This week, Isma’il Haniye, Prime Minister of Hamastan-Gaza went for a visit in Tunisia. This was a state visit, according to the official invitation sent to him by the Tunisian government, whose ruling party is an ideological twin sister to Hamas. The name of this movement is An-Nahada, (“Awakening”), referring to the Islamic awakening. The visit was not coordinated with the embassy of the PLO in Tunisia and was held despite the opposition of the PLO, who objected because according to the PLO, Isma’il Haniye is not the Prime Minister since he was fired by Abu Mazen after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007. This visit has several important components:
1. Tunisia recognizes the government of Hamas as a legitimate government, without saying who this government belongs to, so that they won’t offend the PLO. In this way, Tunisia recognizes that there are two Palestinian governments: one in Gaza, headed by Haniye, and one in Ramalla, headed by Salam Fayyad.
2. At the airport Haniye was received in an official ceremony by the Prime Minister of Tunisia, Hamdi al-Jibali, and the leader of the An-Nahda movement, Rashed al-Ghaoushi. The five-day state visit enabled the visitor to meet with many and varied people of official status, beginning with the president Moncef al-Marzouki (secular up to his ears) and ministers of the country. Thus, the Tunisian government’s recognition of Hamas is not limited only to some Islamists but includes recognition by other sectors as well. Moreover, it must be noted that the recognition is so far de facto, not yet officially.
3. The Tunisians did not bother at all to announce the visit to the PLO embassy, nor did the people of the embassy participate at all in the reception of Haniye, as if Haniye has nothing to do with them, and the Tunisians support this.
4. Haniye visited Sidi Bu Zid, the city in which Muhammed Bu ‘Azizi immolated himself, in the event that ignited the demonstrations in the Tunisian arena against the former president Bin ‘Ali, who was forced to flee; afterwards demonstrations erupted in the streets of Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Morocco and Syria (a temporary list) as well. Haniye’s visit (to Sidi Bu Zid) was intended as a salute to the young man who, with his death, left the legacy of what some call the “Arab Spring”, a phenomenon that brought to power the ideological sisters of Hamas in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, and there may be more to come.
5. Tunisia is not alone: Haniye’s first international tour began in Egypt, Sudan and Turkey, and after Tunisia it will continue with Qatar and Bahrain. Qatar is especially important because of the fact that the al-Jazeera channel, which operates from Qatar, has served the interests of Hamas for many years, and played an important part in determining the legitimacy of the Hamas government in the Arab consciousness.
6. Hamas will open an office in Tunisia that will be a sort of “embassy” of Hamas, parallel to the embassy of the PLO.
7. In Tunisia, rumors are spreading that Haniye discussed with his hosts the transferring the Hamas offices from Damascus to Tunisia, which is reminiscent of the transfer of Arafat and his gang from Beirut to Tunisia in 1983. Hamas is following in the footsteps of the PLO.
From all of the above, a clear picture emerges: Haniye is the head of a state, he behaves as the head of a state and is received as the head of a state: the state of Hamas in Gaza. Whether we like it or not, a state has arisen in Gaza which is perceived in the Arab world and beyond as an existing state that must be related to as a state. It is from this basis that Haniye negotiates with Abu Mazen, who understands better than anyone what’s happening in Gaza, gives it his blessing and thanks Hamas for solving the inextricable problem of the wars between the families in Gaza, which he and his friends in Ramallah watch with scorn and disgust, because of their inherently tribal nature and the fact that many of the Gaza families have a Bedouin background. The bourgeois intelligentsia of Ramallah have never felt brotherhood or the sense of a common fate with the desert dwellers who are crowded into Gaza.
The agreements that are signed from time to time between the PLO and Hamas are “show agreements”, which is to say that they are agreements of a specific text, but each side interprets it in the opposite way, according to its own point of view. The PLO signs the document so that the Hamas people will be satisfied with Gaza and will not try to take Judea and Samaria from the PLO, while Hamas signs the document in verbal recognition of the PLO, but with the goal of wiping it out and controlling the institutions of the Palestinian Authority. Each side understands the intention of the other side, therefore nothing serious ever emerges from the agreements between them except for one thing: mutual recognition of the independence of each side and sovereignty over the territory which each side rules. Thus, Hamas has actually turned into the PLO of Gaza.
At this phase of history, the Hamas movement is investing its energy not in Jihad against Israel, but in a “jihad of building” an Islamic state in the Gaza Strip, designing its institutions, building the economy and building foreign relations. Therefore Hamas has changed from being an ideological-jihadist movement to a governing organization. It hasn’t turned into a Zionist movement, but as a result of the suspension of the jihad, the spokesmen of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who object in principle to any cessation of in the holy war against the Zionists, already call Hamas “the Zionist Border Guard”. In the opinion of the members of Islamic Jihad, the Hamas movement has betrayed the values and goals that it was founded upon, under the name of “the Islamic Resistance Movement”, a name which is supposed to obligate its members not to set down the sword of jihad even for a moment. This is the reason that the people of Islamic Jihad continue to launch missiles at Israel, in opposition to the demand of Hamas to cease for the time being.
An important implication of the establishment of the state of Hamas in Gaza is that in actuality, not only in declarations, Hamas relinquishes Palestine. This arises clearly from an analysis of Haniye in one of his speeches that he gave in Tunisia, a speech that expresses well the lying rhetorical culture of the leaders of the Middle East. In this tirade he yelled in the ears of the throng a few statements that are supposed to remove from Hamas the guilt of someone who stopped the jihad in exchange for a seat in government, salary and benefits: “We don’t give up Palestinian rights”, that is to say, they practically gave them up, but he says that they don’t give them up only to cover up the shame of the relinquishment. “We will not give up Jerusalem and al-Aqsa” means “We’ve already actually given it up”. “We will not abuse the trust that was invested in us” means “we have actually already betrayed the mission as part of our role as jihad warriors”. “The blood of the fallen of the revolution in Tunisia was spilled on the way to free Jerusalem and al-Aqsa”. This sentence proves that Haniye’s words about Jerusalem and al-Aqsa are nothing but hollow demagoguery, because six hundred Tunisians were killed during one month of demonstrations against the previous president Zain al-‘Abidin Bin ‘Ali, because of corruption, unemployment, oppression, and poverty, not because of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa.
“We will not ask for money and we will not take money in exchange for giving up Jerusalem and al-Aqsa” – actually Haniye requested from his hosts to help in expediting the transfer of monies for the rehabilitation of Gaza to Hamas rather than to the PLO/PA government of Fayyad in Ramallah. These monies were promised by the Arab countries three years ago, immediately after the “Cast Lead” operation but until today not one penny has come to Gaza, because of the disagreement between the PLO and Hamas: the PLO claims that it is sovereign in the Palestinian Authority, it is the sole representative in the Arab League and therefore it must be the one to receive the money and it will divide it according to its judgment. Hamas claims that they are the actual sovereigns in the Gaza Strip and therefore the monies must be transferred to them so that they can decide to whom they will give it and what they will expect in return. This disagreement prevents the transfer of Arab money to its intended purpose, the rebuilding of Gaza, until today. The European countries and America, on the other hand, do not see any problem in transferring the money to Gaza “for humanitarian purposes” which enriches the crooks of Hamas.
Some of the Hamas people understood their status as rulers as an opportunity to take advantage of their position to improve their financial situation, and there are people among their leadership who stole part of the money that was smuggled into Gaza in suitcases and acquire with these monies apartments and houses in Gaza and other places. Appointment of relatives and associates is the name of the political game in the Strip, exactly like in the institutions of the PA. The Hamas police are corrupt and cruel, and many of the people of Gaza – who became disillusioned with the PLO and Hamas as well – remember fondly the day when Israel, yes, Israel, ruled in Gaza. They didn’t expect to be treated fairly by Israel, but Israel treated them as fairly as it could as long as they didn’t engage in terror. From their brothers, the people of the PLO in the past and now Hamas, they have expectations, but as is the way of all Arab regimes the expectations and the realities are as from one from the other as heaven is from the earth.
Iran noted the change in the character and behavior of Hamas and stopped transferring monies to it. Because of the financial crisis, the government of Hamas cannot pay salaries. Only by dint of the tax money it gets from Israel can it continue to function. This is also one of the paradoxes of the Middle East: Israel maintains economically those who are sworn to destroy it.
It is clear to all that Hamas performed a great service to Israel when it split off from the PLO, and actually crushed the Palestinian national dream, proving to all, near and far, that the whole Palestinian nationalistic narrative never existed, was nothing but a slogan and never became a reality. Tribalism is still alive and kicking and all the slogans about the existence of a Palestinian people is intended only to convince foreigners: Westerners and among them Israelis, despite the fact that no one believes the slogans in this region, just as Iraqi nationalism proved to be non-existent, or Syrian nationalism, which, in the bloodbath of the past year proved to be nothing more than a hollow slogan. Israel must thank the Hamas movement for exposing the truth to the whole world.
The slogans of Haniye also expose the lie of the Islamist movements, and that what motivates them is the desire for power. That is how it is in Egypt, and that is how it is in Tunisia, where Haniye made his first visit outside of the Strip. The unity of the Islamist movements, those who act according to the principles of the Muslim Brotherhood, who mouth the motto “Islam is the solution”, while the desire for power, money and honor is in their hands. Is Islam the solution for hunger? Unemployment? Ignorance? Violence? Poverty? Illness? Neglect? The leaders of the Islamist movements, like the leaders of the nationalist movements, shout one thing and mean the opposite. They try to convince their listeners of a lie that even they don’t believe. Tribalism was and still is the real name of the game, and anything else is nothing but a cover.
Those in the West, including some Israelis, who are not familiar with the culture of the Middle East, fall into this trap and think that if someone in the Middle East says something then he means what he says. They don’t understand the culture of “so to speak” or “sort of” that so characterizes the Middle East: if someone says to a Westerner: “We all think that way” he can be sure that very few people think like the speaker, but they won’t say this to a foreigner, so that he won’t know that there are disagreements.
Originally appeared in the Middle East and Terrorism blog and translated from the Hebrew by Sally