Tuesday 31 May 2011

Moderate Extremists

There has been some recent coverage about the tiff in Hamas between Zahar and Meshall. The Economists reports that:
ALL is not well in the camp of Hamas, the Palestinians’ Islamist faction that rules the Gaza Strip. No sooner had its leader in exile, Khaled Meshal, declared his readiness for Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Palestinians’ more moderate Fatah faction, to relaunch negotiations with Israel, than one of Hamas’s leaders in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, said Mr Abbas did not speak for the Palestinians: “Our programme is against negotiations in this way because they are a waste of time.”
It seems that Meshal forgot to send the memo around (for comprehensive overview see here, and see recent statements here, here and here). Whats more interesting is the reported motivations for Zahar's outburst. It's not a well kept secret that Hamas has to compete to make sure that its radical base does not leave. The Salafi-movement in Gaza is gaining men from Hamas who they see as abandoning their principles. Some estimates cited by the International Crisis Group, up to 60% of Salafis are former Hamas men. Thus, its not surprising that those closest to the base (including Zahar) maintain the absolutist line. (This is of course to imply that Meshal is a moderate, the movement is fundamentally a rejectionist position). 

However, there may actually be personal reasons for the recent backlash according to Palestinian sources. According to Firas Press, Hamas sources say the dispute is "due to the dispute is about the size of the representation of parties in political office."  Firas Press  also reports that the rift was caused by "reckless and personal reasons." 
The [Hamas] source explained that the President of the Political Bureau of Hamas [Meshal] rejected a few months ago to adopt a motion to print and publish a book entitled "Universal Truth of Civilizations" [written by al Zahar]. Meshaal had totally rejected that the movement financially ensured the process of publishing."
Incidentally, this is the same anti-semitic book which argues that there is no place for Jews in any civilisation. In a speech about the books, al-Zahar says that  because they "are no less strong or honorable as the peoples who expelled and uprooted them," they will also expel the Jews from Palestine. In his book he also states that 
Even if the independent Jewish entity ceases to exist, the state of special, constant animosity will not end, since the nations of eastern and western Europe as well as Arab countries lived in that kind of relationship with the Jews for many centuries prior to the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine. 
One thing dispute does not show is any moderation in Hamas. Hamas has rejected to recognise Israel, its officials have continued to call for the complete liberation. One thing it does show however is the problem with "relative moderation." Compare Zahar - the guy who thinks Jews have no place in civilisations - to Meshal (helpfully forgetting his previous statements on suicide bombing and Israel) and what do you get? "Moderate" Hamas officials. 

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