A rarely seen Hamas faction is emerging as an unlikely moderate
and influential force within the Islamic militant party now running
the Palestinian Authority.
A group of Hamas members who are imprisoned within Israeli jails
have become a counterweight to colleagues in Gaza as the political
players capable of bridging the rift between Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party and Hamas over how to share power and
avoid a civil war.
Tuesday, they called on Hamas to endorse a document reached
between Hamas and Fatah prisoners that would effectively recognize
the Jewish state, a decision that would contradict the militant's
charter and one Mr. Abbas said they would have to make by early next
In an uncharacteristically feisty speech last week, Abbas said
that if Hamas didn't accept the prisoners' "national conciliation"
accord that advocates a two-state solution, he would take it to the
public in a referendum.
On Monday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar rejected
the idea of a referendum as a waste of time and money, the
Associated Press reported. Others within the organization have even
questioned whether the Hamas prisoners' endorsement of the two-
state solution was genuine.
The Hamas prisoners' statement "has political and nationalist
weight," says Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian political analyst. "When
people who are prisoners make a statement, it resonates because they
are people who have worked hard, and they are paying with their
lives. You can't argue about the political purity of these guys in
jail. They aren't in anyone's political pocket."
In an interview with the Palestinian Al-Kuds newspaper published
Tuesday, Hamas prisoner leader Sheikh Abdel Nasser Issa insisted
that the prisoners' accord was a genuine expression of the Islamist
prisoners and should be adopted by the Islamic militants outside
Israeli jails. "We are hoping it will be considered a comprehensive
agreement and will get the support of everyone," said Mr. Issa, who
is serving consecutive life sentences.
"Nobody should exploit this document and say that it represents
one person or one organization," he said.
Hamas is expected to do everything in their power to avoid a
referendum on the prisoners' document, which risks a public rebuke
of their ideology of refusing to recognize Israel, analysts say.
A two-month-old survey taken by Palestinian pollster Khalil
Shikaki on the eve of the inauguration of the Hamas government found
that two-thirds of Palestinians support mutual recognition with
Israel and a two-state solution. Some 75 percent wanted Hamas to
negotiate with Israel.
"This is their Achilles' heel," says Shmuel Bar, a Middle East
export at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. "Hamas realizes
that they weren't elected for their ideology, and most likely such a
referendum would pass."
Tuesday, some 400 civil servants demonstrated outside Prime
Minister Ismail Haniyeh's Ramallah office, clanging on pots and
shouting "we need a program.''
"The referendum might finish this crisis,'' said protester
Mohaamad Sirhan Abu Eesa, a teacher from Deir Dibwan near Ramallah. …