Since the outbreak of the conflict between Fateh and Hamas, there has been the widely circulated contention that Hamas is opposed to the Palestinian national project and that its own agenda is Islamic or Iranian-Syrian. Thus, it is not concerned with resistance, the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state; its priorities lie in bringing about an Islamic society and an Islamic life-style for individuals. Although this view contains a measure of truth, it is not the absolute reality.

The National Project

Before any deliberation of these claims, a brief review of the Palestinian national project is in order. The national project, in my understanding, is predicated on four basic principles: 1) the objectives; 2) the plans and mechanisms that would enable the implementation of these objectives; 3) the people who are called upon to struggle, to organize, to mobilize and to unite in order to achieve these objectives; and 4) the leadership that is to incorporate all these elements into its policies, stances and plans of action so that these objectives can be reached in the shortest possible time and with the fewest sacrifices. These four principles are now nonexistent, or have been forfeited or lost.
The consensus among the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people is that the definition of the national aims lies within the parameters of: the implementation of the right to self-determination; the end of the occupation and the establishment of the independent Palestinian state on the lands occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem; and a just solution to the refugee problem in accordance with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194. To achieve these aims, the Palestinians have resorted to resistance as well as to negotiations; they have founded the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and have set up the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is supposed to be only a phase and a means for the establishment of a Palestinian state and the attainment of the totality of the Palestinian goals.
The crisis that has gripped the Palestinian national movement and the whole Palestinian political order began when it became clear that the prospects for the implementation of the Palestinian national project have been steadily shrinking for two main reasons: One is the policy of the successive Israeli governments to create facts on the ground, implemented through the expansion and intensification of settlement activity; the construction of the separation wall; and the fragmentation of the territories through the construction of ring roads, security and military zones, land confiscations and the closures of areas. All these factors make the establishment of a Palestinian state an increasingly remote possibility. The second reason is the utter failure of Palestinian policies, mechanisms and plans of action, and the fact that they have not been replaced by new ones to safeguard the progress of the national project. The Oslo agreement collapsed and was overtaken by events after Israel utilized it as a cover for its policy of creating facts on the ground. The agreement has ceased to be binding for Israel, and if it has refrained from annulling it officially, it is only out of a desire to maintain the Palestinian commitments pertaining to the agreement. Also, Israel does not want to be seen by the international community as the party responsible for burying the agreement.

No New Strategies

Since the failure of the Camp David talks, there has effectively been no peace process, not even as a matter of form. Israel tossed aside the negotiations and the negotiated solutions and claimed there was no Palestinian partner. To this the Palestinians reacted emotionally. There were entreaties, claims and conciliatory moves, but there was no crystallization of a new Palestinian strategy to match the evolving facts and the new realities. The Palestinian leadership - especially after the demise of Yasser Arafat - yearns for negotiations, and is banking on negotiations - albeit nonexistent - and the Palestinian expectations have been lowered to contacts and meetings and plans put forth by American or international envoys, completely removed from the political and legal underpinnings of international law and resolutions, and where the security of Israel has become the sole reference for negotiations or contacts. The political horizon for negotiations (read contacts) is obvious save to those who refuse to see that the facts the occupation is creating make Israel's solution the only solution on the table - unless we turn the table on the players.
In addition, the PA has turned into an end rather than a means, and the struggle over power, self-aggrandizement, interests and profits has overshadowed all other considerations. It is worth mentioning that this struggle predates the Hamas victory in the legislative elections; it has, however, been exacerbated by the outcome. The power struggle is not confined anymore to Fateh and its various wings and power centers; it has now become a tug-of-war between Fateh and Hamas, whereby each movement is seeking exclusive power over the PA, or at least to keep the lion's share.
As for the PLO, it has become totally paralyzed and a tool in the hands of the PA instead of the reverse. The attempts to revitalize the PLO are now almost limited to using the organization within the confines of inducements or conflicts between it and Hamas. It should be remembered that the PLO is more important and greater than all this; it is the leadership of the Palestinian people, its national expression and its sole and legitimate representative.
The resistance, the presumed means for the concretization of the Palestinian goals, is now either nonexistent or lost in the search for a reciprocal, simultaneous and comprehensive hudna that usually ends up being a one-sided hudna. Alternatively, it has become a card to be used chiefly in the internal struggle for the purpose of enhancing the position of one faction or the other. The resistance as a strategic instrument has long since fizzled out without having achieved any of its aims. A constructive resistance must coincide with the national interests and the justness and moral standards of the Palestinian cause, as well as with international law, which sanctions resistance. It should be grounded in the people, for it is first and foremost a popular movement that aims to reinforce the elements of sumud (steadfastness) and physical Palestinian presence on the land of Palestine. The resistance must also understand the nature of the struggle and its specificity, and realize that it is a mistake to push the Palestinians into decisive battles when they are not ready and when the likelihood of striking a balance of power that would allow the fulfillment of the national aims is close to nil.

Hamas - A Shift in Policy

The absence of the national project, the policy of negotiations without the existence of negotiations, extolling the resistance without the existence of resistance, the ever-diminishing prospects of achieving the national aims, and the rising need to merge Palestinian nationalism with its Arab depth and its Muslim and international dimensions - all these factors have led to the fall of the Palestinian national movement, especially Fateh, and to the rise of the Islamic movement, especially Hamas. Hamas did not come forward solely as the standard-bearer of the Islamic project; it also attempted to espouse the national project. This became apparent through its participation in the first intifada - which saw its inception - and became even more obvious when Hamas adopted suicide operations as its modus operandi, especially during the second intifada.
To give more prominence to the national dimension, Hamas made many changes in its positions and programs which were reflected in its acquiescence to the Cairo Declaration and the tahdi'a, its participation in the PA through elections, and its endorsement of the establishment of a state within the 1967 borders. This was also seen in several signals that Hamas sent indicating its readiness to recognize Israel in return for a reasonable price, and its readiness to accept a state with provisional borders in return for a hudna. But all these policies and signals were rejected by the United States and Israel and did not open the way for Hamas to be reckoned with as a major Palestinian force.
Hamas now finds itself in a quandary. On the one hand, it cannot revert to the original Hamas and to resistance; it has tasted power and authority and has succumbed to the desire to hold on to the PA, and is aware of the hefty price it would have to pay if it went back to resistance. On the other hand, Hamas is unable to retain control of the PA and maintain the process of moderation it had initiated. It is expected to change its stance and to lay down its arms without getting anything in return, while the problem will be solved according to the vision of George W. Bush, without any guarantees whatsoever for Hamas. This realization led to the precipitation of the coup in Gaza, in the hope that this would hasten the recognition of Hamas and would pave the way for it to reap some benefits in return for what it has offered and for what it is capable of offering. But it failed to achieve this goal through the coup; instead, it became shackled by its victory.


The major element missing from the Palestinian scene is the Palestinian national project. As a result, the PLO factions and parties have suffered one defeat after another - from the municipal and legislative elections to Gaza, and the rest is yet to be seen. The national project must regain its prominence, for it is principally aimed at ending the occupation. Barring that, we can only look forward to a perpetuation of failures and defeats. Hamas must recognize that it cannot hope for success unless it adopts the national project and renounces the military option for settling internal disputes. Otherwise we are all heading towards an impending disaster and the abyss that is threatening the national cause.