The most pressing question following the assassination of 65-year-old Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, founder of Hamas, is what will happen to the movement. Observers say Hamas, in light of the leadership and inspiration of its founding leader, succeeded in reinforcing the tradition of Shura –” the Islamic system of an elected council taking decisions based on majority rule –” and thus ensured internal democracy better than any other Palestinian faction of equal size. This is what has made Hamas so unified and cohesive.
According to Mohammed Ghazal, a member of Hamas’ political leadership in the West Bank, “the absence of Ahmad Yassin will not cause organizational confusion within the movement. Policies are formulated and developed at the highest organizational levels within the movement according to the Shura system and decisions are made according to democratic principles and are finalized according to [the will of] the majority, not according to one individual no matter how high-level they are. Sheikh Yassin, may God have mercy on him, was a leader and a symbol. However, from an organizational aspect, he was subject to the same standards applied to all members of the leadership.”
Political analyst and author of “Palestinian political culture,” Basem Zubeidi agrees. However, he believes the movement will feel a loss. “His [Yassin’s] departure will leave a void and will force Hamas to look towards new possibilities. In my opinion, this depends on the quality and development of the relationship with the Palestinian Authority.”
Still, he adds, “perhaps the effect will be less in Hamas then it would have been, for example in Fateh, if President Arafat were to be removed from the scene.”
Hamas was established at the start of the first Intifada in 1987 and is organized around a large network of social and charitable organizations and institutions. Political analysts say that in addition to the operations carried out by Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedin Al Qassam Brigades, Yassin’s moderate and pragmatic character were one of the things that irritated Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
“Sheikh Ahmad Yassin had what political scientists call the ability to rationalize political thought,” says Zubeidi. “This is what we saw when Hamas declared a truce and ordered a halt to its operations against Israel, and with the movement’s declaration, made by Sheikh Yassin himself, that they were willing to halt operations in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. We all remember the disputes between the leaderships inside and abroad. However, the Sheikh, with his clout and status was able to bring the movement’s viewpoint closer to that of the PA and other Palestinian factions.”
However, Israel disregarded the declaration, which was more or less a proposal to stop the bloodshed of civilians on both sides. “Hamas has moved closer to international legitimacy, but Israel has moved further away under the leadership of Sharon, who could never envision a Palestinian state on 22 percent of the land of historical Palestine,” Zubeidi continued.
On the Palestinian street, people believe that Hamas’ popularity climbs with each slain leader. According to 50-year-old Khalid Saleh, this is for more than one reason. “Hamas leaders are not involved in government corruption and are ready to sacrifice.”
Saleh, who owns a little humous shop in the Askar Refugee Camp near Nablus believes that Yassin’s assassination will be in the interest of the Palestinian people. “Maybe now the world will understand that it is Israel who provokes and attacks. The man was confined to a wheelchair and was leaving the mosque after dawn prayers. It was a disgraceful act. The world must understand this now.”
Al Najah University sociologist Iyad Barghouti, author of two books on political Islam in the Palestinian context, argues that “Israel’s assassination of Yassin will enable Hamas to make him a symbol and turn him into a new ‘prophet’ for the Islamic movements in Palestine, the region and the entire Muslim world. Israel has assassinated a symbol of the Palestinian resistance for many Muslims the world over.”
The assassination will create an even more intense conflict with the Israelis and, in the context of Hamas, will strengthen those less moderate. According to Zubeidi, Yassin’s killing will be like, “a bucket of cold water in the faces of a number of moderate Arab leaders.” This, in turn, he says, will have negative repercussions on the roles of these countries. Just days earlier, Jordan’s King Abdullah had visited Israel for a few hours and met with Sharon on his ranch in the Negev. Egypt has also been spending the past few weeks trying to calm the situation down.
But how will Yassin’s assassination affect the Palestinian arena? “
Hamas will become more stringent towards Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and Yassin’s absence will strengthen the relationship between Palestinian military factions,” says Barghouti. “The Palestinian Authority will lose and Israel will lose a numbers of its citizens and soldiers because Hamas will respond at any cost. Moderate Arab regimes such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia that maintained relations with Hamas through Sheikh Yassin will lose as well.”
Even leaders of Palestinian leftist movements see a tremendous and irreplaceable loss in Sheikh Yassin’s departure. “We have lost a man of dialogue in the Palestinian arena,” says Tayseer Khalid, member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine politburo.
Asem Abdel Hadi, politburo member of the Palestinian People’s Party says, “There is no doubt that his assassination and his representation as a symbol of the resistance in all its forms against the Israeli occupation indicates that Sharon is not interested in reaching a political solution with the Palestinians.”
According to Aref Hashem, a leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, “He was a unifying force between the Palestinian factions.”
During a commemoration ceremony in the center of Nablus the words of a spokesperson for the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Fateh’s military wing, bore this out: “We are all Ahmad Yassin,” he told the thousands who attended. “Brothers in Hamas and the Izzedin Al Qassam Brigades, Ahmad Yassin is not yours alone –” he belongs to the Palestinian resistance.”