On the one hand, Hamas is sending Palestinians to clash with Israeli soldiers along the Gaza-Israel border under the banner of "No to negotiations [with Israel]." On the other hand, Hamas is begging the Egyptians and the UN to help arrange a ceasefire with Israel. Pictured: Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh greets protesters in Gaza, at the border fence with Israel, on May 15, 2018. (Image source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
When the Palestinians launched the weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel border in March 2018, they said that their No. 1 goal was to force Israel to lift the "blockade" on the Gaza Strip. The protests, however, according to the organizers, have another goal: achieving the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their former homes inside Israel.
The protests, held under the banner "The Great March of Return," have since been hijacked by Hamas and other Gaza-based Palestinian armed groups who are using them to advance their political agendas.
The weekly demonstrations are no longer aimed either at lifting the "blockade" on the Gaza Strip or paving the way for millions of refugees and their descendants to return to their former homes.
On July 12, the weekly protests along the border with Israel were held under the banner of "No to negotiations [with Israel], no to reconciliation [with Israel] and no to recognizing the [Israeli] entity."
The Three No's appear based on the Khartoum Resolution issued at the conclusion of the Arab League summit convened three months after the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab countries: No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with it.
By choosing to hold the protests under the banner of the "Three No's," the organizers of the "Great March of Return" have again proven that the weekly demonstrations are not about improving the living conditions of Palestinians or easing restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip. Instead, the message the organizers are sending to the Palestinians and the rest of the world is: "We don't recognize Israel's right to exist and therefore we will never make negotiate or make peace with it."
Even some Palestinians have expressed astonishment over the Gaza protests' "Three No's," calling them "unrealistic" and "absurd."
Hassan Asfour, a former Palestinian Authority (PA) cabinet minister and political analyst, scoffed at the organizers' decision to use the "Three No's" during the protests along the border with Israel. Denouncing the decision as "damaging," Asfour said that the organizers of the demonstrations "have become stranger to the public scene and are engaging in political cynicism." He added:
"Unrealistic slogans never serve the national struggle. We do not believe there is a Palestinians who would have been able to read that slogan (the "Three No's") without being ridiculed because he sees how Arab interaction with Israel has become closer than interaction with the Palestinians."
Next week's Friday protests will be held under the banner "Burning the Zionist flag." The organizers announced that the "peaceful" and "popular" protests will continue "until the Palestinians achieve their rights." The protests along the border with Israel, they said, are also aimed at foiling US President Donald Trump's plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the "Deal of the Century," and abrogating the Oslo Accords signed in 1993 between Israel and the Palestinians.
In the eyes of Hamas and the organizers of the weekly demonstrations, burning the "Zionist flag" and foiling a peace plan to end the conflict with Israel is part of a "peaceful" and "popular" protest.
Last June, the weekly protests were held under the banner "The Friday of foiling the Bahrain conference" – reference to the recent US-led "Peace to Prosperity" economic workshop sponsored by the Trump administration. The Palestinian Authority called on Palestinians and Arabs to boycott the workshop on the pretext that it was part of Trump's scheme to "liquidate the Palestinian cause."
At the workshop, the Trump administration unveiled the economic portion of the "Deal of the Century" -- a plan that "represents the most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinian people to date and which has the ability to fundamentally transform the West Bank and Gaza and to open a new chapter in Palestinian history."
The thousands of Palestinians who participated in the protest against the Bahrain workshop were in fact saying no to economic prosperity and improving their own living conditions. Ironically, the organizers of the weekly protests were acting against their own declared goal: ending the "blockade" and improving the economy and living conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Last April, the organizers of the weekly protests again proved that the demonstrations near the border with Israel are totally unrelated to the suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. This April protests were held under the banner "Together against normalization [with Israel], " and The demonstration was directed against some Arab states that were accused by Palestinians of normalizing their relations with Israel.
Bizarrely, while the organizers of the weekly protests are voicing their opposition to negotiations with Israel, they are at the same time conducting indirect talks with Israel on ways to reach a truce between Israel and Hamas.
The indirect negotiations are being held under the auspices of Egypt and the United Nations. Last week, a senior Egyptian security delegation visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of an effort to preserve those truce understandings.
Hamas said that under the unwritten terms, Israel agreed gradually to lift restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip in exchange for calm. The Israeli measures include expanding the fishing zone and allowing Qatar to deliver financial aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. However, continued rocket and arson balloon attacks from the Gaza Strip toward Israel have hindered the implementation of the understandings.
On the one hand, Hamas is sending Palestinians to clash with Israeli soldiers along the Gaza-Israel border under the banner of "No to negotiations [with Israel]." On the other hand, Hamas is begging the Egyptians and the UN to help arrange a ceasefire with Israel. The pounding seems a way of trying to coerce the Israelis into bigger concessions, faster.
Hamas's two other "No's" -- no to recognizing Israel and no to making peace with Israel -- do not come as a surprise. In fact, Hamas appears to be reminding Palestinians of its true objectives as outlined in its 1988 charter:
"There is no solution for the Palestinian question expect through Jihad (holy war). Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors...[Hamas] believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered."
Evidently Hamas, instead of seeking ways to solve the economic crisis in the Gaza Strip, is taking advantage of the weekly protests to advance its ideology.
In addition, Hamas is now seeking to take Palestinians 52 years back, to the days when the Arab countries issued their three No's.
This is all that Hamas has to offer the Palestinians 12 years after its violent takeover of the Gaza Strip? Sadly, thousands of Palestinians continue to heed Hamas's call for heading to the border with Israel every Friday while ignoring that it is their leaders who are mainly responsible for dragging them from one disaster to another. Now that Hamas has again revealed its true intentions, it should change the name of the weekly protests from the "Great March of Return" to the "March to destroy Israel" or the "March to destroy peace."
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.