INCREASINGLY, the international focus on Palestine has targeted Hamas, particularly after its victory in the January 2006 elections for the Palestine Council. And yet as emphasis on Hamas has increased, whether in international diplomacy, in the media, or in the context of the Israel’s expanding military operations in the Gaza Strip, there has been an astonishing dearth of serious analysis of its positions and its actual behavior. This is distinct, of course, from the reductionist caricatures that pass for descriptions of the movement in much of the media and in statements by U.S. and Israeli officials.
This has notably been the case regarding the virtual absence of acknowledgement that Hamas observed a unilateral and unreciprocated cease-fire for 18 months, from January 2005 until mid-2006. Similarly, there has been a wall of international silence around, and absolutely no diplomatic response to, the highly significant “Prisoners’ Document” signed in May 2006 by representatives of Hamas and the other main Palestinian political groups. This document represents a considerable progression in the political positions of Hamas, and can be seen to constitute a Palestinian initiative in the direction of a negotiated settlement with Israel, however far it may be from the Israeli position.
In these perplexing circumstances, where Hamas is the subject of so much heat (and ignorance), JPS is pleased to shed some light on the apparent political evolution of the movement, as seen in an article by Khaled Hroub analyzing three key documents it has issued over the past year. These are its fall 2005 electoral program for the parliamentary elections, its draft program for a coalition government, and its March 2006 cabinet platform. These documents, largely unavailable in English and even less examined, have more than an antiquarian interest. It is clear that the United States and Israel, operating with the shameful acquiescence of the European Union and most of the rest of the international community, would prefer to destroy the Hamas government than to explore the possibility of negotiating with it. Nevertheless, the democratically expressed will of the Palestinian people is unlikely to be bent by the force and coercion brought to bear by the American-Israeli axis, and Hamas will be a force in Palestinian politics for some time to come. These documents, and Hroub’s analysis, therefore have continuing relevance.
Several other items round out this issue: an article by Adila Laïdi-Hanieh discussing the difficulties of cultural work under occupation, as seen in the operation of the remarkably successful Sakakini Center in Ramallah; an analysis by veteran Israeli political observer and activist Michel Warschawski of the results of the last Israeli Knesset elections; and the second of three parts of the fascinating “life history” of Um Jabr Wishah, describing her odyssey one step ahead of the fighting during the 1948 war.
—Rashid I. Khalidi