Ayman al-Zawahiri: the Hamas leadership has fallen into the �swamp of surrender�
(Al-Jazeera, March 11, 2006)
The main points of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s statement as broadcasted
on Al-Jazeera TV (March 11, 2007)
1. In a new recently-published audio tape, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s second-in-command, has once again attacked Arab leaders, particularly the rulers of Saudi Arabia . In the tape, he also lashed out once again at the Hamas movement, blaming its leadership for accepting the establishment of a Palestinian unity government and thus �selling Palestine to the Jews� in exchange for government seats.
2. What follows are the main statements of Ayman al-Zawahiri, as broadcasted on the Al-Jazeera television channel (March 11, 2007):
a. Accusing the Hamas government of falling into the �swamp of surrender� by agreeing to abide by the international agreements signed by the Palestinians when the Hamas movement joined the Palestinian unity government. Thus, he claimed, Hamas joined the humiliation and surrender of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. According to Al-Zawahiri, the Hamas government �sold Palestine � in order to retain a third of the government seats.
b. Accusing the Hamas government of being helpless and dependent on outside elements, such as Israel and Egypt . He said that the prime minister of the Hamas government (Ismail Haniyah) couldn’t even enter his own house without Egyptian mediation with the Israeli Defense Minister.
c. Attacking the �Saudi initiative� and the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdallah Bin Abd al-Aziz. According to Al-Zawahiri, the initiative was dictated to King Abdallah by (Jewish-American) journalist Thomas Friedman, and now Arabs are begging Israel to accept it.
d. Bringing up the (false) claim that the earthworks (at the Mugrabim Ramp) are being carried out under the Al-Aqsa Mosque and that they are yet another link in the Israeli-Crusader �series of schemes� in Palestine . He said that the only thing the Arab and Islamic governments could do was to cry and condemn such acts of heresy.
The reaction of Hamas
3. Ayman al-Zawahiri’s lashing out at the Hamas movement was cause for anger among the movement leaders and operatives. The movement leaders were quick to respond to what they referred to as �baseless claims�, and stressed that despite the signing of the Mecca Agreement, the movement did not abandon its principles, mainly �resistance� and �jihad� (i.e., adherence to the path of violence and terrorism). 1
4. The Hamas movement even made an official announcement, published on its website on March 12, 2007. Titled �You have misunderstood, Dr. Al-Zawahiri, and you failed in your statement�, the announcement stresses that Hamas considers Palestine to be a land of Islamic religious endowment ( waqf ) and therefore even the smallest part of it may not be relinquished. According to the announcement, Hamas still adheres to the path of jihad and resistance (i.e., violence and terrorism) and will continue to do so, sacrificing shahids �until not a single trace of occupation remains in Palestine .� The announcement ends with the following: �Rest assured, Dr. Ayman� Hamas is still the same movement it has been since its foundation� Its entering the elections, the establishment of the government, and its acceptance of the Mecca Agreement are all designed to preserve the supreme interests of the Palestinian people.�
5. In addition, and as part of �marketing� the Mecca Agreement across the Arab and Muslim world, Hamas seniors granted interviews to the Arab media, stressing that the movement still adhered to its principles:
a. While visiting Yemen , Khaled Mash’al, the head of Hamas’s Political Bureau, made an initial response to Al-Zawahiri’s statements, saying that Hamas is self-confident and �knows what it is doing� (Yemeni News Agency, March 12, 2007).
b. Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon , said that Al-Zawahiri’s objection to the agreement was due to the fact that he was not familiar with its details. Osama Hamdan claimed that the Hamas movement could have alleviated the international pressure exerted upon it by recognizing Israel , but that it refused to do so (Al-Jazeera TV, March 11, 2007).
c. Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said that Al-Zawahiri’s accusations were untrue and that the movement had sacrificed many victims and paid a heavy price. He said that �Al-Zawahiri belongs to another school of thought� (AFP, March 11, 2007).
Ayman al-Zawahiri’s previous criticism of Hamas
6. It is not the first time that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s second-in-command, strongly criticizes the Hamas movement. About a year ago, immediately after the establishment of the Hamas government (night of March 4-5, 2006), an audio tape was published on Ayman al-Zawahiri’s behalf. In the tape, Al-Zawahiri called upon Muslims to embark on �jihad� (holy war) against the corrupted Arab regimes and against Western countries. The tape also included a direct appeal made by Al-Zawahiri to the Hamas movement, in which he pointed out to Hamas several fundamental principles in the worldview of Al-Qaeda (not too different from the Hamas worldview). These principles, according to Al-Zawahiri, should guide Hamas’s path on the Palestinian scene, and they include the following: 2
a. Attaining political power is only a means to establish a regime based upon Islamic religious law, rather than a goal unto itself.
b. No one has the right to relinquish even one grain of Palestine , since it is an Islamic land occupied by infidels.
c. Palestine will not be liberated by elections but rather by jihad for the sake of Allah; jihad for the liberation of Palestine is a personal duty of each and every Muslim, not just Palestinians.
d. Participating in the Legislative Council with secular representatives, who �sold� Palestine , goes against the values of Islam; the agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel (�the agreements of surrender�) must not be upheld, since they are opposed to Islamic religious law.
7. At that time, Hamas seniors also rushed to reject Al-Zawahiri’s statements, claiming that in practice the movement did not change its policy. Khaled Mash’al then noted that there was no criticizing Hamas, since its policy was based on the �resistance� (i.e., terrorism). He added apologetically that every movement must engage in politics (that is, as an unavoidable necessity) but that Hamas was doing so with �self respect� and �refusal to submit to external pressure� (Dunya al-Watan, March 5, 2006). Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, declared that his movement had taken part in the elections to make a change in Palestinian politics that would serve �the resistance and the jihad�, while refusing to recognize the �Zionist entity� (Al-Jazeera TV, March 5, 2006).
Summary and assessment
8. The roots of the fierce argument between Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Hamas movement lie in the results of Hamas’s victory in the Legislative Council elections on January 25, 2006. That victory was a political earthquake not only on the internal Palestinian scene but across the entire Middle East . For the first time in its history, the Middle East saw the rise to power through democratic elections of a radical Sunni Islamic terrorist organization, 3 which has often expressed sympathy and solidarity with global jihad elements and their ideology. 4
9. However, Hamas’s rise to power forced it to cope with the difficult constraints of Palestinian reality�unlike the Al-Qaeda organization, which does not lead a country. These constraints, and the interest of the Hamas government to provide an adequate reply to the hardships of the Palestinian public, forced Hamas to show pragmatism in the way it conducts itself since having come to power. For example, it has adopted a restrained approach to terrorist attacks, 5 sometimes playing down or softening extremist messages directed at Western ears, and showed willingness to let Fatah participate in the unity government according to the Mecca Agreement (which, incidentally, infuriated Ayman al-Zawahiri, both for its contents and for having been made in Mecca, the holiest city of Islam, under the sponsorship of the Saudi regime, which is the bitter enemy of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden).
10. At the same time, despite Hamas’s expression of pragmatism in its political conduct, it adheres to its ideological principles, as the movement’s spokesmen stressed time and again in response to Al-Zawahiri’s attacks. This is reflected in Hamas’s view of Palestine as an Islamic religious endowment ( waqf ), Hamas’s vigorous denial of Israel’s right to exist, and the movement’s embrace of �jihad� and �resistance� (i.e., violence and terrorism) as the strategy that will �liberate� the whole of Palestine. These principles led Hamas, in the first year of its reign, to reject the demands of the Quartet and adhere to its fundamental principles, even at the cost of extreme international economic and political pressure exerted on the Hamas government. Hamas’s radical ideological principles are also reflected in the platform of the Palestinian national unity government.
11. It should be noted that while strongly criticizing Hamas, the Al-Qaeda movement attempts to implement its worldview by gaining a foothold in the Palestinian Authority-administered territories. That is carried out mainly in the Gaza Strip, which lies adjacent to the Sinai Peninsula and serves in recent years as a focal point for global jihad elements. It seems that there are now several dozens of operatives in the Palestinian Authority-administered territories who are ideologically affiliated with global jihad and with its worldwide activities. Those operatives attempt to create a terrorist-operative infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority-administered territories (apart from the terrorist infrastructure of Hamas), while imitating the modus operandi of global jihad. 6