Contrary to his tranquil nature, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh delivered an aggressive speech last week in which he challenged President Mahmoud Abbas, whilst declaring his total rejection of further reducing his government’s authority.
In front of a crowd of thousands attending Friday prayers, Prime Minister Haniyeh spoke in an antagonistic tone asserting, “I am not a puppet; neither are the Ministers nor is the government”.
I say this with all conviction; whether one agrees or disagrees with Prime Minister Haniyeh, that he is no puppet and could never be labeled as such. He is a man who reached his current position through hard work and that cannot be denied. His journey down the long road to the prime ministerial post was not paved for or facilitated in any way.
However, what Prime Minister Haniyeh can be criticized for is not recognizing that President Mahmoud Abbas formerly held the post of Prime Minister before him under the presidency of the late Yasser Arafat. During that period, Abbas, otherwise known as Abu Mazen, came under strong international pressures whilst President Arafat came under siege at the hands of the Israelis. We all knew Arafat as the politician who showered people with kisses but nothing else. Arafat gave Abu Mazen the entire playing field but deprived him of the necessary tools to play the game successfully.
There is more. Arafat had literally stripped Abbas of all authority that would assist him in his post, whilst Washington was welcoming Abbas to the extent that the relationship between George Bush Junior and Abu Mazen was given “10 out of 10” by observers. Arafat, however, did not take heed of this opportunity and stuck by one of his famous sayings that “wind cannot move a mountain.”
What did Abu Mazen do? Did he attack or threaten Arafat? No. Whenever he became agitated, he would refrain himself and go home or as the people of Sham (Greater Syria) once described it, Abu Mazen would “sulk” or go to visit his son in Qatar’s capital, Doha. Undoubtedly, Abu Mazen was not defeated, he was just playing politics the way it should be played.
The dilemma of Hamas today, with Haniyeh as one of the movement’s most prominent leaders, is that it is confronted by numerous challenges. Political Islam has failed in the region, as evident by the examples of Algeria and Sudan. We can also add Iraq to the list of failures, as members of fundamentalist parties took over the political ship and sunk it.
Nevertheless, the biggest danger of the Hamas experience that remains, which many observers have failed to notice, is that Hamas brings opposition into politics. Opposition is one thing, whilst politics is another. Oppositionists raise their voices and stir up society. Politicians will deliver sweet-talk and then elude from what they say.
It is for this reason that I confidently state that Haniyeh is no puppet and cannot be labeled as such; however, he should be thicker skinned. Above all, he must remember opposition is different to practicing politics.