Thursday, December 29, 2011

Meshaal's Ceasefire Orders

Fatah sources confirm reports circulating earlier this month that Khaled Meshaal has ordered an end to Hamas attacks on Israel:
"According to the sources in Fatah, the largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization, Meshal ordered a de facto cease-fire with Israel not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank. Hamas had already refrained from launching rockets from Gaza.

"The sources say Meshal issued the order in late November, after the first round of reconciliation talks in Cairo between Hamas and Fatah.

"After that meeting, it emerged that the two organizations agreed also to focus on a popular struggle along the lines of the Arab Spring...

"Hamas' leadership in Gaza said it was surprised by Meshal's statement and that 'the only way to liberate the occupied lands is through the armed struggle.' The Hamas interior minister in Gaza, Fathi Hamad, added that the group's 'internal leadership' does not necessarily intend to abide by Meshal's policy.

"Meshal reiterated late last week that popular protest had 'the power of a tsunami' and has already proved itself in the Arab world. But he added that the organization would not give up the use of violence against Israel."

Two things come out in this story. One is the differences between Hamas's on-the-ground leadership in the Gaza Strip and the exiled leadership in Damascus. The latter is theoretically in charge, but does not always get its way. The second is the fact that, while contrary to popular impressions there has always been non-violent Palestinian resistance to Israel, Palestinians have also maintained that they have a right to use violence when under occupation, and that assertions to the contrary are a means of delegitimizing their struggle.

Israeli defense sources quoted by Ha'aretz are dubious about all this, and what will matter most is how Hamas responds within the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Meshaal has been in exile for ages, and doesn't always carry credibility in the Occupied Territories. If violent attacks continue, then even the diplomatic impact of this will be limited. At the same time, for someone in Meshaal's position to endorse what he calls "popular protest" as a superior alternative to violence is an important step that could have implications down the road.



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