By Barry Rubin
Perhaps it is true that peace can only be made with enemies, but this is only true regarding those who no longer want to be enemies. This does not apply in the case of Hamas. In fact, the stronger Hamas becomes—empowered by well-meaning but no less destructive bystanders—the further away will be any chance for peace in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
These points should not be so difficult to understand. Yet a large part of the problem is that when this particular issue becomes the topic of conversation, many seem to lose their most basic common sense and their understanding of how politics and international affairs work.
Consider the basic facts. Hamas’s main goal is the physical destruction of Israel and its people. In its pronouncements in Arabic, the organization makes no secret of this fact. That is commonly called genocide. It routinely uses historic anti-Jewish myths and incites hatred of Jews. This is commonly called antisemitism.
Hamas’s historic military tactic was the maximum murder of Israeli civilians. This is commonly called genocide. It is ruthless in killing those among the Palestinians who disagree with it. This is commonly called ferocious repression. It indoctrinates children with the ambition to be suicide bombers. This is commonly called—well, it is so unprecedented that there is no proper name for this behavior.
Did Hamas win the Palestinian elections? It certainly came in first. But then, after making a deal with its Fatah rival, Hamas launched a military coup and seized power by force. Thus, it can have no democratic pretensions for its rule. The Nazis in Germany and the Bolsheviks in Russia also won elections, then grabbed dictatorial power also, yet no one had any illusions about what they did.
During a ceasefire, Hamas continually either launched attacks itself—on the ground and using mortars and rockets—or worked with smaller groups to do so. This is commonly called aggression. It then ended the ceasefire and launched a large-scale attack. That is commonly called declaring war. Then it used the civilian populace as human shields and committed other actions, which is commonly called war crimes.
Was it productive for the cause of peace or the welfare of Gaza’s population for many people in the West to, in effect, support Hamas? Not at all. For this only encourages Hamas to continue its strategy of total dictatorship within Gaza and permanent war against Israel. Keeping Hamas in power, much less providing it with hundreds of millions of pounds of aid—no matter what safeguards are put in, Hamas will end up with lots of the money—is a guarantee of future war, terrorism, instability, and no peace.
And this brings us to the key argument which basically ignores all the evidence of this specific case: that Hamas must be negotiated with and brought into negotiations.
There is a reason why groups are put into two categories: the IRA or Fatah, for instance, in one; the Taliban, al-Qaida, or the Nazis into another. The question is whether an organization is so extreme, so ideologically intent on conquest and murder, that its goals cannot possibly be satisfied through negotiations.
If the goal of Hamas is not a two-state solution but Israel’s destruction, the repression of all other Palestinian forces, and the establishment of an Islamist dictatorship, how is any compromise outcome possible? And remember that this goal is built into the organization’s fabric, ideology, and claim that it is sanctioned by Allah?
There is, however, another issue which is all the more important for being practical. Adding a large quantity of deadly acid to water will not make a palatable drink. To empower Hamas, in practice, is to undermine the Palestinian Authority (PA). And to add Hamas to the PA, under present conditions, would not make a more moderate Hamas but a more radical PA.
It would in fact destroy any possibility for peace whatsoever. Any time the PA thought of making any necessary compromise, it would be discredited by Hamas’s outbidding, which would also appeal to many people within Fatah. Instead of an end to conflict with the Gaza Strip, there would soon emerge a war with both that area and the West Bank as well.
Hamas would continue to try, aided and strengthened by Western assistance, and might well succeed in wiping out the more moderate—and consequently less ruthless–forces altogether. And of course it would condemn Palestinians both to Hamas’s rule, endless war, and no chance of getting a state of their own. A strange way to behave by those who claim to be concerned about their welfare.
As for arguing that Hamas is not going away and must be propitiated, there are always factors in the world that are extremist, terrorist, repressive, and dictatorial. The answer—especially when they are so relatively weak—is to defeat them by supporting their would-be victims; to show that moderation pays and fanaticism costs dearly. Unwillingness to take this course has been a self-fulfilling prophecy, a key factor in the spread of violence and extremism throughout the Middle East and beyond.
Originally Published in the Guardian
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To subscribe to Gloria Center publications for free, write [email protected].