle of peaceful transfer of power

5. Commitment to nonviolent popular resistance.

The rest of letter deals with technical aspects of the election process and stresses that a precondition for running for office is a commitment to the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

This letter, if this was indeed what it stated, is actually a type of PLO guarantee to the Biden administration that all the factions taking part in the elections recognize international law, recognize the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of  the Palestinian people, and are committed to nonviolent resistance. At the same time, however, it does not include recognition of Israel or of agreements with it, merely recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Moreover, Hamas, the PIJ, and the PFLP have already publicly stated that their bid for election is aimed at advancing a political plan that will include the cancellation of the Oslo Accords and of recognition of Israel, and the continuation of the armed struggle against it.[7] They have said that they intend to change PLO policy from within and to take the senior leadership away from Fatah, which is  headed by Abbas.


The letter reportedly sent to the Biden administration, as published by Amad.ps, February 20, 2021.  

The Dahlan-supporting UAE Al-Arabi Al-Jadid daily, which is published in London, reported on February 21, citing senior PLO sources, that Abbas had sent a letter to Hady Amr stressing that the elections would take place based on the PLO political plan, the Basic PLO law, and a series of previous understandings among the Palestinian factions. According to this report, the letter was sent also to other members of the Quartet.

The sources clarified that the letter's aim was to obtain guarantees for recognition of the election results and to prevent a recurrence of what happened after the 2006 PLC elections, in which Hamas had significant gains. Following that election, the international community boycotted the council, because itsamas maority  Hamas majority rejected the Quartet's conditions.[8]

On February 23, the Saudi website Elaph reported that Hamas political bureau deputy head Salah Al-'Arouri had sent a message to Fatah Central Committee secretary Jibril Al-Rajoub stating that Hamas "is committed to the two-state solution and to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders," and that it would become "a popular movement [waging] unarmed resistance." It added that the PA had framed this message to the Biden administration as its achievement, showing that it had succeeded in restraining Hamas. [9]

Hamas Refrains From Denying The Letter Exists, But Hamas Officials Stress: We Will Not Relinquish Armed Resistance, Palestinian Land From River To Sea

As stated, while factions such as the PIJ and the PFLP renounced the content of the letter sent by the PA to the Biden administration,[10] Hamas refrained from doing so. Moreover, the website of the Hamas mouthpiece Al-Risala itself reported impartially on the letter, without mentioning Hamas's attitude towards it.[11] Nevertheless, although Hamas is not denying reports about the contents of the letter, its officials have reiterating in numerous recent statements that Hamas's participation in the elections does not mean giving up the armed resistance or relinquishing one inch of historic Palestine.

For example, Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya said during a February 20 Zoom conference on the fight against normalization with Israel that was held by the Arab National Congress:[12] "Hamas is continuing with its resistance plan to end the occupation and liberate the Palestinian land from the sea to the river [while] rejecting any [political] arrangement that will take away from the rights of our people on its land and its homeland or will impinge on the right of return." He added that one of the principles of the fight against normalization is "full resistance, in all its forms," hinting at terrorism and armed struggle.[13] Hamas political bureau member Suheil Al-Hindi said also that Hamas advocated "full resistance," including "popular resistance" along with "armed resistance."[14]

Another Hamas political bureau member, Husam Badran, said on February 23 that holding elections did not mean that Hamas would stop its path of resistance. As long as no Palestinian state was established, and as long as the Palestinian people was under occupation, he said, Hamas retained the right "to resist the occupation by all means and ways," hinting at terrorism and armed struggle. According to Badran, elections "do not contradict the resistance and are not a substitute for it." As proof, he pointed out that following its 2006 electoral victory, Hamas had continued to conduct "resistance," capturing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and had not changed its positions despite the Quartet pressure on it at that time.[15]  

Badran had made similar statements on an earlier occasion, in a February 19 interview with Hamas's Al-Aqsa TV, saying: "The occupation will not leave our land if we hold elections or if any particular element wins them." He added that changes in the nature of the Palestinian regime would merely "help the resistance to the occupation and not stop us from conducting it... [We must remember] the experience of the past: We won a majority [in the PLC] in the 2006 elections, and a few months later we put together our government – we captured the soldier [Gilad] Shalit in a heroic operation."[16]

Political bureau member Moussa Abu Marzouq said on February 22, in an interview with Al-Jazeera TV, that the international community would not be able to isolate Hamas, and that the elections were not being conducted in the framework of the Oslo Accords. In a tweet summarizing the interview, he stated: "We will not hand over a single rifle; there is a consensus regarding the matter of the resistance."[17]


Abu Marzouq's tweet, February 22, 2021.


Poster of statements by Abu Marzouq in the interview: "The Issue of handing over weapons is behind us. We will not hand over a single rifle; there is a consensus among all Palestinians regarding the matter of the resistance, and all international attempts to confiscate our weapons have failed." Source: Twitter.com/paltimes2015, February 22, 2021.

At a February 28 meeting in Doha with Hamas officials and the Russian, Turkish, Iranian, and South African ambassadors to Qatar, Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya and bureau members Moussa Abu Marzouq, 'Izzat Al-Rishq, Husam Badran, and Maher 'Ubaid stressed that Hamas "will continue on the path of resistance, following the proven failure of the negotiations option."[18]


Hamas leadership with Russian, Turkish, Iranian, and South African ambassadors in Qatar. Alresalah.ws, February 28, 2021

Hamas political bureau member Salah Bardawil clarified on March 2, 2021 that Hamas's participation in the PLC elections does not indicate any change in its positions: "We will not recognize the occupation or the Oslo [Accords] after all the sacrifices we have made as part of resisting the occupation… Our resistance weapons are not [subject to] debate with anyone." He added that Hamas would not relinquish its principles despite regional and international pressures, hinting at the conditions set out by the Quartet: "First, we are a Palestinian resistance movement and we do not make decisions under pressure from any external element. Second, we have not shed our pure blood in order to recognize the occupation, but in order to liberate our land. Third and most importantly… we aim to balance our people's interests with its principles. Where the interests and principles conflict, we will not sell out our principles."[19]  

 

* S. Schneidmann is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 

[1] It should be noted that the Palestibiab Islamic Jihad (PIJ) officially announced that it will not run in the PLC elections, but only in the PNC elections. However, it was subsequently reported that the PIJ was considering instructing its activists to vote for the Hamas list. Paltoday.ps, February 9, 2021; Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), February 23, 2021. Likewise, Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouq announced that Hamas would not present a candidate for the presidential election, and also that if it was successful in the PLC elections, it would not appoint officials to PA government posts, apparently for fear of sanctions by the West. Alresalah.ws, February 12, 2021; Twitter.com/paltimes2015, February 23, 2021.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 17, 2021.

[4] Amad.ps, February 20, 2021.

[5] Palsawa.com, February 22, 2021.

[6] Amad.ps, February 20, 2021.

[7] See for example the announcement by Hamas political bureau head Isma'il Haniya, Alresalah.ws, January 3, 2021; the PIJ announcement, Paltoday.ps, February 9, 2021, and the PFLP announcement, Pflp.ps, February 21, 2021.  

[8] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), February 21, 2021.

[9] Elaph.com, February 23, 2021.

[10] The PIJ issued an announcement denying any connection with the matter, stressing that "no one has agreed to relinquish a single grain of the historic land of Palestine." Paltoday.ps, February 21, 2021. The PFLP announced that "no one has the right to publish positions in the name of the entire [Palestinian] nation from which it can be understood [that we are] relinquishing any part whatsoever of the historic land of Palestine." Pflp.ps, February 22, 2021. 

[11] Alresalah.ws, February 22, 2021.

[12] The Arab National Congress is a framework for political parties and movements in the Arab world that consider themselves "nationalist." Representatives from terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hizbullah also participate in its activities. Arabnc.org.

[13] Almanar.com.lb, February 20, 2021.

[14] Felesteen.ps, February 23, 2021.

[15] Alresalah.ws, February 23, 2021.

[16] Alresalah.ws, February 19, 2021.

[17] Twitter.com/mosa_abumarzook, February 22, 2021.

[18] Alresalah.ws, February 28, 2021.

[19] Alresalah.ws, March 2, 2021.

Share this Report: