Dr. Tuastad is a senior lecturer in the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo. He would like to thank Are Knudsen and Frode Løvlie for their valuable comments.
In 2009, the relationship between Hamas and the leadership of Fatah (the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, PLO) was frozen. Israel had just assaulted Gaza without any significant protest from the Fatah authorities in the West Bank.1 Subsequently, in a major break with Hamas's political line since its electoral victory in Palestine in 2006, the chief of its Political Bureau, Khaled Meshal, called for the formation of a new organization to replace the PLO, the sole internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people.2
When the 2011 Arab Spring occurred, it was remarkable how quickly the leaders of Hamas and Fatah managed to forget these differences. Palestinian leaders were faced with a public outcry over their pursuit of parochial goals rather than national interests. When demonstrators in Gaza and the West Bank gathered to demand political reforms and Palestinian unity, Hamas and Fatah leaders equally feared that they could be the next victims of popular discontent. "If we fail to respond to the will of our people, we will go the way of others," a Hamas leader in Cairo told the International Crisis Group (ICG).3 The fear of "going the way of others" led the way to the April 2011 Cairo agreement, in which Hamas and Fatah agreed to have new Palestinian elections, including, significantly, elections for the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the parliament and supreme political body of the PLO.
Although the Arab Spring was the spark that led to the reconciliation agreement, the issue of Hamas's joining the PLO had been under discussion for two decades. During this period, Hamas had repeatedly adjusted its political line, each time becoming more and more conciliatory towards the PLO. What were once perceived as insurmountable differences between secularism and Islamism have been replaced by discussions about election modalities.
Today Hamas, not Fatah, is the movement most eager to have the PNC restored. Within Fatah there are fears that if the Cairo agreement were implemented, Hamas might take control of the PLO. It could then revoke previous agreements and attempt to amend the PLO charter in a direction of its own.4
Such worries underestimate the significant changes that have occurred within Hamas and its relationship with the PLO. Hamas's entry into the PNC would, first of all, imply increased democratization rather than radicalization within the PLO, and equally within Hamas. For the first time in its history, Hamas is now seeking PLO membership without demanding that the PLO first amend its charter. As will be outlined below, Hamas has come a long way.
In 1957, a group of Palestinian nationalists contacted the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo to seek the establishment of an armed branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.5 As the Brotherhood in Egypt was busy avoiding extermination by Nasser and the new Egyptian authorities, the plea from Palestine was dismissed. The following year, Fatah was established, largely by the same people who had contacted the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, the founders of Fatah were far from ideologically alien to the Brotherhood. But, from the outset, Fatah's priority was organizational, not ideological. Only Article 9 of the Fatah Charter of 1958 referred to religion: "Liberating Palestine and protecting its holy places is an Arab, religious and human obligation."6 A decade later, the PLO charter would refer to freedom of religion, without any explicit reference to Islam.7 This lack of specific religious references in the PLO charter reflected the fact that all the member groups of the PLO in 1968, save Fatah, were secular socialists or Marxists.8 The PLO's distinctive secular features clashed with the Islamist perception of the Arab defeat in 1967. As the Islamists saw it, the 1967 debacle was proof of the failure of the socialist ideology and secularism espoused by the Palestinian National Movement (PNM). In Gaza, this prompted Islamists to challenge the PNM.
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, later cofounder and leader of Hamas, was the preeminent Muslim Brotherhood figure in Gaza in 1968. Yassin had learned from the experiences of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood that, as long as the focus was on preaching and education (dawa), the authorities would leave the Islamists alone. As Yassin saw it, the liberation of Palestine could only result from a phased struggle. A period of dawa and a subsequent period of Islamic institution building had to predate the launching of armed jihad.9 In fact, according to Jean-Pierre Filiu, Sheikh Yassin and the emerging Islamic movement in Palestine even prioritized anti-communism over national liberation.10
Whether or not this was the case, among the main PLO member groups, the Islamists were deeply mistrusted. Affiliates of the Islamic Center (al-mujamma al-Islami) in Gaza, led by Yassin, not only attacked women for lack of modesty and shops for selling alcohol, they also assaulted communists and members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Fatah. So deep was the distrust of the Islamists among PLO groups that, when Yassin was arrested by the Israelis in 1984 after weapons had been found at the Islamic Center in Gaza, PLO affiliates were convinced that the weapons had been stored there to be used against them, not against the Israeli occupiers.11
In spite of the antagonism between the PLO groups and the Islamists, their differences were neither political nor strategic, but cultural. Both movements wanted to liberate all of Palestine through armed resistance, but the primary emphasis of the Islamists until 1987 was on purifying Palestinian society. Once society had been freed from secularism and leftist ideological influences, they argued, the Palestinian land could be liberated from Israel. Inevitably, the impression Fatah and other PLO groups gained was that the Islamists were more concerned with challenging them than working for Palestinian independence.
THE CHANGING RELATIONSHIP
When Hamas was established at the outbreak of the first Intifada in 1987-88, it did not recognize the PLO as "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian People," a status the PLO had enjoyed at the Arab League and the UN General Assembly since 1974.12 Hamas spokesmen asserted that, because the PLO leadership had not been elected by the Palestinian people, the organization did not have a mandate to monopolize the political representation of the Palestinians.13 In its founding charter, Hamas presented the PLO's values as incompatible with its own:
Due to the circumstances that surrounded the formation of the organization [the PLO] and the ideological confusion that prevails in the Arab world as a result of the ideological invasion that has befallen the Arab world since the defeat of the Crusades and that has been intensified by orientalism, the [Christian] mission and imperialism, the organization has adopted the idea of a secular state, and this is how we view it. But secular thought is entirely contradictory to religious thought. ... [W]e cannot use secular thought for the current and future Islamic nature of Palestine. The Islamic nature of Palestine is part of our religion, and everyone who neglects his religion is bound to lose.14
Nevertheless, Hamas and the PLO member groups were brothers in arms during the Intifada. This came to an abrupt halt with the Oslo agreements and the PLO's formal recognition of Israel. "People started thinking deeply, 'where are those brothers in Fatah heading?'" Ahmed Yousef, a veteran Hamas leader, told Beverly Milton-Edwards and Stephen Farrell in Gaza.15 Hamas now faced a dilemma concerning its approach to the PLO. Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and its politburo,16 situated in Damascus, were willing to directly confront the PLO over the Oslo accords. But inside Gaza, Sheikh Yassin, who had been the leader of the Islamists in Gaza, assaulting PLO members during the years predating the Intifada, feared political chaos. "You are shooting from abroad," Yassin answered when he was criticized by party members in Syria for having referred to Yasser Arafat as "our brother in the Palestinian Authority," and not as the traitor he allegedly was. "If you say such a thing in Gaza a war would start tomorrow. Followers of Arafat and Fatah would fight followers of Hamas, and I am not prepared to get involved in that," Yassin said, according to Zaki Chehab.17
Within the PLO, Arafat feared that popular support of Hamas's condemnation of the Oslo accords could challenge the PLO's role as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians.18 He thus called on Hamas leaders to join the PLO and negotiate a quota of seats within the PNC in order to become PLO members. Hamas responded by demanding elections to the PNC. Regular elections for the PNC were mandated in the PLO constitution (Article 5), but the article had never been implemented. For Arafat and the Fatah leadership, who did not want to lose control over the PLO nor jeopardize the peace process, PNC elections were out of the question. The PLO was formally the supreme Palestinian entity; the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) were subordinate to it. But Arafat was the chairman of the PLO, the leader of Fatah and also the president of the PA. In order for Arafat and Fatah to control Palestinian politics without substantial opposition, the PNC was better kept dormant.
Absent PNC elections, Hamas demanded 40 percent of the seats in the PNC, probably aware of the fact that this was more than Arafat could offer. The demand can be seen as proof that Hamas did not actually want to join PLO. Fatah had, after all, been granted merely one-third of the PNC seats.19 Being co-opted by the PLO was inconsistent with Hamas's primary goal of derailing the Oslo process. "Hamas refused, for political and ideological reasons," said Ghazi Hamad, a member of Hamas in Gaza. "At that time there was no kind of coordination, cooperation or something like that between Hamas and Fatah. Everyone was moving according to his own agenda."20
After the second Intifada, from 2004 onward, a more pragmatic attitude towards the PLO and the PA prevailed within Hamas. The PA clearly was there to stay, and as much as 80 percent of the Gaza electorate had participated in the 1996 PLC elections. Hamas in Gaza had been turned down by the exile leadership when they wanted to participate in them. From Gaza it had been argued that being inside the PLC would prevent Fatah from giving away the Palestinian birthright. "It wasn't a choice between resistance and politics, it was to protect the resistance," Jamila al-Shanti, a leading female Hamas member, told Milton-Edwards and Farrell in Gaza.21 When Hamas discussed whether to participate in the PLC elections in 2006, the Gaza position prevailed. Hamas's politburo acknowledged that boycotting the 2006 PLC elections would be at odds with the will of the populace. "The decision was in some respects a response to the popular sentiment and in fulfillment of our people's desire to see all Palestinian factions participate in the political process," Izzat Al-Rishiq a politburo member, said in an interview with Azzam Tammimi.22
Hamas's decision to participate in the elections prepared the ground for Palestinian rapprochement and the first Cairo agreement among all the main Palestinian factions in 2005. One significant element was the reform of the PLO, opening up the organization to the participation of the Islamist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as stated in Article 5 of the agreement:
Those gathered agreed to develop the Palestine Liberation Organization on bases that will be settled upon in order to include all the Palestinian powers and factions, as the organization is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. To do this, it has been agreed upon to form a committee to define these bases, and the committee will be made up of the president of the National Council, the members of the PLO's Executive Committee, the secretaries general of all Palestinian factions and independent national personalities. The president of the Executive Committee will convene this committee.23
"It's the third PLO," stated Khaled Meshal after the agreement was signed. The first was the one formed in 1964 by the Arab League, the second was the one controlled by Fatah since 1968, and the third was this one, in which Fatah lost its hegemony, Meshal contended.24
From the founding of Hamas in 1987 to the 2005 Cairo agreement, the relationship between Hamas and the PLO was marked by insurmountable political differences following the PLO's recognition of Israel in 1993. In spite of the differences, Sheikh Yassin and Hamas in Gaza — the heartland of Hamas's support — sought to avoid open confrontation with Fatah and the PA/PLO. Avoiding strife despite deep political disagreement was the opposite approach to the one pursued during the years preceding the foundation of Hamas. For Hamas, cultural differences mattered less than for its predecessor, the Muslim Brotherhood. In spite of its uncompromising charter, Hamas moved towards a less ideologically rigid and, over the years, increasingly pragmatic political relationship with the PLO.
MAKING ELECTIONS A PRIORITY
Before the PLC elections in 2006, Hamas wanted to join the PLO on the condition that it changed its program. "We want to join the PLO, but on the basis of a new program, not of the Oslo program and the agreements. [We want] a program that will enable true representation for Hamas in the PLO, not marginal representation," said the Hamas strongman in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, in 2005.25
During a disputed PNC session in Gaza in 1996,26 the delegates had deleted from the PLO's original charter those articles that denied Israel's existence. In addition to its interest in negotiating over the number of seats for Hamas in the PNC, Hamas wanted the PLO to revoke the amendments in which Israel was recognized. Thus, to "develop the PLO," as the 2005 Cairo agreement stated — and create a "third PLO," as Khaled Meshal described it after the agreement — implied that Hamas wanted the PLO to adopt a new political program ahead of Hamas's joining.
It was therefore a significant change of political orientation when, following its victories in the local elections of 2005 and the PLC elections of 2006, Hamas reconsidered its demand for PLO reforms. Instead of calling for the PLO to change its program as a prerequisite for Hamas to join, Hamas wanted democratic elections, in accordance with the PLO constitution.
In May 2006, Hamas called for a conference in Beirut with all the main Palestinian factions to discuss "rebuilding the PLO." A Hamas document summed up its position: "The principle [should be] free and direct elections when it comes to choosing the leaders and members of the PLO's legislative and executive institutions."27
During the spring of 2010, representatives from Fatah, Hamas, and the other key Palestinian factions held meetings in Ankara and Istanbul to discuss reconciliation and PLO reforms, including changing the election system. They agreed that the PLO should "adopt the proportional representation electoral system for electing members of the PNC (taking into account the representation of all Palestinian communities)."28
The platform of Hamas's first government in 2006 had also had an unprecedentedly conciliatory approach towards the PLO. Article 8 of the platform stated:
The PLO is the institution that built up the struggle that we are proud of, and we wish to develop and reform it through consultation and dialogue. In this regard, we stress the need to speed up the implementation of the necessary measures to complete the restructuring of the PLO, thus allowing other Palestinian factions to join it on sound democratic foundations that permit political partnership, the PLO being the umbrella for all Palestinians at home and in the diaspora.29
"We cannot have the PLO implement our opinions before we are in," commented Hamas PLC member Yahia Moussa in Gaza after the Cairo agreement in 2011.30 "No one can participate in an organization and change the organization and its institutions without first being a member," said Huda Naim, a female elected PLC member from Gaza. "Hamas is now on the outside but wants to be inside. Why should Hamas make obstacles before joining?" asked Muhammed Awad, the foreign minister for the Hamas government in Gaza in 2011. Awad emphasized that elections had to come first, "and then to change, from inside."31
"We are with the Palestinian choice, whether now or later," said West Bank Hamas leader Hassan Yousef.32 The same position was echoed by Hamas leaders in exile. "Since 2005 Hamas has changed, we do not deny this," said Ali Baraka, the Hamas leader in Lebanon. "The demand to have 40 percent representation was before. We now want to have elections and we will respect the results of elections."33 Osama Hamdan, a member of the Hamas politburo with responsibility for the organization's foreign relations, confirmed that Hamas's position on reforming the PLO meant elections:
We believe that, if we took the step to reform the PLO, that means an elected council, an elected leadership, a leadership which can be held responsible so you will have a democratic process inside the Palestinian nation. You will have an elected leader who could be questioned all the time, so you cannot make decisions just because of what Hamas needs or what Fatah needs, but according to what the people need.34
To sum up, from its decision to participate in the PLC elections in 2006 up to the signing of the Cairo agreement in 2011, Hamas's priority was to join the PLO. Its demand that the PLO change its charter ahead of Hamas's participation was abandoned. Hamas wanted the PLO to prepare for direct popular elections for the PNC, in line with the PLO's constitution as well as calls from Palestinian academics and activists.35 However, with Hamas's victory in the 2006 elections and its willingness to join the PLO by way of elections, Fatah had second thoughts. When Arafat and Fatah had wanted Hamas to join the PLO, Hamas had been reluctant. Now, when Hamas wanted to join the PLO, Fatah did not want them to.
FATAH, RESISTING REFORM
The committee of the general secretaries of all the Palestinian factions, which was to have worked on preparing the PLO reforms according to the Cairo agreement of 2005, never convened. The reason: the chairman of the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, never made the call inviting the parties to the meeting. This was his responsibility according to the agreement. "They did everything to hinder forming the committee," said Ahmed Yousef of Hamas.36 The head of Fatah's foreign-relations department, Nabil Shaath, admitted that there was fear within Fatah that Hamas could also take over the PLO after their election in 2006:
There was a lot of hesitance by Abu Mazen and Fatah because they were afraid that the design of Hamas was to take over the PNC and the PLO, especially since the members of the PNC from inside Palestine were supposed to be the elected members of the PLC, where Hamas now had a majority. Hamas was asking for the same ratio outside, reflecting the Hamas majority in the PLC elections, so probably also that was a factor in delaying an agreement.37
According to Hamas sources, Fatah had also come to the 2011 Cairo agreement reluctantly. "Fatah was forced to sign the [2011 Cairo] agreement because of the fall of Mubarak. They no longer had the cover and support from Egypt and Arab regimes," said the Hamas leader in Lebanon, Ali Baraka.38 Although the agreement met the demands of the Palestinian street during the Arab Spring for Palestinian reconciliation, it was viewed with deep skepticism by many Fatah leaders. The Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, Abdullah Abdullah, was against Hamas's joining the PLO:
In every national movement there are fifth columns, traitors, call them as you wish. We have UNITA in Angola, Zulu in South Africa. We believe that Hamas is one stratum of the Palestinian people, and irrespective of our evaluation of their program, some of us, I included, do not believe that they have a national agenda. They want to build, if not an Islamic state... an Islamic society. Of course they quote popular slogans, but theirs is not parallel to our goal, which is freedom of our country from occupation, and to have a pluralistic and democratic state that respects the other. That is the major difference between our programs.
DT: So it is not compatible with the PLO?
AA: It is incompatible.39
The failure to implement the 2011 Cairo agreement could not be blamed on Fatah alone, though. The Cairo agreement implied that, in order to enter the PLO, Hamas risked giving away its power in Gaza if it lost the next PLC elections. As some of Gaza's powerful Hamas leaders saw it, PLO membership was not worth such a sacrifice.
GAZA BEFORE THE PLO?
According to the Cairo agreement, legislative, presidential and PNC elections should have been conducted within a year. There were clearly a few obstacles to arranging elections to the PNC for all Palestinians inside and outside Palestine. Arranging elections in the West Bank is problematic as long as Hamas's candidates are arrested by Israel. Arranging PNC elections in Jordan and Syria could be even harder; there is a civil war in Syria, and the Palestinian Jordanians risk losing their citizenship if they participate in PNC elections in Jordan. However, for movements seeking to liberate Palestine, these obstacles are not insurmountable if the political will to implement the agreement is present. As for elections in the West Bank, a proportional system could be used, while Palestinian delegates from Syria and Jordan could be selected rather than elected to the PNC, according to Fatah leader Nabil Shaath.40 But when political motivation is lacking, practical solutions are not sought.
As elections have not yet been held, an increasing portion of the Palestinian population is blaming Hamas in Gaza for the lack of progress. Veteran Hamas leader Ahmed Yousef in Gaza denied that Hamas's hegemony over Gaza was an asset that its members refused to relinquish:
You will hear this from people in Fatah, but I assure you that we are serious about ending the division and going to elections and unify our people. It is not our ambition or ultimate goal to have Gaza. Our national Islamic project is totally different. Our goal is to have our own Palestinian State with unified people and to guarantee the Right of Return of our people from the diaspora. This is our goal, it is not just to stick with Gaza and to be under siege and do nothing.41
However, Yousef acknowledged that there was political division within Hamas and that he represented the moderate faction, which had experienced setbacks since the 2006 elections. In a reversal of previous alliances and positions, Hamas moderates in Gaza have recently been supported by Khaled Meshal in pursuing conciliation rather than confrontation. The Arab Spring had conveyed a message to the Palestinians, "that we Palestinians must deal with our domestic affairs," said Meshal in an interview on Hamas's official website.42 In a conciliatory meeting with Fatah in December 2011, he reportedly even referred to "popular resistance" instead of "armed struggle," indicating a shift in Hamas's preferred strategy.43
The political reorientation implied in Meshal's wording with regard to regional diplomacy and popular resistance was met with harsh criticism from Hamas leaders controlling Gaza. In December 2011, an official Hamas statement declared: "We underline our adherence to our right to the struggle in all its forms, particularly the armed struggle."44 The statement included a call for the PLO to return to its original political platform, apparently reversing Hamas's new strategy of joining the PLO without preconditions.
The growing schism within Hamas continued to be displayed in front of TV cameras following a February 2012 meeting between Khaled Meshal and Mahmoud Abbas in Doha, Qatar. Reportedly, Meshal had not consulted with the leadership in Gaza ahead of the agreement signed in Doha. The agreement was condemned as "foolish" and "a mistake" by Mahmoud al-Zahar in Gaza, who went on to declare the Doha agreement to be "dead" only a month later.45
One specific difference in the wording of the 2012 Doha agreement was significant. The 2011 Cairo agreement had called for elections to the PA (PLC and presidency) and the PNC alike. In the Doha declaration, only PA elections were explicitly mentioned. "Palestinian National Council elections," in the wording of the May 2011 Cairo agreement, had in the Doha agreement become "reforming the Palestinian National Council."46 Reforming the PNC is obviously something other than electing it. It could refer to the PNC admitting new members, while the mechanism for admitting the members continues to be the appointment system rather than elections. If so, the PLO would be reformed without being democratized.
This point, referring to reforms of, and not elections to, the PNC, was part of the criticism leveled at Meshal by the Hamas leadership in Gaza. But the Gazans who were calling for PNC elections were at the same time obstructing preparations for PLC elections in Gaza. Thus, their criticism smelled of opportunism. However, when the Hamas and Fatah leaders met again in May 2012, the original text of the 2011 Cairo agreement, calling for PNC and PA elections simultaneously, was reinstated.47
Yet, the fact that Meshal had agreed to reforming the PNC (rather than demanding elections to it) without internal consultation was significant. It indicated that Meshal's top priority was for Hamas to join rather than democratize the PLO. For the Gaza leadership, however, staying in control of Gaza clearly had priority over entering the PLO. "Gaza is holding the national movement hostage to its interests," a Hamas leader in exile told the ICG.48
Thus, there were strong internal forces against implementing the 2011 Cairo agreement within Hamas as well as within Fatah. While Hamas in Gaza wanted to avoid PLC elections in order to maintain their power in Gaza, Fatah wanted to avoid PNC elections to maintain their power in the PLO.
THE EFFECT OF DEMOCRATIZATION
In spite of the anti-Hamas stance of the United States and Israel, the PLO cannot deliver on a negotiated agreement with Israel as long as the Palestinian home remains divided and Hamas controls Gaza. Paradoxically, Hamas membership in the PLO is thus a prerequisite for serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to take place. What political consequences could then be expected if Hamas entered the PLO?
During the 2006 elections, Hamas prioritized pragmatism over Islamism, scholars observed.49 Hamas wanted popular legitimacy50 and ran on a moderate program aimed at appealing to mainstream, secular Palestinians as well as religious ones.51 Later, the international isolation of the Hamas government and the economic sanctions imposed on Hamas contributed to the tilting of the internal balance within Hamas in favor of less democratically minded forces.52 Thus the experience of Hamas's participation in the 2006 elections, and political developments inside Hamas after the boycott and exclusion of Hamas following their election victory, largely confirm the hypothesis that inclusion leads to moderation and exclusion to radicalization.53
When inclusion leads to moderation and democratic attitudes, there is a reason: internal democratic procedures within the political group work adequately.54 For Hamas, internal democracy seems to work well. When Hamas decided to participate in the 2006 elections, this was the result of a comprehensive internal debate.55 Moreover, in April 2013, Hamas finalized its internal election of a new leadership. Mahmoud al-Zahar, the Hamas leader in Gaza, who fronted the opposition to the Cairo and Doha agreements, was not reelected to the politburo, while Khaled Meshal, the main proponent of PLO membership, was reelected as Hamas leader.56 The implication regarding Hamas's political priorities thus appears to be that those not wanting to prioritize PLO membership over maintaining power in Gaza have been weakened. And people advocating PLO membership are also the ones seeking Palestinian reconciliation; as with Meshal himself, they are ostensibly considering political alternatives to the armed struggle.
Within the organization, many are confident that Hamas could win PNC elections. "Maybe Hamas lost popularity because of being in government. But we remain very strong on the 'outside,' where the majority of Palestinians are. We will be in majority in the PLO, no question," said a Hamas official to the ICG in Gaza.57 However, this belief in an electoral victory for Hamas in eventual PNC elections is probably unfounded. According to the PLO constitution, a Palestinian — and thus an eligible Palestinian voter — is any Arab national who resided in Palestine until 1947, or anyone born inside or outside Palestine after that date of a Palestinian father.58 Within the core countries of the diaspora, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, where Hamas perceives that a distinctive refugee voice opposing the Ramallah government is strongest, opinion polls of Palestinian voter preferences are largely lacking and inconclusive. One study from 2005-06 found Hamas and Fatah to be equally popular.59 Moreover, there are fewer Palestinian voters in this area than within Gaza and the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics.60 Thus, even if Hamas were to prove stronger than Fatah in exile, it is by no means certain to win PNC elections.
Hamas would comply with the results even if Fatah won, said Osama Hamdan from the politburo of Hamas:
We respect the results of elections, whatever they are. We support the democratic process, regardless of the results. If there were elections and another party won the majority and signed an agreement we opposed, we would oppose that through the democratic process. But we will not destroy all the system just because we oppose this or that.
DT: So that means that if you lost the elections, armed resistance would not be an option?
Hamdan: If there was any solution it is supposed to be accepted by the Palestinian people through a referendum. And that brings the right to the people, not to the leaders of the PLO or any Palestinian organization, even Hamas. So if our people accepted that, we would deal with this fact through a referendum where all the Palestinians are supposed to participate. If the majority said "we accept that," we accept that.61
In the West Bank, the Hamas leader Hassan Yousef reiterated Hamdan's position: "We will accept any results that satisfy our people's desires."62
Regardless of the outcome of PNC elections, the political process is important in itself. If the PNC were restored as the supreme legitimate political authority within Palestinian politics, with Islamist (Hamas and Islamic Jihad) participation and regional representation (although not necessarily through elections from all countries hosting Palestinians), it would mean that the main Palestinian political groups agreed on the foundations of a unified, legitimate political system. As Higley and Burton have outlined, such an internal agreement among the main political actors is necessary to avoid internecine violence and for a democratic political system to prevail.63'
The idea that Hamas seeks to join the PLO in order to radicalize it fails to recognize either the significant changes that have taken place within Hamas in how it regards the PLO, or the important effects of the democratic process itself.
As shown above, Hamas's desire to democratically restore the PNC and join the PLO without preconditions predated the Arab Spring. However, after the split between Hamas and Fatah in 2007, those who prioritized government control within Palestine over PLO reforms gained the upper hand in both movements.
The main effect of the Arab Spring has been to reverse this trend and to strengthen those within Hamas and Fatah who prioritize reconciliation and PLO reforms over government control in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively. Inside Fatah, the Arab Spring has led to greater sensitivity towards the Palestinian street at the expense of their client relationship with their Western patrons.64 Inside Hamas, the main proponent of the PLO track, Khaled Meshal, has been reelected leader, largely because Hamas members have reckoned that they need a statesman in the international arena, given the gradual easing of their isolation after the Arab Spring.
The personal chemistry between the Hamas leader and the PLO/Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas is reportedly very good.65 If the Fatah/PLO and Hamas leaders are in harmony on having PLO reforms and PNC elections, this increases the chances of realizing democratic reforms.66 However, that Hamas will eventually become a PLO member is by no means a given. The June 2013 military coup in Egypt may weaken Hamas in its power struggle against Fatah. The question is whether a less self-confident Hamas in Gaza would strengthen Hamas's moderate forces,67attempting to avoid political isolation and pursue PLO reforms, or militants, seeking to protect the resistance. In fact, the attitude towards PLO membership may be regarded as an indicator of how strong the democratic attitudes of the political leaders actually are, within both Hamas and Fatah.
1 "The casualties weren't ours," a PA security officer reportedly said after Israel assaulted Gaza in 2008; cited by ICG to explain the lack of remorse in Ramallah. International Crisis Group, "Ending the War in Gaza," Crisis Group Middle East Report 26 (2009): 15.
2 Mohsen Saleh, Palestinian Strategic Report (Al-Zaytouna Centre, Beirut, 2010), 51.
3 International Crisis Group, "Light at the End of Their Tunnels? Hamas and the Arab Uprisings," Crisis Group Middle East Report 129 (2012): 29.
4 Abdullah Abdullah, Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, author interview, Beirut, October 2011.
5 Yezid Sayigh, Armed Struggle and the Search for State (Oxford University Press, 1997), 84.
6 The charter text is available at http://www.middleeastfacts.com/middle-east/the-fatah-constitution.php. Emphasis added by author.
7 Jillian Becker, The PLO (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984).
8 Rashid Hamid, "What Is the PLO?" Journal of Palestine Studies 4 no. 4 (1975): 104.
9 Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela, The Palestinian Hamas (Columbia University Press, 2000), 18-19.
10 Jean-Pierre Filiu, "The Origins of Hamas: Militant Legacy or Israeli Tool?" Journal of Palestine Studies 41 (2012): 64.
11 Sayigh, Armed Struggle, 629.
12 The PLO also gained the status of an observer entity in the UN General Assembly in 1974; and as part of the Oslo agreements, Israel and the international community also came to recognize it as the sole representative of the Palestinians.
13 Azzam Tamimi, Hamas: Unwritten Chapters (Hurst & Company, 2007), 187.
14 Article 27, Mishal and Sela, The Palestinian Hamas, 193; see the same source for the full 1988 covenant.
15 Beverley Milton-Edwards and Stephen Farrell, Hamas. The Islamic Resistance Movement (Polity, 2010), 232.
16 The politburo, or Political Bureau, is the executive organ of Hamas.
17 Zaki Chehab, Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of the Militant Islamic Movement (Nation Books, 2007), 109.
18 Because of this fear, Arafat even appealed to the leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to persuade Hamas to join Fatah. Tamimi, Hamas: Unwritten Chapters, 189.
19 Sayigh, Armed Struggle, 220.
20 Interview with the author, Gaza, August 2011.
21 Milton-Edwards and Farrell, Hamas, 233.
22 Tamimi, Hamas: Unwritten Chapters, 210.
23 The full agreement is available at http://www.miftah.org/PrinterF.cfm?DocId=6938.
24 Amira Howeidi, "The Third PLO," Al Ahram Weekly, March 24, 2005, accessed August 1, 2012, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/735/fr2.htm.
25 Dror Ze'evi, "The Decline of the PLO and the Rise of the PNA," Middle East Brief, no. 8 (Brandeis University, Crown Center for Middle East Studies, 2006): 6.
26 Insufficient adherence to procedure has led to the questioning of the legality of the Gaza PNC session in 1996. Allegedly, Arafat invited new members to the council by himself, and even the PNC presidium did not know who the new members were. Interview by the author with Jamil Majdalawi, PFLP member of the CC of the PLO, Gaza, August 2011; and interview by the author with Mohsen Saleh, General Manager Al-Zaytouna Centre, Beirut, October 2011.
27 "Rebuilding PLO." Document from conference in Beirut, May 2006 (Arabic), received by author from Ahmed Yousef, Hamas, Gaza, August 2011.
28 Memo on PLO reforms from factions meeting in Istanbul, 2010, received by the author from Hamas in Gaza, August 2011.
29 Quoted in Khaled Hroub, "A 'New Hamas' through Its New Documents," Journal of Palestine Studies 35 (2006): 21.
30 Interview with the author, Gaza, August 2011.
32 Interview with the author, Ramallah, August 2011.
33 Interview with the author, Beirut, October 2011.
34 Interview with the author, Damascus, March 2010.
35 Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage (Oneworld, 2006), 141-2; and Jamil Hilal, "PLO Institutions: The Challenge Ahead," Journal of Palestine Studies 23, no. 1 (1993): 55.
36 Interview with the author, Gaza August 2011.
37 Interview with the author, Ramallah, March 2011. The issue of elected PLC members being directly members of the PNC has an unclear legal status. It was part of the 1996 PLC election law, but not of the 2005 election law. The PLC and the PA are nevertheless subordinate organs to the PNC and the PLO. The PNC is thus beyond the jurisdiction of the PA. A contrary opinion is that, since the decision was approved by the PLO chairman and the PLO Executive Council, it could be considered a PLO decision. See "The Palestine Papers" and memo by legal researcher Mazen Masri, http://transparency.aljazeera.net/en/projects/thepalestinepapers/201218….
38 Interview with the author, Beirut, October 2011.
40 Interview with the author, Ramallah, April 2013.
41 Interview with the author, Gaza, August 2011.
42 Jonathan D. Halevy, "Will Palestinian Reconciliation Lead to a Hamas Takeover of the PLO?" Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs 587 (January 9, 2012), accessed August 1, 2012, http://jcpa.org/article/will-palestinian-reconciliation-lead-to-a-hamas….
43 Bilal Y. Saeb, "A New Hamas in the Making?" The National Interest (December 20, 2011), accessed August 1, 2012, http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/new-hamas-the-making-6272.
44 Halevy, "Will Palestinian Reconciliation..."
45 Khaled Amayreh, "Palestinian Polls Unlikely this Year," Al Ahram Weekly, April 16, 2012, accessed April 16, 2012, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2012/1093/re2.htm.
47 International Crisis Group, "Light at the End," 24.
48 International Crisis Group, "Light at the End," 34.
49 Milton-Edwards and Farrell, Hamas, 248.
51 Hroub, "A 'New Hamas,'" 26.
52 Natasa Kubikova, "Political Inclusion as a Key Factor to Moderate Islamists: The International Community's Choice of Policy Impacts on Hamas's Pragmatic or Radical Tendencies," Perspectives 17, no. 2 (2009): 158. For a similar experience during the 2012 parliamentary elections in Egypt, see Stephane Lacroix, "Sheikhs and Politicians: Inside the New Egyptian Salafism," Brookings Doha Center Publications 16 (2012): 5.
53 For a discussion of this, see Jillian Schwedler, "Can Islamists Become Moderates?: Rethinking the Inclusion-Moderation Hypothesis," World Politics 63, no. 2 (2011): 347-376.
54 Julian Schwedler, Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen (Cambridge University Press, 2006).
55 Tamimi, Hamas: Unwritten Chapters, 192.
56 Ali El-Saleh, "Mishal Reelection Is a Victory for Hamas Moderates," Asharq Al-Awsat, April 8, 2013, accessed April 8, 2013, http://m.asharq-e.com/content/1365437321461266600/Published%20-%20Featu….
57 ICG, "Light at the End," 35.
58 Article 5 of the PLO constitution. Jillian Becker, The PLO (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984), 230.
59 Mohsen Saleh and Ziad al-Hasan, The Political Views of The Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon (Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies & Consultation, 2006), 25.
60 Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract of Palestine. http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/ps/ Number of Israeli Palestinians from "2.1. Population by population group," CBS, Statistical Abstract of Israel, 2010, http://www.cbs.gov.il/reader/.
61 Interview with the author, Damascus, March 2010.
62 Interview with the author, Ramallah, August 2011.
63 John Higley and Michael Burton, Elite Foundations of Liberal Democracy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).
64 Dag Tuastad, "The Role of International Clientelism in the National Factionialism of Palestine," Third World Quarterly 31, no. 5 (2010): 791-802.
65 El-Saleh, "Mishal Reelection."
66 Higley and Burton, Elite Foundations.
67 Moderation in this context may be understood as a process of relative change concerning attitudes towards democracy. Omar Ashour, Votes and Violence: Islamists and the Processes of Transformation, The International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (November 2009): 6.