Hamas Struggles to Unite Local Ranks, Leadership Abroad

When Khaled Meshal, head of Hamas' political wing, spoke last week about the "sanctity of the uprising" and armed struggle in the Palestinian Authority, some Hamas representatives in the territories raised an eyebrow. "Does he intend to dismantle the tahadiyeh [calm]? Let him say so directly," a Hamas activist from Tul Karm told Haaretz. But Meshal does not speak directly on this matter; he understands that Hamas is engaged in a struggle for recognition of its legitimacy by the Arab countries no less than by Western Europe and the United States. The phrase "armed struggle" does not win hearts and minds among Arab leaders either. "He doesn't know our situation here," the activist said, "when we don't know who's going to pay our salaries next month."

A senior Hamas representative in Gaza says the organization may face a political development similar to Fatah's during the first intifada, when the leadership abroad understood that they could not force their will without considering the local leadership. "If it comes to a test of the inside and outside leadership," the Gaza man said, "there is no doubt that we inside will decide the position."

One such test came to the fore in the riots that took place last weekend in Ramallah over a demand by a few hundred members of the military wing of Fatah to receive 800 taxi licenses. These licences, they say, were promised to them by the outgoing Fatah transport minister.Ismail Haniyeh's government understands the danger in the traps left behind by the Fatah government, and is now trying to dismantle them.