Anyone who watches the political satire Umbilical Cord, presently being staged in Gaza, realises that Hamas has changed colours, both in terms of political rhetoric, and behaviour. The play hints that Hamas is a proxy for Iran in the Palestinian territories, while its rival Fatah is proxy for the US, accusing both of ignoring the sufferings of the people in the Gaza Strip.
The play has raised eyebrows for its brave criticism of Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since the summer of 2007. According to its director, Hazeem Abu Hamid, the play is "an escape valve for what people say in secret; their frustration about the division and their anger over the foreign aid that interferes with decisions".
Many are questioning how and why Hamas allowed such a play to be staged in Gaza. Supporters of the Hamas government repeat the word "democracy" saying that it is an expression of artistic spirit and creativity. Opponents of the group, however, spin a very different tale, claiming that by allowing the play to run while maintaining a straight face, the leaders of Hamas have shown how indifferent they are to what people think on the streets of Gaza.
A third camp believes that Hamas, in fact, needs such a show at this stage to defuse rising anger in Gaza over deteriorating living conditions due to an international boycott since 2007. By all accounts, Hamas is softening its approach towards all matters, taking on a visibly more pragmatic policy. Last week, it released detained British journalist Paul Martin, much to the relief of the British government. Earlier, Esmail Haniya had announced that he was willing to give US President Barack Obama the benefit of doubt and sit down for serious peace talks with the Israelis, under the auspices of the US, provided that the Gaza siege is lifted.
Hamas also recently announced that it was willing to accept the Arab Peace Initiative, proposed at the Beirut Summit of 2002, which recognised Israel by the 1967 borders. Gone are the days of Hamas refusing any peace deal not based on the liberation of all of Palestine.
Gone also are the days of Hamas refusing any US role in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Repeated failure of reconciliation talks with Fatah and an Israeli government that refused to change course on colonies and the siege of Gaza, have both forced Hamas to think twice about how they approach the world, and their own constituency in the Gaza Strip.
In January 2010, one of its top commanders, Mahmoud Al Mabhouh was assassinated in Dubai through a complex homicide carried out by agents of Mossad. Last weekend, Israel arrested a leading member of the group's wing in the West Bank, Maher Udda, believed to be the Hamas founder in Ramallah, back in the early 1990s. And probably most disturbing to the group was an announcement that the son of one of Hamas' founders, Mossab Yousuf, has been working as a spy for Israel since 1996.
Yousuf, who has converted to Christianity and now lives in the US, is coming out with a book this month about his work with Israel called The Son of Hamas. Yousuf, whose father is in an Israeli prison, helped save the life of former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres and offered information that led to the arrest of Palestinian leader Marwan Al Barghouti, among others.
Hamas has distanced itself from the young man a traitor by all accounts and his own father has stated that Yousuf knew nothing confidential about Hamas, since he was never a ranking member of the party.
The entire ordeal, however, is a sad reminder of how the Israelis have infiltrated Palestinian society. They have bought off hundreds of informers and agents over the years. These agents helped Israel eliminate scores of influential Palestinians, starting with exiled members of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in the early 1970s, members of Hamas in 2002-04, and finally, Yasser Arafat himself in November 2004.
This sad reality is that one of the main reasons why although similar to Hezbollah, Hamas is actually much more vulnerable, given the extent of Israeli infiltration in Palestinian society. In Hezbollah, for example, polygamy is off-limits to top leaders of the group, to avoid infiltration by women agents, and so are ‘pleasure marriages' that are tolerated in Shiism.
The group keeps close tabs on everybody meeting with Hezbollah officials around the world, and sees to it that South Lebanon and the Hezbollah-stronghold of south Beirut is strongly sheltered from Israeli espionage. Poverty has not gripped people by the throat in Lebanon, and the geographic proximity of Syria offers valuable support to Hezbollah.
Hamas, on the other hand, is geographically close to a very hostile Egyptian government. Hezbollah is protected by the mountainous terrain in south Lebanon, which makes it difficult for Israel to track down warriors behind hills and within caves. In a flat Gaza, Hamas fighters make an easy target for Israeli warplanes.
Nobody understands how critical such problems are than the top officials of Hamas, based both in Gaza and Damascus. Poverty, hunger, and an indifferent international community that is headed by the US, have forced Hamas to change colours, while maintaining, nevertheless, its original desire to rule Palestine and see it liberated from occupation.
A new Hamas a wiser Hamas that has learned from its mistakes has indeed emerged from the continued siege of Gaza, the Al Mabhouh assassination, and the defection of Mossab Yousuf.
Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.