Dr. Zuhur, the author of <em>Hamas and Israel: Conﬂicting Strategies of Group-Based Politics</em> (Strategic Studies Institute, Army War College, 2009), is director of the Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Diasporic Studies.
A shadow has fallen over the new years of 1430 and 2009 from Israel’s air assault and ground invasion of Gaza, Operation Cast Lead. Not that any aspect of the Palestinian experience has been easy or well communicated to the global public, but it does seem that post-9/11 Western discourse on Arabs and Muslims has led to particularly biased reporting of the conﬂict, a glib assumption by major networks that their American viewers see the world just as Benjamin Netanyahu or Michael Oren do. Comprehensive reportage was really impossible; the Israelis barred journalists from Gaza, and the wildest sorts of allegations are being made. Still, we have an idea of the human impact: more than 1,300 Palestinians have been killed and more than 5,300 wounded, compared to thirteen Israeli deaths (some by friendly ﬁre), as of January 18, 2008. The “why” of this latest adventure is harder to fathom, unless Israel truly desires to remain in a state of conﬂict, and for that conﬂict to worsen. This ought to be given serious consideration; it is not for nothing that Israel has become an exporter of weapons, security systems and “security training.” Moreover, most Israelis remain physically segregated from Palestinian suffering and many maintain a comfortable and secure lifestyle that may not be much of an incentive to peace. Others live far less comfortably, travel by public transport but lack any sympathy for Palestinians, not only due to their separation from or ignorance of them, but due to fear, enlarged by the media.
Declarations like “Hamas has to be taught a lesson” belie the fact that Hamas is a movement located throughout the Palestinian national body, just as Hizbollah represents large numbers of Shii Muslims in Lebanon, and as an accepted political party, cannot be easily extricated from the nation. Most curious are Tzipi Livni’s declarations of “success,” which were implicitly, if subtly, challenged by Fareed Zakaria and others who have questioned the real military intent of reconquering Gaza. If by “successful” Livni means that there will be an end to Hamas, she is wrong. To claim that the goal is to reduce the numbers of rockets (which have killed very few Israelis) ﬁred into southern Israel from Gaza since long before Hamas actually assumed political control of that area, is also clearly nonsense. That is not the goal of a massive air and ground campaign. At the very least, we can assume that there is no Israeli desire for peace with the Palestinians.
If Livni, instead, means that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are recouping some of the status lost in the summer of 2006, she is in denial. The long-term effect of the sight of dead and wounded Palestinian children and other civilians undermines the respect for life that must be part of any solution that will bring true security to the Israelis. I have recently spent several years studying Hamas as a movement and the way that it paradoxically arose to challenge all of Israel’s assumptions, while transforming itself and gaining more legitimacy, despite inter-Palestinian strife and harsh treatment by Israel of the entire Palestinian population in an effort to punish or tarnish Hamas. It seems all my insights were wrong. I thought it would be far more logical for Israel to re-engage in a tahdiya (ceaseﬁre) with Hamas when the previous one ended, either ofﬁ cially on December 16, 2008, or when Israel had essentially cancelled it by launching assassinations of Hamas leaders on November 5. The Israeli attack on Gaza had clearly been planned a long time beforehand. The IDF hoped to weaken Hamas at a time when they were certain of less international interference and greater political beneﬁt to Tzipi Livni’s government prior to the Israeli elections.
These have been the most severe attacks since 1967, and civilians have been the primary victims. Opening ﬁ re on ﬁve people daring to venture out to the market in Gaza City does not make the market a Hamas missile launcher. The inane Israeli-Western claim that Hamas uses “human shields” is just the opposite; Israel has for years used Palestinians as human shields in its raids on civilians in their homes. The deep cynicism and desperation produced by this small war, on the heels of a protracted boycott and effort to starve out the legitimately elected Hamas government, cannot produce a favorable attitude toward Israeli authority or any other. One also sees that the meaning of “occupation” is being forgotten or distorted in a discourse that continues, falsely, to juxtapose Israel and Palestinian power as if they were symmetrical. Indeed, they are not.
Hamas survived the air and ground war. It was not destroyed inside or outside of Gaza. This large movement has a very strong presence in the West Bank and has always, necessarily, maintained a presence in Jordan and Syria. However, survival is probably not enough for Hamas to fulﬁll its self-deﬁned priority: to serve the Palestinian people and help them end the occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Neither sumud (steadfastness) nor jihad in a threatened third Intifada are appropriate ways forward. Will rocket attacks cease? Will suicide attacks increase? Probably some aspect of violent resistance will continue until and unless a political resolution to the conﬂict is reached. The current Israeli government has not demonstrated any desire for such a solution.
When I wrote this essay, the media were still barred from Gaza so as to prevent reporting of the situation on the ground. A foreign journalist from within Gaza reported on the incredibly fearful state of Palestinians, the lack of medical treatment, and the sense that the Israelis simply intended to inﬂict whatever harm was possible. Since Israel possesses the technology to hit missile launchers with accuracy, the ill intent towards all Gazans is obvious. At least 500,000 Palestinians have been displaced, and more than 4,000 buildings were destroyed. The enormous damage to infrastructure included mosques, government buildings, the Islamic University (where the Israelis’ astoundingly false claim is that weapons were being manufactured), the police station, residential buildings, fuel-oil facilities and so on. Here we can note a trend: overwhelming military force has been used to destroy infrastructure and inﬂ ict collective punishment in this campaign, in the 2006 war on Lebanon (it was not merely a war on Hezbollah), and in the 2002 campaign that ﬂattened Ramallah, Jenin and other parts of the West Bank. The conclusion to be drawn is that the Israeli military wish to destroy any basis for a Palestinian state.
Moving away from the issue of manipulation of the discourse over the conﬂict, let us examine Israeli strategy against Hamas. It is, after all, just one aspect of Israel’s Arab policies. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have a uniﬁed position towards the other, and neither has a monolithic view of Hamas. Each group is socialized through families, neighborhoods, educational systems and employment experiences. And for Israelis, there is also the military. According to Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling, Israelis had an image of themselves as a uniﬁ ed society formed under an earlier self-sacriﬁcing, land-working Zionist vision. This false image has been replaced by seven cultures, all of which have been affected by the increasing role of religion and militarism: the Ashkenazi upper middle class, the national religious, the traditionalist mizrahim, the “Arabs” (Palestinians), the Orthodox religious, the new Russian immigrants and the Ethiopian immigrants.1 A cultural code of Jewishness, for the devout or not-so-devout, and a nonsecular system are the only commonalities of six of these, who now believe in the civil religion of security, in which the non-military are subordinated to the military. Three different orientations towards the Arab and Muslim enemy pertain: the securitist, the conﬂict-oriented and the compromise-oriented.2
The securitist view is that Israel would be doomed by a major military defeat and that the state owes the Israeli people security from this fate. Both war and peacemaking are functions belonging to the military, according to this way of thinking. The conﬂict-oriented aim to retain as much land as possible of historic/Biblical Israel for moral and religious reasons and not just security. These groups include those who want the complete elimination of a Palestinian threat, whether by permanent conquest and deportation, relocation or other dispersal of Palestinians living where, in their view, Jews should live. But securitists also include those who can conceive of a Palestinian Authority (PA) that, completely cowed, somehow accepts Israel’s security “needs.” Securitists and the conﬂict-oriented use the term “security” to refer to demographic challenge as much as violence. Compromise-oriented Israelis believe that a peace that ensures Israel acceptance in the region would provide security. Hence, Israel’s desired endstate — free of enemies, free of non-Jews, democratic yet halakhic (following Jewish law) — is all but unachievable and is ﬁ ercely disputed among the three security orientations that cut across its polyglot culture. Of the three, the compromise-oriented are most willing to engage in dialogue with Hamas.
Israeli security culture, in a population where all serve in the military, is not exactly like that in the United States, nor like the Palestinian “security culture” forged under occupation and without sovereignty. When the United States seemingly borrows from Israeli military and counterterrorist policies, as it has been accused of doing in Iraq,3 there are certain qualitatively different assumptions that hold, even if the defensive framework (a defense against global terror) takes shape in policies that break with, for instance, the notion of “purity of arms” or not attacking civilians.4 Mira Sucharov has shown how Israel has developed a defensive security ethic (part of its security culture) but continuously pursued an offensive security doctrine.5 This paradox makes it easier to comprehend Hamas’ intention of defending Muslims through jihad, if necessary.
Hamas’s goal is the liberation of Palestine. It is not, as is often claimed, the destruction of the Jews. Yes, its “frame of reference” is Islam.6 However, Hamas is unlike the salaﬁst or al-Qaedist groups that have burgeoned since 9/11. The goal of seeking a more Islamic society is subordinate to Hamas’s nationalist or political agenda. Its leaders have differentiated the fostering of an Islamic society from the goal of an Islamic state,7 since they want to represent the aims of the Palestinian people. And the liberation referred to, says Naser al-Din al-Shaer, former PA deputy prime minister and minister of education (under the Hamas government), is from a “real occupation of 60 years,” unlike what we have witnessed in Iraq, which most consider to be a temporary phase.8 “Occupation” is a veriﬁable legal status that applies to the West Bank and Gaza. It is a question of denial of political and human rights. It is not a slogan, as the Israeli ambassador to the United States has asserted. If Israel can reoccupy Gaza at will and in a day’s time, then its withdrawal was meaningless. It was all for public consumption.
Palestinian society is a composite, divided between those who remained in their original homes and refugees, including those who have had to ﬂ ee multiple times. The refugees living outside of the West Bank and Syria comprise a very large number people. They have supported both armed conﬂict and negotiation and live in varying circumstances. They are treated as citizens in Jordan, but not in Lebanon or Syria. Hamas has refused to exclude them from the Palestinian issue, despite pressure from Israel. Even Israelis who consider themselves liberal and who participated in the Oslo-era “dialoguing” laughed at Palestinians’ insistence on discussing the right of return or reparations, once again revealing the effects of a long-standing power asymmetry and the socialization of dominance.9 Within Gaza and the West Bank, public opinion has been affected by the presence of refugee camps and the developmental needs of Palestinian society as well as the great failure of Oslo and political divisions such as the split within Fatah between those returning from Tunis and those living in the occupied territories who came of age during the ﬁ rst Intifada. While no political entity could be highly effective, Hamas has at least seemed to many people to have the cleaner hands and to have been more committed to ﬁghting for the rights of ordinary Palestinians.
As with Israelis, each sector of society — professionals, workers, refugees, students, members of the historical elites, and unemployed or underemployed youth — are divided in their views about their experience and future. Individuals’ life histories reveal that many of the young men involved in militance since the second Intifada are torn between what they see as the primacy of the conﬂict and the normal desire for stability and family life.10 Young and old are under constant pressure and must endure a continuous succession of emergencies — detentions, prison sentences, loss of employment, destruction of their homes, or other such events that impact their family members. These are not simply the existential threat impressed on Israelis in high school and military training.11 Many Palestinians are traumatized and fear leaving their homes; every family has been impacted by the huge numbers of men imprisoned.
Hamas’s social services have attempted to ﬁll gaps for over 20 years, dating back to the organization’s infancy. As the Israelis exploited the rift between Fatah and Hamas, social-service needs changed. For instance, Hamas provided aid to numerous families of prisoners during the chaotic and corrupt 2004-05 period because women family members were severely harassed when they came to collect prisoner stipends from Palestinian Authority ofﬁcials. After the PA took over Hamas agencies, schools and services in the West Bank last summer, ordinary people decried the non-functioning of these services, because the Islamist movement had run effective and qualiﬁ ed programs.
Among Palestinians and Hamas are those who hold out hope for a political solution and hard-liners who think that militaristic Israel can only understand force. They include professionals and others who have tried to use the new global connectivity — the media, the internet, messaging — to their advantage and some who used to believe in negotiation but were worn down by the endless cycles of negotiating and dialoguing that seem never to erode Israeli inﬂexibility and paranoia and the never-ending waves of Israeli violence against Palestinians. For Palestinians, their Arab, Muslim and Palestinian identities all carry negative weight and instant stereotyping in any interaction with Israel, no matter how small: making a phone call, paying a bill, moving through a checkpoint, driving to the airport. The Arab and Palestinian parts of their identities were recovered and honored through political activism.
Hamas has allowed them to express their Muslim identity as well. Hamas’s Islamist orientation responds to the challenges Palestinians face as Muslims. Israeli policies were designed to uncouple nationalist and Muslim sentiments. Palestinians as a whole lost control in 1948 over their system of religious education and the appointment of clerics, which fell to Israel, Egypt and Jordan.12 They could not visit numerous holy places, mosques and tombs, many of which, like the mosque of Beersheva, remain closed. Palestinians in one area are blocked from travel to another, preventing visits to religious sites or persons. Meanwhile, Islam is taught by Israelis in an Orientalist tradition, and Islam’s traditionalism, recalcitrance to modernity, and exotic and violent features are emphasized.
Palestinians have historically faced obstacles in performing the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, one of the ﬁve basic requirements of Muslims. In 2002, Israel prevented all Palestinians under 35 from going on hajj. In November 2003, a large number of Palestinians (including women and elderly persons) were denied permission to go on the umrah (the lesser pilgrimage) during Ramadan. In August 2007, 3,000 pilgrims were stranded at the crossing into Egypt. In late December 2007, over 1,000 people were denied entrance back into Gaza from Egypt. Egypt had allowed them into its territory to perform hajj, but Israel had closed the border to punish Hamas and, despite its promotion of Mahmoud Abbas, gave him no authority to solve the problem. This created a diplomatic dilemma for Egypt; Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni authorized the arrests of Hamas pilgrims and took Egyptians to task13 for not “dealing with” the Gazan-Egyptian tunnels. Israel also required Egypt to put more pressure on Hamas regarding the captured Israeli Gilad Shalit and other issues.
Being outside the fractious pro- and anti-Arafatist struggle within the PLO, and the conﬂicts among Fatah’s factions and its corrupt aspects, also lent credence to Hamas. Its leaders have earned their reputation for decency, practicality and hard work in public service.
It is frequently stated that neither Israel nor the United States can meet with Hamas (although meeting is not illegal; materially aiding terrorism is, if proven) because the latter will not “recognize” Israel. In contrast, the PLO has recognized Israel’s right to exist and agreed in principle to bargain for signiﬁcantly less land than the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip, while it is not clear that Israel has ever agreed to accept a Palestinian state. The recognition of Israel did not bring an end to violence; wings of various factions of the PLO have fought Israelis, especially at the height of the second (al-Aqsa) Intifada.
Recognition of Israel by Hamas, in the way that it is described in the Western media, cannot serve as a formula for peace. Hamas moderates have, however, signaled that the organization implicitly recognizes Israel, and that even a tahdiya (a calming, minor truce) or a hudna (a longer-term truce) obviously implied recognition.14 Khalid Mishal states, “We are realists” and there “is an entity called Israel,” but “realism does not mean that you have to recognize the legitimacy of the occupation.”15
Therefore, when Western telepersonalities claim, “No ceaseﬁre can be called until Hamas ‘recognizes’ Israel and stops ﬁring rockets,” this matter is fraught with tension for Hamas. This tension came to the fore when observers interpreted Hamas’s participation and signing of the so-called Prisoners’ Document (National Conciliation Document of the Prisoners) in 2006 (second version, June 28),16 which suggests just this implicit interpretation of recognition of Israel. Due to that popular perception, Hamas removed its signature. However, the document has been the basis of various sets of negotiations, such as the 2006 initiative of Qatar’s ruler, Shaikh Hamad, to heal inter-Palestinian rifts.
Hamas has come to accept a two-state vision, even with the contradiction in terms between this aim and the rights to historic Palestine. However, it may be that the Israeli government is now signaling that it rejects the two-state solution or will never grant the powers of a “state” to a Palestinian “entity.”
Mishal was asked by Al-Hayat in 2006:
Q: Do you accept a solution based on two states, an Israeli and a Palestinian, according to President George Bush’s vision?
Mishal: As a Palestinian, I am concerned with the establishment of a Palestinian state and not concerned with the occupation state. Why is the Palestinian being asked and the establishment of two states becomes one of his objectives and principles? The Zionist state exists. I am talking about my absent Palestinian state. I was the one deprived of my state, sovereignty, independence, freedom and self-determination. Therefore we ought to concentrate on how to achieve our rights. I am concerned with the establishment of my state.
Q: Do you agree with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah’s remarks: “A Palestinian state within the 1967 territories and a truce?”
Mishal: This is a stand in the movement, and it was adopted inside it. The movement accepts a state within the 1967 borders and a truce.17
Hamas has not admitted excesses in attacks, particularly suicide attacks on civilians, but it takes the defensive when discussing this issue, even when the “martyrs” are not Hamas members. Hamas’s use of violence and its potential relinquishing of violence are best analyzed at the level of the group or social movement, rather than at the level of the individual. Hamas has consistently declared that it would avenge the Palestinian people, particularly Israeli attacks on civilians. It has, however, stayed its hand during particular periods. What most concerned Israelis were suicide attacks and not rockets ﬁred at Sderot. We must ask, what changed? Hamas moved beyond the frequent use of suicide attacks and entered into a tahdiya in the hope of being permitted to govern in Gaza. They were not able to, as the Israelis continued their boycott of that area. However, the Israelis could not claim that suicide attacks motivated the recent war on Gaza; instead, rocket ﬁ re, inaccurate and far less threatening than the Israeli response, has had to sufﬁce. Why would Hamas allow the rocket ﬁre to continue? Or is the proper question, why was this Hamas’s only violent response?
FORCE, VIOLENCE AND AUTHORITY
When the Israelis call for “teaching Hamas a lesson,” what they really mean is that they wish to maintain authority through the threat of violence, even over a territory with only ﬁctive autonomy. Unfortunately, one of the effects of Israeli authority and occupation has been to encourage the violence of Palestinians towards each other. This has to be overcome before there can be a viable solution, though it is not a precondition to some type of negotiation with Israel. Hamas has been, in many cases, less politically coercive or violent than Fatah, at least in internal matters, although it has gone after collaborators and criminals.
Hamas did, however, confront Fatah when the latter, or at least a force within it, planned to ﬁght Hamas in Gaza. Then it engaged in low-level violence against Fatah elements, whose complaints were prominently featured in the Israeli media, along with false reports that Hamas was about to impose Islamic penal codes.19 Hamas’s strength in the West Bank is a complicated matter. Prudently holding back from violence, Hamas and ordinary Palestinians faced PA security arrests and detentions “for half the night and Israeli ‘security’ for the other half of the night” under the Fayyad-Abbas administration.20 Hamas had to deal with the dismantling of its educational and social initiatives over all the West Bank for a year and a half after it began its struggle to govern in Gaza. Citizens of West Bank towns were not only arrested on a nightly basis by the IDF and Fatah-allied PA security ofﬁcers, but many were tortured and mistreated.21 In just one week, Israel made 38 military raids or incursions into the West Bank, killing a child, wounding two others, and abducting 48 civilians without charge, some of them juveniles. This included a raid into al-Fara refugee camp, in response to children demonstrating at the funeral of the child killed, and a demonstration against the separation wall at Bilin.22 Among those tortured in PA custody was a 67-year-old man who had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage from a severe beating. 23 PA ofﬁcers raided and closed the Islamic schools and charities, including one with 1,000 students, in Nablus, Hebron and Jenin, towns that have large concentrations of Hamas supporters. Their institutional boards were reconstituted with Fatah members. This is widely regarded as the PA’s effort to follow Israeli (and American) directions to root out Hamas’s social-support structure. Some 2,000 persons were arrested. While this was perhaps a typical week in the West Bank, it was matched by weeks of Israeli actions, assassinations and the complete cut-off of salaries, oil, energy and food to Gaza. In Gaza, Hamas faced organizations founded on strong Gaza clans.24 These have been a source of salaﬁ st militance in Gaza and of several kidnappings.
As all this violence was intended to pry Palestinian factions apart, it would be ironic if Israel’s iron ﬁst brought them closer together — unlikely, perhaps, given the ﬁnancial and political investments Israel has made, but it is a possibility.
HAMAS AND ARAB POLITICAL CURRENTS
Hamas emerged from the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), a broader movement that had garnered a great deal of support by championing the Palestinian cause and ﬁghting in 1948 against Israel. But later, as the Ikhwan of Palestine turned towards missionary activity and away from armed resistance, it was the militant PLO that captured popular imagination and allegiance. Therefore, it was the PLO whose leaders were anathema.
Hamas inverted the Ikhwan’s survival equation, asserting that the liberation of Palestine is an essential task for the ummah (Muslim community), that rather than waiting for an Islamic society, liberating Palestine will bring about an Islamic way of life. Through this evolution, a certain amount of inter-Ikhwan and Ikhwan-Hamas tension emerged, especially in Jordan. These were reawakened when Jordan entered into a peace agreement with Israel.
Hamas’s relations vis-à-vis the Palestinian secular nationalist movements also emerge from a complex history. The PLO was eventually composed of three “progressive” groups: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the Communist Party, along with the much larger Fatah organization. Since all of Fatah’s founders except Yasser Arafat had been members of the Ikhwan, Islamism was reﬂected in Fatah and appears in some of the discourse of the al-Aqsa Brigades, which emerged from it and were recently “reformed,” giving up their jihad, even in Jenin.
Israel’s decision to counter the results of the 2006 Palestinian election — boycotting Hamas, withholding funds to the PA and encouraging Mahmud Abbas to create his own non-elected government — meant that it was throwing its weight behind a “secular nationalist” movement as opposed to an Islamist nationalist movement that would not recognize Israel in the manner it demanded. However, the real issue is not secularism versus Islamism. After all, Israel denied recognition to the PLO for years, treating it as a terrorist movement. The real issue has to do with who can channel popular resistance to Israel and justify it.
The fundamentally altered relationship between the strong Israel and the weak PA is part of this background, given the PA’s acceptance of negotiations and recognition of Israel through the Oslo process, which Israel thought had solved its “internal Arab” dilemma. That change was threatened by both intifadas and also by Hamas. The transition of Hamas from violence to political participation to a quest for negotiation demonstrates a similar pattern. Since Oslo was a huge compromise for the Palestinians that delivered little, Hamas held back from recognizing Israel. It had very speciﬁc reasons: the realities of the occupation, the huge number of political prisoners, a need to decrease Israeli violence against Palestinians, and Israel’s practice of assassinating Hamas leaders. Yet it eventually moderated its stance on truces, political participation and the potential for negotiating with Israel on the grounds that it must represent Palestinian popular will, the will of its constituents. This is not simply an assertion; Khalid Hroub’s and Azzam Tamimi’s work reveals the many changes in Hamas’s stances.25 Earlier on, it seemed that Palestinians were deeply affected by the desperation of the al-Aqsa Intifada. Then, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) polls showed that nearly half (48 percent) of Hamas followers supported the Roadmap propositions26 and especially Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah’s peace initiative in 2002. This was true even considering the range of opinion in which students and professionals have been more “radical” (militant) than other Hamas followers.27
All this potential movement toward a more moderate stance has been squandered by Israel in order to “teach Hamas a lesson.” In 2008, I made some recommendations based on the understanding that Israel’s policies have incited Hamas’s militance and vice versa. It might be useful to revisit these points in light of what Israel has “achieved” in reconquering Gaza:
- Israel and the United States should let Hamas fulﬁll its electoral promise to the Palestinians. The International Crisis Group recommended in summer 2006 that Hamas be allowed to govern, that it cease hostilities against Israel, and that the boycott be ended,28 as it has caused terrible hardship for Palestinians. 29 The boycott was supposed to have ceased with the tahdiya. If it had, circumstances might have been much improved in Gaza.
- The tahdiya that began on June 19, 2008, could have been extended through diplomatic efforts. Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian minister of the interior, negotiated with Hamas in an effort to include features demanded by Israel. Hamas wants Israel to cease military strikes and incursions into Gaza; Israel wants rocket and mortar ﬁre from Gaza into towns like Sderot to cease30 and added new requirements aimed to deter weapons acquisition in Gaza. Hamas needs to show the Palestinians evidence of substantial positive movement by Israel towards granting sovereignty, prisoner releases or other concrete beneﬁts of the truce. U.S. policy makers should strongly support the use of a renewed truce for negotiations, as international obligations should not “be undertaken symbolically to rally support for an idea without furthering its attainment.”31
Sadly, it seems that the U.S. peace effort embarked on late in Bush’s presidency was exactly what the National Security Strategy of 2007 said it should not be: “symbolic” or even deceptive. A new tahdiya is absolutely necessary, and the same requirements of each side still pertain.
- Hamas did not capture Corporal Gilad Shalit but acquired custody of him. This should alert both the international and U.S. defense audiences to the presence of far less controlled and more extreme entities than Hamas, who might well create chaos in its absence. While Hamas held out in late September 2008 for a more signiﬁcant prisoner exchange, it clearly aimed to redress the damage to its capabilities and call attention to the situation of a symbolically substantial number of prisoners. While some Americans have criticized the Israelis for negotiating for hostages, Yoram Schweitzer alluded to Israel’s counteraim of proving to its citizens that it will not fail in efforts to rescue them,32 given the military-service needs of the state. Similarly, joint doctrine holds that diplomatic means, including negotiations, treaties or truces, are possible ways to recover personnel.33 The Hamas position is that the more than 11,000 Palestinian prisoners are, in essence, hostages. However, it must prevent its members and other groups from future hostage taking. This tactic, like suicide attacks, might continue. Hence, U.S. policy makers or representatives acting in concert with Arab and European allies should do everything in their power to discourage its use by Palestinians, and not only Hamas, while convincing Israelis to release prisoners, particularly political prisoners.
At the time of this writing, it is unclear if the invasion of Gaza will result in the release of Gilad Shalit, although it is a possibility. However, it remains certain that Palestinian political prisoners should be released. Peace towards Israel cannot be concluded with a captive population.
Israel and the United States need to abandon their policies of non-negotiation and non-communication with Hamas in favor of a much more vigorous and sustained political process of long-term negotiation that deals comprehensively with the Arab- Israeli conﬂict and is not merely another separate peace. It may take several years to complete, but this is decidedly preferable to the enormous social and economic costs of militaristic group politics that have burdened the Middle East for six decades. The invasion and attacks against Gaza might mean Israeli exclusion of Hamas would continue, however.
U.S. policy makers and senior Department of Defense ofﬁcials should note the lessons in the Palestinian-Israeli example as well as the analytical failures of Israeli and Palestinian leadership. It is wrong to summarily replicate the Israeli strategy of seizing territories and enclaves and defending perimeters in other contexts, namely Iraq. Such “clear and hold” policies may appear to work in the short term but will never produce the true security needed for nation building. Israel has asserted its authority over and oppressed a people whose will to resist could not be quelled, no matter what military, counterterrorist or collaborator-buying actions were pursued, as these actions lacked legitimacy. The actions against Gaza appear to verify this observation.
In the Arab-Israeli wars, Chaim Herzog characterized Israel as having a “civilian army” with inspired leaders in its ﬁrst two wars (David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan), who “out-generaled” the Arabs, utilizing the indirect approach, improvisation and ﬂexibility. He acknowledged the IDF’s resulting overconﬁ dence and Egypt’s brilliant use of deception in the 1973 War. But Herzog completely underestimated the Palestinian people in his summary of the insubstantial threat posed by the PLO,34 missing the very lesson that was oblivious to the French in Algeria and which another Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon, vowed to get right. Characterizing popular resistance merely as terrorism or a “long war,”35 and facing it down with counterterrorist and barrier-based measures will never succeed in the long run. Locking up the Palestinians in their enclaves will only lead to future outbursts of popular resistance. This strategy has not protected the Israeli enclaves, just as no Green Zone or cordon sanitaire can expect to be indeﬁnitely secure.
Instead the EU, the United States, Russia and the United Nations should aid the conﬂicting parties in devising a new approach36 to negotiations. Rather than standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States in postponing negotiations, the world’s diplomatic practice needs ample revision, so that the third Intifada and the seventh Arab-Israeli war need never be fought. The beneﬁts of abandoning silence, boycotts and secret coups would extend beyond the Arab-Israeli conﬂict to the issue of nuclear weapons and Iran and other rapprochements necessary to win the war on terror.
For unclear reasons, the rest of the world, including the United Nations, was unable to convince the United States that cessation of the Gaza campaign was warranted or necessary. Without pressure, apparently, Israel will not amend its course. One could ask why punitive measures were taken against Iraq in its aggression against Kuwait or Iran in its determination to continue producing uranium, but no actions have been taken against Israel. Discussion of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel is mounting. Complaints on the international legal front have been lodged. It is not clear yet where these will lead.
Moderates on both sides must be strengthened, but not under the selective and factionalizing methods recommended by the Quartet and Israel to date. Instead of just one speciﬁc ﬁnal-solution-oriented peace process, a variety of forums must be opened between Israelis and Palestinians, including Hamas, with direct and indirect components that tap into dialogues held in neutral locations so that, when negotiations are well underway, peacemaking, state-building and economic plans can also be actualized. This is more necessary than ever following Operation Cast Lead.
The parties could consider the internationalization of Jerusalem, with speciﬁc reference to the holy places. The Palestinian and Israeli positions are far apart on the issue, but it is worth noting that in terms of international law, East Jerusalem was a part of the West Bank until its conquest and occupation in June 1967 under the Regulations of the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907, Articles 42 and 43; the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, Articles 1 and 2 (which Israel ratiﬁ ed in 1951); the First Protocol of 1977, Part 1; and UN resolutions 2253 and 2254 and Security Council Resolution 252, which treats Israel’s uniﬁcation of Jerusalem as an illegal act.37 This is the reason that other nations do not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and instead locate their embassies in Tel Aviv. Jerusalem and its appropriation as Israeli property should not be forgotten, even with attention elsewhere.
Jerusalem may be a more emotional issue than the matter of Palestinian refugees — except to the Palestinians, their refugees and their descendents. Hamas’s position is that they must be considered and offered rights of return, as these rights are possessed by all Jews in the world today. Hamas’s ofﬁcials have added, as do others, that it is very likely that not many would return, and that a phased process granting a set number per year could be established, thereby alleviating certain other longstanding situations in Lebanon and Syria, for example. A related solution is reparations for refugees, or both. These issues cannot be dealt with immediately, but should not be put off, as in the Oslo process, or ignored or denigrated by Israelis to the extent that Palestinians lose trust in the other side.
Essential to the resolution of the crisis is dismantling the settlements in the West Bank and ending the corporate seizures and Israeli use of land in the Jordan Valley. This actually carves off a huge section of the West Bank.
Gaza is home to 1.5 million Palestinians. It cannot be reduced in size any further. The need to connect it to the West Bank as well as deal with settlements and land-development schemes there are all part of the political negotiations that must be concluded in order to end the cycle of violence.
- The solution to the armed-ﬁghter presence in Palestinian society is to absorb Hamas like other groups within the Palestinian security apparatus, but that rests on the formation of a national-unity government to heal the Hamas-Fatah rift, as the Saudi government had attempted in Mecca. The dissolution of the al-Aqsa Brigades in the West Bank shows this can be done, even though there were serious rifts between Fatah itself and the brigades.
In its adventure in Gaza, Israeli has applied economic, informational, military and diplomatic tools of power to defeat the Palestinians (for example, its “diplomacy”extends through its relationship with the United States to Arab countries like Egypt). And yet, with all of these tools at its disposal, has Israel effectively removed Hamas from power in Gaza? No. If it crushes the Gaza Strip into bombed-out submission and arrests every male Palestinian, will it effectively have destroyed Hamas? Again, the answer is no. Among the more than 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners today, many are Hamas members — and many more will be in the wake of Operation Cast Lead.
1 Baruch Kimmerling, The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military (University of California Press), p. 2; for an extended version of this discussion, see Sherifa Zuhur, Hamas and Israel: Conﬂicting Strategies of Group-Based Politics, (Carlisle: Strategic Studies Institute, 2008-09), http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=894.
2 Kimmerling, The Invention and Decline of Israeliness, Chapters 6 and pp. 173-228.
3 Steve Niva, “The ‘Israelization’ of U.S. Military Doctrine and Tactics: How the U.S. is Reproducing Israel’s Flawed Occupation Strategies in Iraq,” Foreign Policy in Focus, April 21, 2008.
4 See Mira Sucharov, “Security Ethics and the Modern Military: The Case of the Israeli Defense Forces,” Armed Forces & Society, Vol. 31, No. 169, Autumn 2005.
6 Hamas Political Bureau, “The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas),” 2000.
7 “Interview with Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar: ‘We Will Try to Form an Islamic Society’,” Spiegel Online International, June 22, 2007, www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,490160,00.html.
8 Personal interview, Ramallah, August 2007; and repeated in interview, Nablus, August 2008.
9 Personal interviews, Beersheva, Sderot, Mabu’im, other southern towns, 2001-02.
10 Laititia Bucaille, Growing Up Palestinian: Israeli Occupation and the Intifada Generation (Princeton University Press, 2006).
11 John Collins, Occupied by Memory: The Intifada and the Palestinian State of Emergency (New York University, 2004); also personal interviews carried out with ﬁghters hiding from PA forces, Ramallah, July 2005.
>12 While detailing the situation for Palestinians inside of Israel, for an understanding of the issue, and Israeli troops toward Islam, see Alisa Rubin Peled, Debating Islam in the Jewish State: The Development of Policy Toward Islamic Institutions in Israel (State University of New York Press, 2001).
13 Mohammad Salah, “Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the Hajj Pilgrims,” al-Hayat, February 1, 2008.
14 Personal interviews, 2005-07.
15 Ibrahim Humaydi, interviewing Khalid Mishal, Damascus, October 10, 2006, published in al-Hayat, October 12, 2006.
16 “Full Text of the National Conciliation Document of the Prisoners, June 28, 2006,” Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, www.jmc.org/documents/prisoners2.htm.
17 Al-Hayat, October 12, 2006.
18 Jeroen Gunning, Hamas in Politics: Democracy, Religion, Violence (Hurst and Company, 2007), p. 129.
19 This interesting ﬁction appears in numerous sources; for details, see Abu Aardvark, Marc Lynch’s blog.
20 Personal interviews, August 2008.
21 Khaled Amayreh, “PA Torments Palestinians on Israel’s Behalf,” Palestinian Information Center, July 31, 2008.
22 PCHR Weekly Report, July 31-August 6, www.imemc.org/article/56429.
23 Personal interview with Naser El-Din Shaer, August 11, 2008.
24 International Crisis Group, “Inside Gaza: The Challenge of Clans and Families,” Middle East Report, No. 71, December 20, 2007.
25 Khalid Hroub, Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide (Pluto Press, 2006); Hroub, “Hamas’s Path to Reinvention,” Open Democracy, October 10, 2006; Hroub, Hamas: Political Thought and Practice (Institute for Palestine Studies, 2000); Azzam Tamimi, Hamas: A History From Within (Interlink, 2007).
26 PSR Public Opinion polls given in Gunning, p. 228. PSR is the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.
27 Ibid, p. 229.
28 Gareth Evens and Robert Malley, “How to Curb the Tension in Gaza,” Financial Times, July 6, 2006. Similar views to those expressed by William Arkin, August 7, 2006, blog.washingtonpost.com/earlywarning/2006/08/let_hezbollah_and_Hamas_govern.html, were found throughout the Middle Eastern press.
29 Sherifa Zuhur, Hamas and Israel: Conﬂicting Strategies of Group-Based Politics ( U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute, 2008), http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/Pubs/Display.Cfm?pubID=894 and 2009, print.
30 The New York Times, June 18, 2008.
31 National Security Strategy, 2002; and Multinational Operations, Additional Doctrine, JP pp. 3-16.
32 In reference to the Hizbullah-Israeli exchange, Yoram Schweitzer, “Not That Bad a Deal.” Jerusalem Post, July 23, 2008.
33 Joint Publication 3-50, pp. 1-3.
34 Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East from the War of Independence through Lebanon (Random House, 1982), pp. 362-368.
35As in the Quadrennial Defense Review of 2006. Other than the targeting of terrorist networks, and recommendations for Iraq and Afghanistan, the QDR just speaks of the same “indirect approach” mentioned by Herzog, interestingly utilizing the example of Allenby’s attack on Aqaba. Granted, the term “long war” was relinquished within U.S. Central Command, but persists as a concept elsewhere.
36 As the International Crisis Group had earlier urged as well, “Israel/Palestine/Lebanon: Climbing Out of the Abyss,” Middle East Report, No. 57, July 25, 2006.
37 Ibrahim M. Sha`ban, “Jerusalem in Public International Law,” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2007, pp. 43-44.
Middle East Policy is fully accessible through the Wiley Online Library
Click below to subscribe to the online or print edition of Middle East Policy and gain access to all journal content.