Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat – Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine have always tried to appear to be staunch allies. Both groups are Islamic movements committed to the [Palestinian] resistance; both groups exist outside the framework of the Palestinian Liberation Organization; both groups also until recently existed outside the framework of the Palestinian Authority, until Hamas decided to join [in 2006].
However there have always been cracks in the foundation of this “alliance” with regards to pivotal issues, most prominently with regards to Hamas’ participation in the 2006 legislative elections. Islamic Jihad refused to take part in any elections; the movement also refused to join the Hamas-led government and in fact clashed with this government when Hamas called for a truce with Israel.
Islamic Jihad also accused the Hamas movement of arresting its members and attempting to take over the mosques which were under its control, as well as attempting to monopolize Sunni and Shia [financial] support, which resulted in the financial crisis that the Islamic Jihad movement is currently facing.
Last Wednesday leading figures in the Hamas movement met with the Islamic Jihad leadership in Gaza. Sources in the Islamic Jihad movement revealed that the relationship on the ground with Hamas is normal and calm. Mushir al Masri, a leading figure in Hamas, accused Palestinian parties that he refused to name of trying to “drive a wedge” between [Palestinian] resistance movements saying, “The relationship between Hamas and Islamic Jihad is solid, and any partial differences with regards to the details of some issues will certainly not affect this relationship as there is agreement with regards to opinion and strategies. Islamic Jihad is the last group that could disagree with Hamas.” Al Masri added, “The attempts of some questionable media organs to drive a wedge between us [Hamas and Islamic Jihad] will not succeed, God willing.”
Contrary to Al Masri’s comments, the prominent Islamic Jihad commander Nafez Azzam confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that there are some political and juristic differences with Hamas; however he described these as “intellectual and juristic variations that do not undermine the issue of friendly relations.” Azzam added, “We disagree with- and continue to meet- Hamas, but our disagreements are not ideological.” Azzam highlighted one of the issues of contention between the two groups saying, “We disagreed with Hamas when it decided to participate in the  legislative elections, and we refused to join the government that it formed, just as we did with any previous or with any subsequent government. We disagree with the vision that Hamas has currently formed with regards to its foreign and international relations.”
Asked whether these disagreements are based on political or juristic differences, Azzam answered “the major cause [of these disagreements] is political.” Sources within Islamic Jihad informed Asharq Al-Awsat that an internal fatwa has been circulated by members of the movement that prohibited participating in elections or the involvement in government whilst Palestine is under occupation.
Another issue that has emerged recently, which also illustrates the extent of the political differences [between the two groups], can be seen in the statement issued by Hamas Mufti Yunus al Astal in which he announced his movement’s willingness to engage in dialogue with the US administration and Israel. Al Astal believes that the problems that exist in the Palestinian arena should be solved by those who represent the people, adding that those who represent the government do not enjoy religious or national authority. Al Astal informed a source close to Islamic Jihad that “the ambivalence towards those conducting the dialogue as well as the power they have to exert pressure is what prevents talks being held with Israel. The government has abandoned all of these pressure issues, and those conducting the talks do not have any national or religious authority.”
Islamic Jihad commander Nafez Azzam commented on this by saying that conducting any form of dialogue with Israel contradicts Islamic Shariaa law. He stated that dialogue cannot be conducted with Israel as long as it is occupying Palestinian territory, adding that “this is politically and religiously unacceptable.” Azzam also rejected engaging in dialogue with the US administration until it stops lending its support to Israel.