News of Hamas refusing US$15 billion in aid conditional upon demilitarization as part of the US “Deal of the Century” made headlines in Israeli media in July. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh explained the reasons for refusing foreign aid thus: “We want to break the siege, and we want projects in the Gaza Strip. We want a port in Gaza – but as a right and not in exchange for our political principles or disarmament.”
In the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for an international framework that would oversee Gaza’s demilitarization. The aim, it was reported, was to prevent Hamas from accessing funds intended for rebuilding the enclave after Israel’s aerial assault left 18,000 houses destroyed and 108,000 Palestinians homeless, in addition to the 12,000 Palestinians who remained displaced since 2009, when Israel ended its assault dubbed Operation Cast Lead.
The PA has proposed a demilitarized Palestinian state to counter US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century.”
The demilitarization of Gaza is not just a US-Israeli narrative. In response to Operation Protective Edge, the international community expressed consensus over such a move. Such politics are also palatable to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its political maneuvers to wrest control of Gaza from Hamas. The PA, in fact, has proposed a demilitarized Palestinian state to counter US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century.”
While initial media reports highlighted the purported unity between the PA and Hamas against Trump’s plan, the details indicate otherwise. With the US, Israel, the international community, and the PA backing Gaza’s demilitarization, and effectively acquiescing to Trump’s scheming, Hamas remains politically ostracized.
While Israel’s security narrative, which has become part of global discourse, will influence perceptions of Hamas’ refusal of foreign aid in return for relinquishing its weapons, the “Deal of the Century” will play a more prominent role in blurring the lines between anti-colonial resistance, which is legitimate under international law, and terrorism.
On occasions, since the Arab Spring left power vacuums for Islamic State (IS) to thrive, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to equate Hamas with IS. In doing so, Netanyahu not only depicted Hamas as a terror organization – a designation which is endorsed by several countries, including the US, it also influenced the international community in ignoring Hamas’ evolution from resistance to diplomacy.
In light of Hamas’ decision, the “Deal of the Century” edges closer to the international community’s aspirations, despite the propaganda that pitted the US against the rest of the world in the name of Palestinian rights and the two-state paradigm. As the US, Israel, the international community, and the PA pretend to disagree over details, simplifying Palestine’s precarious future into a hypothetical battle between Trump’s deal and the two-state, a significant chapter in Palestinian history is overlooked – one that sheds light on Hamas and its approach to international aid.
Hamas has shifted from resistance to diplomacy, although not completely abandoning the former.
Since its foray into representative politics in 2006, when it won the Palestinian legislative election, Hamas has shifted from resistance to diplomacy, although not completely abandoning the former. Several detailed academic studies – one of the most prominent being the US political economist and scholar Sara Roy – have mapped out how Hamas works in separate structures, and how civil society forms the bulwark of its support. In her book, “Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza: Engaging the Islamist Social Sector” (2011), Roy notes that the ideological wing of Hamas attracted less support than its community activism.
It is predominantly through its social engagement that Hamas promoted welfare and education and moved towards a pragmatism that shows a willingness to work with international bodies while seeking funding from several organizations, including the EU and USAID.
The move towards international organizations for funding is significant in terms of what Hamas sought to achieve in Gaza. This paradigm is indicative of two main strands of politics. On one hand, Hamas retains the concept of political rights from a historical and collective viewpoint, thus involving civil society. On the other hand, and central to the current refusal of foreign aid, is Hamas’ receptivity to foreign financial aid, as long as there is no contradiction with its core principles.
From the Hamas Charter to its more recent Document of Principles published in 2017, the move towards diplomacy is evident. Point 20 partly reads, “without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled, to be a formula of national consensus.” While Hamas rejects Zionism, mentioning the 1967 borders brings Hamas closer to the international constructs of Palestine.
The 1967 borders prerequisite is at the heart of the two-state paradigm. Such acceptance indicates Hamas is open to dialogue with the international community, yet the latter pushes back against these declarations by refusing to engage diplomatically while investing in the PA which, after all, is an elitist, compromised hierarchy of international creation.
After withholding all funding except that of security coordination from Palestine, which also meant that USAID projects in Gaza were cancelled, the US, through its “Deal of the Century” is manipulating the financial aid narrative. The visible, and simplistic, interpretation is that Hamas is refusing an offer that can better the lives of Palestinians in the enclave, and that its weapons are more important than social welfare.
However, Palestinians in Gaza are deprived of basic necessities due to Israeli colonization, the illegal blockade imposed on Gaza, the PA’s sanctions attempting to force Hamas out of politics, the two-state compromise which facilitated Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” and the UN’s failure to take an anti-colonial stance against Israel.
Billions in aid have been given to the PA for state-building that never happens.
Billions in aid have been given to the PA for state-building that never happens. This squandering of financial aid is not deemed a controversy since it serves the international agenda of preventing Palestinians from building a state. Yet Hamas made headlines in Israeli media for refusing financial aid in return for demilitarization. No state would accept financial aid as compensation for relinquishing its defense capabilities. Is it out of the ordinary that a colonized population facing Israel’s US-backed military would refuse to make itself more vulnerable?
Hamas is not beyond political dialogue, even to the point of creating dissonance between anti-colonial struggle and diplomatic pragmatism. On the contrary, the offer in line with Trump’s deal is not about economic prosperity in Gaza or engaging with Hamas diplomatically. It is an exercise that furthers skews perceptions of financial aid in a colonial setting, to the purpose of politicizing humanitarian aid according to Israel’s intents and purposes.
Humanitarian aid is a powerful political game changer which creates an illusion of stalemate. For Palestinians in Gaza, humanitarian aid has temporarily alleviated shortages but created no opportunities for autonomy. Since the international community has no intent of allowing Gaza to prosper, Palestinian civilians in the enclave will continue to pay the price. Blaming Hamas is the easiest option. With such a scripted narrative, the international community absolves itself of the failure to give Gaza a chance.