Could it be that the Sharon-Mofaz government killed him in order to prevent Hamas from moving toward political moderation, a dreadful prospect for Israel since it would deprive the Zionist state and its allies of a strong propaganda tool against the Palestinian national movement?
Could it be that Sharon decided to kill Abu Shanab because he saw in him a rational and pragmatic voice that was capable of transforming the Islamic resistance group into a centralist and internationally-accepted political force, notwithstanding Israel’s unrelenting vilification and dehumanisation of the movement?
Or could it be that Abu Shanab, a father of eight children, was simply assassinated because he was the only Hamas leader “available” for assassination at the time, as an Israeli officer was quoted as saying in the Hebrew newspaper Haaretz?
The answer to these questions may not be known for some time to come. However, what is known to all and sundry is that the assassination of Abu Shanab caricatured the entire Israeli policy toward the Palestinian people, a policy whose modus operandi has always been and continues to be institutionalised, state-sponsored terror.
It is either “you submit, or we’ll kill you.” That, contend the Palestinians, encapsulates the Israeli policy in the occupied territories.
A few months ago, prior to the conclusion of the hudna or ceasefire on 29 June, Abu Shanab envisioned an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.
“What is the point in speaking in rhetoric? Let’s be frank, we cannot destroy Israel. The practical solution is for us to have a state alongside Israel,” he said.
Known for the moderate tenor of his statements, in contrast to the harsher rhetoric of the more hardline Hamas leaders, such as Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi, Abu Shanab assured the Israeli public that “the state we envision will not supersede Israel but one that lives with it.”
Grafitti honouring Abu Shanab
In the same interview, he was also quoted as saying that “when we build a Palestinian state, we will not need these militias (an allusion to the present guerrilla groups), all the needs for attacks on Israel will cease to exist. Everything will change to a civil life.”
Abu Shanab’s views were not only his own. They represented a small but growing trend within Hamas.
According to Ghazi Hamad, Editor of the Gaza-based Islamic Weekly, al-Risala, Hamas is slowly but definitely becoming more pragmatic and realistic.
“They (Hamas) have moved a long way from the recalcitrant stance which prevailed in the mid-19990s. Hamas now seems more rational, more open-minded, more realistic and more approachable than ever before.”
Hamad believes that what he calls the “rational, pragmatic camp” within Hamas would prevail only if Israel demonstrated a willingness to abandon its approach toward the Palestinian people which is based on coercion, insolence and arrogance of power.
"What is the point in speaking in rhetoric? Let’s be frank, we cannot destroy Israel. The practical solution is for us to have a state alongside Israel"
Ismail Abu Shanab
Saleh al-Naami, a Gaza journalist who writes for the London-based newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat, concurs.
“There is no doubt that Hamas is becoming more pragmatic and more moderate. Hamas, for its own expedience and survival, can’t ignore the geopolitical realities of the world. The movement is now realising that it is not enough to be right and that one has to be wise as well.”
This is not to say though that Hamas is about to abandon its ideology, which doesn’t accord any moral legitimacy to the Zionist state.
“For us, Israel is and will always be an illegitimate and immoral entity. I don’t think any Arab or Muslim would accord Israel any moral legitimacy.
"Israel took our homeland away from us and dispersed us to the four corners of the globe. It was an act of rape, pure and simple, and the rape has been going on for 55 years,” said Shaikh H. Abu Ahmed, a Ram Allah activist affiliated with the political wing of Hamas.
“But we can’t ignore the geopolitical reality called Israel. Yes it is immoral, yes it is illegitimate, but it is a reality, and I would be blind if I ignored that reality.”
In addition to its perceived pragmatism on Israel, Hamas has also been displaying more flexibility in its relations with other Palestinian political factions.
In fact, the movement has been largely successful in building working relationships based on cooperation and mutual trust with virtually all political groups including Fatah, the PLO mainstream faction headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat.
Abu Shanab's moderation
This has created a semblance of national consensus at the Palestinian political arena, unprecedented since the outbreak of the Aqsa Intifada nearly three years ago.
More significantly, this inter-factional harmony has effectively prevented the extremely galvanized Palestinian society from slipping into civil war, a goal Israel has never stooped trying to effect, using a variety of means and tactics.
According to recent opinion polls, Hamas popularity stands at 21-23% which puts the movement as second-among-equals vis-à-vis Fatah, the political backbone of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority.
Needless to say, this popularity is likely to grow even further if the current official PA strategy, namely the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, proves unrealistic and unachievable, as many Palestinian have already come to believe.