The political wing of Hamas

xx Amr Al-Chobaki
Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

The political wing of Hamas should be reactivated and take on a more active role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, writes Amr Al-Chobaki


Hamas has a military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, which planned and carried out the 7 October operation in Israel. It also has a political wing, many of the leaders of which reside outside Gaza and are cut off from and do not lead the movement in the Strip.

Western governments have designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation, and they view both wings of the group as terrorist as a result.Many Arab countries have no sympathy for the resistance movement even if they demand an end to the war in Gaza and sympathise with the Palestinian people.

Many people have been struck by the absence of Hamas’ political wing in the various rounds of negotiations for a truce or ceasefire. No one from the political wing of Hamas was present to represent the organisation in the negotiations that were conductedin Paris, Doha, and Cairo,for example, in which the US and Israel both participated. Instead, mediators stood in for Hamas.

Hamas’ military actions have been conducted largely independently from the political wing. Only a handful of the organisation’s leaders had information on the date and details of the plans for 7 October, and they were all in the military wing. If Hamas’political wing had been in communication with them, it would perhaps have advised them to limit the operation to Israeli soldiers and military targets.

Regardless of the validity of the Palestinian argument that Hamas’ targeting of civilians was in retaliation against the countless crimes the Israeli occupation has perpetrated against Palestinian civilians since the Nakba,the original loss of Palestine in 1948, a political lens is needed to read the Israeli reactions to the 7 October operation and assess its gains and losses, applying perhaps other frameworks than the logic of condemnation.

It is hard to find a resistance movement whose political wing cannot communicate closely with its military wing or even with the rest of the world. Hamas’ political leadership is not even in touch with the recent worldwide demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinian people or with the international humanitarian and humanrights organisations that defend the Palestinian cause and plead for the Palestinian people.

This is in contrast with all other nationalliberation movements, whose political leaderships were active in full view of the world. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), the African National Congress (ANC), and others all provided a legitimating political umbrella for their military wings. They spared no efforts in their struggle to influence world public opinion and advocate their causes.

This is not available to Hamas for reasons having to do with its ideology and structure and with Israel’s active targeting of its officials.

It is difficult to imagine that the Algerian nationalliberation movement in the 1950s and early 1960s could have emerged victorious over the French colonial regime without the FLN. The end of French colonial rule came after the formation of this political wing to negotiate with the coloniser and to organise political action.

The FLN formed an interim government in exile in September 1958, after which the leadership mobilised the Algerian people to march in the streets in support of the liberation army’s actions. In October 1961, Algerian leaders affiliated with the FLN organised a demonstration in Parisin the very heart of the colonial power that was brutally suppressed by the French police, leaving some 300 dead, according to some estimates. This did not prevent further actions, which were among the ways used to keep up the pressure on France until Algeria won its freedom.

The South African fight against Apartheid began as a civil-rights campaign led by theANC. However, after the organisation was banned and the then South African government massacred hundreds of demonstrators, Nelson Mandela, a symbol of tolerance, founded a paramilitary wing of the ANC in 1961.

It was called “Spear of the Nation” and was headed by Mandela who was subsequently arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. It was from his cell that he sounded his famous clarion call of“Unite! Mobilise! Fight on! Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle we shall crush Apartheid!”

Of course, there is a vast difference between the context of Hamas in Gaza and the other nationalliberation experiences mentioned. But there is no question that a militant resistance movement cannot win by military means alone, regardless of how masterfully they are planned and executed and how much they harm the adversary – the Israeli occupation in this case.

A political wing is essential for the success of such actions. Its main job is not to manage disputes with the Palestinian Authority (PA) or manage alliances with Hamas supporters. Instead, it should reach out to and move world opinion, inspire and organise political actions, and negotiate effectively. It should also be prepared to accept interim solutions that serve the strategic end of establishing a Palestinian state. As it doesall this, it should ensure that military and political actions go hand-in-hand and that the former ultimately serve the latter.

This is not to suggest that Hamasshould manufacture a political wing tailored to Western or Arab tastes. The US tried to manufacture political movements in Afghanistan and Iraq and failed miserably to do so. The new elites it tried to impose on those countries were quickly swept out of the way by authentic resistance movements.

However, Hamas could forge a political movement that would follow its ideological outlook, creating a kind of peer to the types of radical or hard-line political groups seenelsewhere in the world. This new political wing would not come at the expense of the military wing until the realisation of a negotiated end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on the two-state solution.

Excluding the political side of Hamas from the conflict is dangerous because it will only lead to the military side taking a more extreme form. The political wing of Hamas should be reactivated and should take the lead. However, it will only fully prevail over the military wing when the Palestinian people regain their rights, at which point Hamas will become part of the Palestinian political spectrum and there will be no place for its military wing.

Unfortunately, a peaceful solution is still a long way off because of the extremist and belligerent nature of the Israeli government, which continues to reject all peace initiatives. This behaviour only reinforces violence and extremism.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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