When Hamas Learns How to Adapt

A resident of a refugee camp in Nablus, a member of Fatah, used to worship at a mosque that is identified with Hamas. Recently he began to worship at a different mosque, one not identified with Hamas.

A resident of a refugee camp in Nablus, a member of Fatah, used to worship at a mosque that is identified with Hamas. As an employee of the public sector, he is one of tens of thousands of wage-earners who are not getting a regular salary. Once every few days, he would find a generous food package on his doorstep, put there by anonymous benefactors. Recently he began to worship at a different mosque, one not identified with Hamas. Since then there haven't been any packages. It's a story that is in accord with various impressions to the effect that Hamas finds indirect ways to reward its supporters.

These impressions are based on the legend that Hamas' charitable organizations have long created alternatives to the official welfare services. However, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is ahead of anyone else in providing emergency aid to Palestinian families: In the second quarter of 2006, 45.6 percent of the aid that was received by Palestinian families came from UNRWA. Second on the list is the Palestinian Welfare Ministry, with a 14.4 percent share of the aid. Various charitable organizations (many of them identified with Hamas) are responsible for no more than 3.5 percent of the aid. Nonetheless, this impression does have a connection to the general conduct of the Hamas leadership. Contrary to its pretension of being "the government of resistance to the occupation," in contrast to Fatah's "government of adaptation to the occupation," it already began to imitate its predecessor at the moment it established a government along the lines of the previous format, the one shaped by Yasser Arafat's self-deception that he was heading "a normal country."

The Hamas government has preserved, for example, fictive bodies like the Youth and Sports Ministry, and the Tourism Ministry, and has not established government ministries that would be fitting to its promise to fight the occupation: for example, a ministry for the struggle against the Jewish settlements in the territories or one for family reunification.

This tendency to emulation continued with the wave of political appointments in the various ministries, and reached its peak in the establishment of the Interior Ministry's military "operational force." Arafat and Fatah inflated the number of security mechanisms so as to have a way of paying a substitute to unemployment stipends and in order to create a loyal clientele. When the Israel Defense Forces attacked last week, in the middle of Ramallah, the earth swallowed up the people of the Presidential Guard who are always available to interfere with traffic in the city every time the cavalcade of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) passes through the streets. Nor did they and other security people prevent persons unknown from setting fire on Sunday to about 20 shops in the center of Ramallah.

What are they doing in Hamas? The same thing. They are setting up an organization of their own and promising to expand it to 12,000 people. They, too, are seeing to a clientele.

The Hamas government rejects claims that it owes its existence to the Oslo agreements. At the same time, however, it has sanctified the unjust distribution of the budget, Arafat's legacy, among civil and "security" ministries: In 2006, this imbalance was maintained, when only 7 percent of the budget was directed to the health ministry, as compared to 24.3 percent to the Ministry of the Interior and National Security. Here, for some reason, the budget that was determined by the Oslo government is sacrosanct.

Like the people of the security mechanisms under the Fatah government, a Hamas force has opened fire not only on its rivals, armed men of the Fatah, but also on unarmed demonstrators, who marched in Jabalya on Thursday evening with the aim of lifting the siege that the men of the "operational force" imposed on the home of a senior Fatah personage. An 18-year-old demonstrator was killed and about another 30 were wounded.

Behind the rival security mechanisms are Hamas and Fatah politicians who are fighting for control. Hamas argues, rightly, that ever since the elections, Fatah has been doing everything it can to bring about a putsch. But the Palestinian public did not elect Hamas because of its lack of recognition of Israel. It elected Hamas because it wanted a change in the ways of the independent government, limited though it might be. As time passes, however, Hamas is proving more and more that as a "government," it is good at declarations, weak in evincing concern for its people as a whole, and ready to adapt when it comes to the reality of the occupation.