From demands to concessions: Hamas's evolving positions since 7 October

Since 7 October, Gaza’s rulers have gone from trumpeting its Al-Aqsa Flood attack to untrumpeted offers to lay down its weapons and become a political group only. It is a dramatic change of stance.

Axel Rangel Garcia

From demands to concessions: Hamas's evolving positions since 7 October

The beginning of Hamas’s 7 October attacks on Israel were announced by Mohammad Deif, head of its military wing—the Al-Qassam Brigades—in an audio message broadcast on Al-Aqsa TV. He said the operation was a reaction to countless Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians and its disregard for international law, noting Western support for Israel and wider international silence over what was happening.

Deif urged young Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, Occupied East Jerusalem, and Israel to stand in solidarity. “Whoever has a rifle should take it up; now is the time.” He also called on “our brothers in the resistance in Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria to unite with the resistance in Palestine”.

Issuing demands

On 1 November, several weeks into Israel’s response, Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas’s politburo, said: “The region will not know security or stability until our people’s rights to freedom, independence, and return are fulfilled.” The Hamas strategy, he said, starts with “stopping aggression, opening border crossings, moving to a prisoner exchange deal, and culminating in initiating the political process to establish an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and the right to self-determination”.

Haniyeh praised “the heroic efforts of the Palestinian resistance against massacres and the genocidal warfare perpetrated by Israel” and commended “the support of Arab and Islamic nations, resistance groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and the global movement advocating to stop Israeli aggression”.

In January 2024, Hamas went into more detail on its motivations in a document titled 'Our Narrative: Why Operation Al-Aqsa Flood'. It said the attacks were a necessary response to Israeli actions aimed at undermining the Palestinian cause.

Justifying its actions

It said the operation was a defensive move to end Israeli occupation, reclaim Palestinian rights, and pave the way for liberation and independence along the lines of other liberation movements worldwide. Its goals included achieving self-determination and establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, it said.

We were left with no option but to mobilise our strength in retaliation to the massacres aimed at crushing our people.

Abu Obaida, the spokesperson for the Al-Qassam Brigades

In the document, Hamas denied Israeli claims that it targeted civilians during the operation, saying its forces only targeted military sites. Avoiding harm to civilians, especially children, women, and the elderly, is a religious and moral commitment for all fighters of the Al-Qassam Brigades, it said.

In January, to mark 100 days since the start of the Gaza conflict, Abu Obaida, the spokesperson for the Al-Qassam Brigades, declared that "the battle of the Al-Aqsa Flood is pivotal in the history of our people and our nation".

In his first public address since 23 October, he said: "We were left with no option but to mobilise our strength in retaliation to the massacres aimed at crushing our people."

While commending the resistance in Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq, he asserted that "the battle of Al-Aqsa Flood symbolises the struggle for the Palestinian homeland, where the populace and the resistance unite on a singular front". Drawing an Islamic link, he said: "We must inform the two billion Muslims worldwide that the enemy has destroyed most mosques in Gaza and obstructed both the call to prayer and the prayer itself, marking a blatant religious conflict."

Issuing an apology

In late March, Hamas expressed regret for any shortcomings, delays, or missteps, whether intentional or unintentional, that may have caused distress. They committed to making every effort to ensure the well-being of their people, regardless of the cost.

It delivered a message of gratitude to the resilient people of Gaza, saying it was taking action to control prices and curb monopolies. Yet it also acknowledged its inability to fully match the endurance of the Palestinian people.

A youth riding on the back of a TukTuk flashes the V for victory sign as Palestinians flee their homes in the city of Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024.

In April, Obaida marked 200 days since 7 October in a televised address, saying the enemy was still struggling to repair its reputation and remained entrenched in Gaza. He said Israel was trying to convince the world that it had eliminated all resistance, which was not true, adding that the primary battleground for the resistance was the Occupied West Bank while urging the people in Jordan to up their efforts.

A promise to disarm

In April, Khalil al-Hayya, a member of the politburo, said Hamas was willing to enter into a ceasefire with Israel for a period of five years or more, conditional on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Once given statehood, he said Hamas would disarm and transition into a purely political entity, integrate its fighters into a national army, and join the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) in a united government for Gaza and the West Bank.

He confirmed Hamas's support for a fully sovereign Palestinian state across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, along with the return of Palestinian refugees in alignment with international resolutions based on the 1967 borders. Also in April, Hamas expressed disappointment at a statement from the White House (and endorsed by 18 nations) calling for the release of hostages in the Gaza Strip.

It said the statement did not address what it described as a pervasive genocidal conflict impacting its people, adding that it would consider any proposals that addressed the needs and rights of Palestinians. It also stressed the urgency of reconstruction, lifting the Gaza blockade, providing humanitarian aid, and agreeing to a prisoner exchange.

These efforts aim to fulfil the legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

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