Hamas and the PIJ: divided in style, united in struggle
Palestinian resistance groups Hamas and PIJ have had their share of differences – outlined here – but are determined to present a unified front against the enemy
By Abdelrahman Nassar
October 29 2021

Palestinian resistance groups Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) are working to maintain a unified front.

Photo Credit: The Cradle

In a series of interviews with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leaders about their recent meeting, following months of differences between the two resistance movements, The Cradle uncovers significant information on their political directions.

Recent disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the Gaza Strip over the past two months have threatened the cordial coordination witnessed between them last May during the Sayf al Quds (Sword of Jerusalem) confrontation against Israeli occupation and aggression.

The two parties clearly diverge over methods of resistance against the occupation and the timing of responses to Israeli attacks. While Hamas believes in preparing for major battles that would change equations, the PIJ wants continuous resistance to drain the enemy. Israel has naturally exploited these differences, prompting the leaderships of both resistance movements to address the problem.

Points of contention between the two Palestinian resistance groups were exacerbated after Ziyad Nakhaleh – from the traditional PIJ leadership and principles – took the helm of the PIJ, which had fought three military rounds between 2018 and 2020 without Hamas. Then, in May this year, a confrontation with Israel placed the resistance factions into a ‘Joint Operations’ room. While in previous confrontations with the Occupation, different battle names were attributed to each faction, this battle bore a unified name – the Sword of Jerusalem.

The latest disagreements between Hamas and PIJ touched on issues relating to consensus, political tactics, and the use of media. These were manifested through firing rockets without consensus, kidnapping fighters, confiscating equipment, exchanging accusations on social media, and the PIJ walk-out from the Joint Operations room.

However, sometime in the middle of October, a meeting took place between the leadership of the two movements, purportedly to agree on a ‘road map’ for the next resistance phase. Neither side revealed the location of the meeting. Hamas sources insisted it took place in Beirut. But information obtained from sources in Syria say that this meeting was held in Damascus. If so, Syria seems to have eased its restrictions on Hamas members.

The Cradle has also learned that Damascus had agreed to host Mahmoud al-Zahar as Hamas’s representative in Syria, thanks, in part, to the PIJ contribution in improving the Syria–Hamas relationship. According to sources in Gaza, the decision to appoint Zahar to Syria was made inside Hamas and approved by its leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar. A Hamas official denies this information.

During the last days of the Sword of Jerusalem battle, Nakhaleh headed a delegation of Palestinian factions to meet President Bashar Assad in Damascus. Nakhaleh offered positive signs for reconciliation and conveyed Hamas’s greetings to Assad, who responded in kind. This event caused an uproar in the media, especially from Hamas supporters of the Syrian ‘revolution’ who were subsequently the target of resentment by Syrians living outside their country.

Problems began to emerge after the Sword of Jerusalem battle, which Nakhaleh explained in an August interview with Arabi 21, a news website close to Qatar. He was quoted saying that Hamas receives 10 times more support from Iran than the PIJ, and elaborated on the divergence of the political thought between the two movements.

The timing of such revelations was surprising and unusual. Since the end of the last battle, Hamas has sought to stabilize the truce with a comprehensive agreement amid Israeli foot-dragging and Egyptian indifference. In parallel, the PIJ wanted to complete the consolidation of “unifying the fronts” of all Palestinian areas, while its fighters remained on high alert in the field.

Then came the Israeli threat to storm the Jenin refugee camp, in response to which the PIJ fired rockets at Israeli settlements near Gaza, without issuing an official announcement.

A month later, on 9 September, six prisoners, which included five PIJ members, escaped from the high-security Gilboa prison. The PIJ issued a stern public threat that they would respond to the Occupation if the escapees were harmed or killed. Hamas did not show the same enthusiasm, while Palestinian Authority intelligence sought to stir up agitation among both movements.

The PIJ–Hamas tension was reduced after the escapees were found and arrested 10 days later. But a tit-for-tat series of petty sabotage between the factions soon followed.

In the meantime, the Occupation continued to single out the PIJ captives in Israeli prisons and subject them to harsh punishment. Hamas soon realized that it would not be in anyone’s interest for regional and international mediators to pressure Hamas to punish the PIJ, or to use the disputes between the two movements to weaken their common cause.

As a result, on 15 October, Hamas issued a statement saying that two delegations, headed by Nakhaleh and prominent Hamas leader and former prisoner in Israel, Saleh Arouri, held a meeting attended by Zaher Jabarin, the Hamas official overseeing the problem of Palestinian prisoners. They had reportedly discussed the issues of prisoners in Israeli jails, prisoners on hunger strike, and administrative detention.

According to the statement, the two movements agreed to prevent Israel from “singling out any prisoner or faction inside the prisons, and that all prisoners are united in the battle to defend and restore their rights, including the removal of all prisoners from solitary confinement, and ending all penalties imposed after Operation Freedom Tunnel,” in reference to the escape of the six prisoners from Gilboa prison. Hamas also doubled down on its commitment to include these six prisoners in any future exchange.

The statement did not mention other matters, but sources confirmed that all issues were discussed and that a ‘road map’ for the next phase had been drawn up. This road map reportedly includes an agreement between the two resistance movements on points that represent common factors, especially their ‘red lines,’ and on coordination in facing the occupation. After all, it was the consistent resistance activity of the PIJ over the past years that bolstered its popularity at a time when Hamas had refrained from military retaliation for reasons related to its governing of Gaza and its regional alliances.

Egypt and Hamas: Maintaining the calm and other economic bargains

Meanwhile, the new political bureau of Hamas convened with nearly all its members in Cairo for the first time since its last internal elections. The Cradle obtained reliable information about the Cairo meeting, and these were divided into two main parts: internal Hamas matters and meetings between Hamas and Egyptian officials.

Of the two Hamas delegations that arrived in the Egyptian capital, one was a political team that included the leadership of Gaza, the West Bank, and those abroad; while the other was an economic delegation comprising Palestinian businessmen, the ‘Gaza Prime Minister’ Issam Daalis, officials from the Ministry of Works responsible for reconstruction, the Ministry of Economy, and the Hamas Economic Committee.

The two meetings yielded little of substance due to Egypt’s reliance on Israeli agreement for the results; therefore, there were no comprehensive agreements struck. Nevertheless, the Egyptians underlined the need for maintaining calm in Gaza in order to improve Gaza’s economic situation and start the extensive reconstruction process. Cairo was open about the need for ‘calm’ being a US condition, and that parallel US pressure was also applied on Israel to prevent it from provoking Palestinians.

Egyptian officials spoke of a US promise to provide them with $3 billion in exchange for maintaining ‘calm’ in Gaza, including half a billion allocated for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

Economic agreements were signed within minutes of meeting – in writing for the first time. These related to the entry of construction materials, and to the demand of the Palestinian delegation for a reduction in Egyptian taxes and transportation and insurance fees – the biggest impediment to the entry of large quantities of goods into Gaza. The Egyptians agreed to some of these requests, including allowing goods such as cars and other items previously prohibited from entering Gaza by rigid Israeli restrictions on so-called ‘dual-use items.’

Nevertheless, Egypt refused to allow a Hamas leader, Fathi Hammad, to travel to Turkey. The Egyptian authorities did not say why, but other mediators have described the man as a ‘hardline leader and troublemaker.’ Also, the Hamas delegation did not get a clear answer on additional facilities for travel through the Rafah crossing to Cairo, nor for Gazans banned by Egypt from travelling.

The Cairo agreement between Hamas and Egypt could significantly open the way for an understanding between Egypt and the PIJ – but only on the condition that the two resistance movements continue to maintain good relations.

In fact, the PIJ has accepted a long overdue Egyptian invitation to visit Cairo at the end of the month, in a delegation headed by Nakhaleh, to discuss the latest problems following tension in the movement’s relationship with Egyptian intelligence.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.
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