Labelling Hamas top leader as “global terrorist” by the United States proves that Donald Trump has little understanding of the Middle East politics and the people who live there.
So, the US government has labelled Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh as a “specially designated global terrorist” and imposed a raft of sanctions against him, which basically means freezing any US-based assets he might have.
I have met Haniyeh twice in Gaza, in his capacity as the democratically-elected Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, and the likelihood of him having any assets in America is laughable. He is probably the only political leader in the world today who still has his home in a refugee camp; if he has any trappings of wealth I’ve not seen any evidence of it.
Basically, what we have here is another example of how Donald Trump’s administration shows little understanding of Middle East politics, the people who live there or the consequences of America’s actions. Aside from anything else, Hamas has never, ever, taken its legitimate resistance to Israel’s military occupation beyond the borders of historical Palestine. That’s a fact, so to label him and others like him as “global terrorists” is totally nonsensical, no matter which way you look at it.
Turkey has already expressed dismay at the US decision to add Haniyeh’s name to its increasingly meaningless terrorist blacklist. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy fired off a disapproving written statement, saying that the US move “disregards the realities on the ground” and that he fears it could undermine the Middle East Peace Process, “including the efforts for intra-Palestinian peace and reconciliation.”
Haniyeh is, without doubt, a hugely respected figure across the Middle East among secular and Islamic groups alike. He is certainly one of the only political leaders in the region who has led all-important Friday prayers and is both known personally and loved by countless Palestinians.
I met the former Prime Minister at his home after Israel’s devastating military offensive, the 2008/9 Operation Cast Lead. The visit was poignant for all of us as this was Haniyeh’s first visit to his home in more than 100 days because of the very real threat of being assassinated by Israel; the Zionist State has a proven track record of targeting Hamas political leaders.
He met our delegation from the Viva Palestina Aid Convoy and had charted our progress driving scores of British ambulances across North Africa to reach the war-torn, battered Gaza Strip. As he sat talking to us, a door burst open and a toddler came hurtling in and grabbed his leg protectively while surveying our group suspiciously. She was clearly fed up that we were eating into her precious time with her father and the affection with which he reacted to his daughter, one of 13 children, told us all that Ismail Haniyeh is very much a family man. I discovered later that apart from his own family — who live very modestly — Haniyeh has also adopted Palestinian orphans.
Paying directly out of his monthly wages in the besieged Gaza Strip, in June 2006 he saw to it personally that 12-year-old Huda Ghalia would be cared for financially. Heart-breaking video images of her running and screaming for her father along a Gaza beach haunted all who viewed it on that awful day when her father was killed by the Israelis. Falling on to the sand, crying inconsolably beside her father’s body, she came to epitomise the Palestinian struggle.
We learned later that all of her family had been killed, including her stepmother and five of her siblings. They had been enjoying a family picnic when a barrage of Israeli shells turned the beach into a slaughterhouse. In an emotional ceremony last year, Huda graduated with a law degree from the Islamic University of Gaza.
Incidentally, when Hamas took office to run the Palestinian Authority, the sanctions imposed on the Palestinians for voting the “wrong” way meant that money was extremely tight. Haniyeh ordered the salaries of PA employees to be paid before any official or minister took a wage. That was a measure of his integrity and sense of duty to his people.
I first met Prime Minister Haniyeh when he presented the international peace activists on board the two Free Gaza boats which broke the siege of the coastal enclave in August 2008 with Palestinian diplomatic passports, myself included. It was a rare occasion and he was smiling broadly as he asked us all to become ambassadors for his country.
However, I imagine that the US decision to put his name on a terrorist list will induce another broad smile because of the irony of it all. Haniyeh is key to any future peace negotiations and the blundering, blinkered fools within the Trump administration have now ruled themselves out of being able to sit down and talk to him.
Like it or not, Hamas is a major part of Palestinian politics. Former Middle East Peace Envoy Tony Blair was a failure in the role, but admitted recently that it was a mistake to leave Hamas out of negotiations. When the Palestinian people exercised their democratic right and voted for the Islamic Resistance Movement it enraged US President George W Bush and the then British Prime Minister Blair. They moved immediately to cut off aid and sever relations with the newly-elected Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. The election won by Hamas, by the way, was judged free and fair by international monitors.
Once again the US has found itself out of step and off key with Middle East politics, exposing why it can never be considered as an impartial peace broker. The silly decision to impose its meaningless sanctions on Haniyeh, the only Arab leader to be born, educated and still living in a refugee camp will damage the White House far more than it will affect the Hamas leader.
He is one of the leading critics of Trump’s decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, another US move that drew widespread condemnation and derision across the Arab and Muslim world. America is thus probably the last place that Haniyeh would invest any spare cash; he’s much more likely to use it to benefit Gaza’s orphans and refugees.
The Palestinian Authority under Ismail Haniyeh’s premiership was largely free of the corruption that dogs the Abbas-led regime. Hamas cannot be bought like the Fatah opportunists in Ramallah, which is probably why they are favoured by the West and Israel, for whom they act as a security screen.
In terms of strategic blunders, designating Haniyeh as a “global terrorist” is up there with some of the biggest so far by the Trump White House, but perhaps that is why the move has been made. Israel is terrified of seeing Fatah and Hamas reconcile and form a truly national Palestinian government because that will expose the lie that it is the Palestinians who are stalling on peace. The status quo suits Israel and its colonial occupation much better; divide and rule is an old colonialist tactic, and we all know it.
The great thing is that Ismail Haniyeh and everyone else who is sincere about trying to find a just peace in the Middle East will simply ignore the terrorist designation and continue to resist Israel’s brutal military occupation until the day dawns that justice for the Palestinians will be seen to be done. That day will not be long in coming.