Hamas in talks with Palestinian factions over new postwar Gaza rule

Senior Hamas official in Lebanon says the 'choice is ours' and dismisses US and Israeli proposals for future of enclave

Osama Hamdan speaking at a political gathering in Rabat, August 2014.  Getty Images
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Hamas is holding talks with various Palestinian factions to establish a new administration in postwar Gaza, a senior member of the group's exiled leadership in Lebanon told The National in an interview, dismissing various plans floated by the US and Israel as “unacceptable”.

These proposals included the imposition of an Israeli security presence, an Israeli-installed Palestinian civil administration and a multinational coalition to govern the ravaged coastal strip.

“We are now in dialogue with the Palestinian factions and all agree that the form of the next phase is a Palestinian national decision,” Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, said during the interview.

”As for how and with what mechanisms, that is part of the ongoing dialogue."

Israel, mired in a war launched with the stated goal of eliminating Hamas and freeing hostages, has suggested a number of day-after scenarios for postwar Gaza.

The US, a staunch backer of Israel, has pushed for renewed negotiations over a two-state solution between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and proposed Gaza be run by a revitalised Palestinian Authority – a suggestion that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected.

According to Mr Hamdan, Israel and the US possess little leverage with which to impose their vision of a postwar Gaza.

“Israel is trying to impose their decision but the choice remains ours,” he said. “Talk of the day after is a discussion for us as Palestinians, not an external discussion. As Palestinians, we decide.”

Hamas leverage

More than four months into its assault on the enclave, the Israeli military has caused widespread death and destruction through aerial and ground bombardment, displacing about 85 per cent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million and killing more than 24,000 Palestinians – the vast majority of them women and children, local health authorities say.

This war is Israel’s longest since 1948, when the state was created following the mass forced exodus of Palestinians.

Israeli troops have faced severe military impediments as they fight Hamas’s well-prepared armed wing, Al Qassam Brigades, on largely unfamiliar territory.

Despite the great human toll, Al Qassam Brigades have managed to keep Israeli hostages hidden in their vast underground tunnel system while maintaining the ability to co-ordinate and inflict harm on Israeli troops – thus, according to Mr Hamdan, maintaining Hamas’s negotiating leverage.

Ending the war on Hamas’s terms means negotiations towards the future of a Palestinian state can also begin by resting on their conditions.

“Our most important achievement is that the world has begun talking about the rights of Palestinians,” Mr Hamdan said. “The primary goal is the overall national issue: an independent and fully sovereign Palestinian state.

Our most important achievement is that the world has begun talking about the rights of Palestinians
Osama Hamdan, a senior member of Hamas' leadership

But Hamas’s upper hand has come at a staggering human cost: a quarter of Gaza’s population is starving, according to the UN, no fully functioning hospitals remain and countless entire families have been wiped out.

Israel, unable to defeat Hamas so far, has forged on in a brutal offensive on the Gaza Strip that various human rights groups, as well as the UN, have described as collective punishment in breach of international law. Last week, Israel was tried at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on allegations of genocide against Palestinians.

“No one will stop us,” Mr Netanyahu said in a defiant speech after the hearing. “Not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anyone else.”

Hamas was aware its exclusive rule of Gaza would be challenged after its surprise October 7 attack, in which about 1,200 people were killed, prompting Israel’s invasion of the enclave.

“In terms of the price we have paid, we’re fighting a major battle for national liberation,” Mr Hamdan said, implying that the group’s achievements outweighed the potential end of their exclusive control over the Gaza Strip. “We were prepared to pay the price.”

He envisions the next step in a postwar Gaza to be the establishment of a Palestinian “transitional interim government” to oversee relief and construction efforts, followed by “general elections in which the Palestinian people elect their leadership”.

“But the resistance will certainly be at the heart of any equation,” he said. "Hamas will remain as a partner in managing Palestinian national affairs and decisions.”

Mr Hamdan dismissed suggestions that under a potential postwar deal Hamas and Al Qassam leaders would be expelled from Gaza to other countries.

"I've honestly only ever heard this in the media," he said.

Hostages are key

Israeli officials have said the offensive in Gaza will continue until all hostages are returned and Hamas’s military and governing capabilities are dismantled, in addition to any remaining military threat.

Hamas says the release of a now unknown number of Israeli hostages is dependent on a long-term ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all Palestinian detainees in Israel.

It is estimated about half of the 240 hostages initially captured were released during a week-long truce in November, almost all of whom were women and children.

Mr Hamdan said Hamas was not in possession of any civilians but did not rule out the possibility that other factions such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad could be.

"The Israelis tried to manipulate the list and say we're holding female [civilian] hostages but they are all female soldiers," he told The National. "We informed mediators that they were captured while they were on military bases."

The group has been consistent in its demand that Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas on October 7 will not be released unless an “all-for-all” deal is agreed by the two sides, under which all Palestinian detainees would be freed from Israeli prisons.

Most of the hostages are believed to be held by Hamas but others are thought to be captive by other Palestinian factions.

"If there are any civilians left [in Gaza], it's not because this is our will," Mr Hamdan told The National. "There may be [civilians] but it is a limited number because during the temporary truce period we had discussions with our connections and gathered them from different areas around the strip."

The end of the war in Gaza most likely hinges on the release of Israeli captives: for Hamas, it can propel it towards a ceasefire and open dialogue over a political settlement in its favour. For Israel, freeing the hostages means not capitulating to Hamas demands.

But as the war drags on, hope for the remaining captive Israelis has dwindled.

Hamas military wing releases video of Israeli hostages

Hamas military wing releases video of Israeli hostages

On Monday Al Qassam Brigades released a video featuring three Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

The video begins with three captives speaking to camera who identify themselves as Yossi Sharabi, 53, Itai Svirsky, 38, and Noa Argamani, 26, all taken on October 7.

In the video, Ms Argamani is the last to speak and describes being trapped under the rubble after an Israeli air strike, then explains that her co-captives, Mr Sharabi and Mr Svirsky, were killed in the strike.

"While we are alive, bring us home," she pleaded.

Mr Hamdan acknowledged some hostages had died in Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip or in the crossfire between Israeli and Al Qassam troops during failed rescue operations but declined to share the number.

"In two [Israeli rescue] attempts, the prisoners were killed during the operation, along with the Israeli soldiers" who tried to rescue them, he said.

Updated: January 17, 2024, 11:12 AM