The web of relations between Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian, Arab, international and Israeli surroundings in which it operates is complex. The organization moves between quiet undermining, provocation and outright confrontation based on a dogmatic and maximalist Islamic vision and ideology.
In September 2018, the organization held its first-ever elections for a political bureau and Ziyad Al-Nakhaleh was elected secretary-general. The elections revealed the power-struggles conducted within the organization between the older and younger generation. Between Al-Nakhaleh and Akram Al-Ajuri who are close to Iran and Hezbollah and supported by them and Mohamed Al-Hindsi who is close to Turkey, Qatar, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Iran's success in ensuring that Al-Nakhaleh who lives in Lebanon and Al-Ajuri who lives in Damascus serve in key positions helps it maintain influence on the organization's military and operational agenda.
Palestine Islamic Jihad is a military and not a political organization like Fatah and Hamas, and therefore by its very doctrine it never ceases to challenge and influence the behavior of both of the leading Palestinian political movements. Since the Oslo agreement were signed, and since Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza strip and Hamas took control there, Palestine Islamic Jihad has become a military organization of rebels, not ready to back down even to the official Palestinian political leadership.
Islamic Jihad's insistence on remaining a military organization and not becoming part of the municipal and national political system has pushed it to the margins of the political arena and encouraged it to torpedo any attempt at diplomatic compromise with Israel. National reconciliation and the renewal of cooperation between Fatah and Hamas is likely to strengthen each one of them and harm the continued empowerment of Islamic Jihad. So it has no interest in promoting any such reconciliation.
Since Hamas took control of the Gaza strip in 2006, Islamic Jihad has not stopped goading it, publicly and privately, directly and indirectly. Islamic Jihad is doing to Hamas what Hamas did to the Fatah movement. It is not letting Hamas complete the transition from a military organization into a political movement striving for arrangements with Israel. Despite the appearance of military cooperation between Hamas and Islamic Jihad, there are disputes prevailing between them regarding the type of struggle to be waged against Israel and the alliances each one of them has made in the international sphere.
Criticism has recently intensified among the Gaza intelligentsia calling on Islamic Jihad and the other military factions to stop exploiting the situation of the local Palestinian population in order to advance their political and military agendas. These critics also want Qatar, Iran and Turkey to stop financing the military struggle, and say that war wreaks havoc and destruction on the Palestinians of Gaza and is turning young people into thieves, drug traders, and cripples and is resulting in emigration and reliance on humanitarian solutions rather than an independent Palestinian state.
Islamic Jihad's leadership understands that the residents of the Gaza strip will stop supporting its rationale of military opposition and its legitimacy, if it loses its power base. Therefore, it is important to position the organization high on the scale of patriotism and score points in the hearts of Gazans and force Hamas to behave like Islamic Jihad and prove that it is no less patriotic than it.
That's exactly what the late Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin did to Yasser Arafat after he signed the Oslo peace agreements. Yassin forced Arafat, as the father of Palestinian armed revolution to prove he was a national patriot no less than Hamas, and distance him from the diplomatic path. In this way Arafat became a tragic hero and the Palestinian people fell victim to the price being paid today.
The failure of the Hamas military leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar to achieve national reconciliation and remove the blockade on Gaza; fear of diminishing the patriotic image and support of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas military wing); erosion of his political status in favor of Saleh al-Arouri and Khaled Mashal, the political leaders living abroad; and the loss of public legitimacy due to the corrupt rule of Hamas - all these have allowed Al-Nakhaleh, Al-Ajuri and al-Arouri to embrace Sinwar and promise that they won't dare to stray from the path of the armed struggle and betray the alliance with Islamic Jihad.
The assassination of Baha Abu al-Ata and the attempted assassination of Salah Bahram Al-Ajuri, as important as they may be, should be part of a long-term political strategic process, otherwise we will again find ourselves facing a successor. Consequently, it is important, to implement policies and measures that will weaken Islamic Jihad and strengthen those Palestinian factions interested in diplomatic understandings, both in Ramallah and in Gaza.
The establishment of a joint national government of the Fatah and Hamas movements and the establishment of a national unity government in Israel could allow the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to advance political measures, and conduct a more effective campaign against the military organizations preventing this.
The author is a researcher in Palestinian politics and society and a fellow at Haifa University’s Chaikin Geostrategy Institute and a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism at the Herzliya InterDisciplinary Center.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 14, 2019
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