IN THE MEDIA

Dismantling Hamas is vital to any hopes of Middle East peace

Dec 17, 2023 | Oved Lobel

Hamas fighters in the southern Gaza Strip (Image: Abed Rahim Khatib/ Shutterstock)
Hamas fighters in the southern Gaza Strip (Image: Abed Rahim Khatib/ Shutterstock)

A version of this article was published in the Canberra Times – 16 December 2023 

Some people continue to naively imagine the way out of the current Israel-Hamas war – sparked by Hamas’ unprovoked and unprecedented campaign of terrorist mass-murder, rape, torture and kidnapping of Israeli civilians on October 7 – is to reach a negotiated peace deal with Hamas.

Clive Williams’ article last week was very much in this camp, arguing Australia’s listing of all of Hamas as a terrorist organisation is a bad idea – even though it clearly is such an organisation – because it is better to “leave the door open for backdoor discussions … and allow for more substantive political dialogue if necessary”.

Hamas, however, cannot ever be part of any diplomatic solution, as it has made clear in word and deed since the 1980s. On the contrary, its raison d’être has been and remains to block any territorial compromise that could see a Palestinian state established alongside Israel in pursuit of its goal of destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamist state.

That Hamas is a single terrorist organisation – without the separate “political and military wings” Williams suggests we should treat differently – is not a matter of opinion, but a well-established fact, as detailed in submissions to the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security in 2021 when the question of extending the listing to the entirety of Hamas was under debate. Top terrorism expert Matthew Levitt has been documenting and demonstrating the incontestably indivisible nature of Hamas since the early 2000s.

Even Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, rejected any distinction between the so-called “wings” of Hamas. Human Rights Watch also found no relevant distinction in 2002. When Hamas appealed its listing in the European Union in 2019, the EU’s General Court found no distinction. Indeed, Hamas did not even bother to argue any existed, asserting: “The political bureau takes the decisions, and the [Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades] comply with them.”

It’s not just that the political leadership controls terrorist operations at every level, but they are also dual-hatted operatives. General Nizar Ammar put it bluntly: “[Hamas operatives] involved in operations inside Israel had been in the political wing only 48 hours before the operation. This is a big problem for PA interrogators because people jump between the political and military wings at a moment’s notice.”

Nor is Hamas purely or even primarily a Palestinian national movement, as it repeatedly reiterates in its conspiratorial, anti-Semitic, genocidal jihadist 1988 Founding Charter. Hamas’ brand of Islam does not recognise the validity of Western concepts like nationality or borders, which are not applicable to Islamist movements regardless of their location. In their overall worldview, there is only land ruled by Islam and land that remains to come under its sway.

Rather, Hamas regards itself as a universal Islamic movement engaged in a regional and global revanchist imperial war to restore Muslim control to any lands conquered by Muslims since the 7th century AD. Hamas is therefore not a national liberation movement, even if it sometimes employs Palestinian national rhetoric. Attempting to violently restore the oldest existing form of imperialism and colonialism is exactly the opposite of a national liberation movement. Hamas explicitly states it is engaged in a purely religious war of conquest to liberate sacred Muslim land, something which it insists is a religious obligation.

Hamas also views itself as merely one Muslim army of many engaged in a cosmic war with Jews in order to bring about Judgement Day, and considers itself the “spearhead” in this war. Jews, according to Hamas, control the world and are as a group responsible for colonialism and imperialism as well as every war and revolution in history.

The group also needs to be placed in the historical context of the consequences of the Islamic Revolution that conquered Iran in 1979, an event that rippled outward to Pakistan and Afghanistan and across the Middle East throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The Muslim Brotherhood – an existing transnational organisation of which Hamas was merely “one of the wings … in Palestine” – began its violent revolutionary activities as a direct result of 1979.

The group that evolved into Hamas began its activities around 1982-1983, the same time as Hezbollah was officially formed in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood launched an abortive takeover of Hama in Syria. Hamas was and continues to be a core part of this pan-Islamic jihad rather than a local phenomenon. It is very much part of the “resistance axis” controlled, financed, armed and trained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an integrated network waging an incessant war to destroy Israel and colonise the entire Middle East.

Australian policy remains the pursuit of a negotiated resolution leading to a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. It has therefore sensibly sought to marginalise Hamas, a unitary terrorist entity implacably opposed to peace or compromise, a key reason why the group was correctly designated in its entirety as a terrorist organisation in 2021. De-legitimising and isolating Hamas is a vital element in any policy genuinely geared towards a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hamas control over Gaza is an absolute obstacle to such a peace, as Foreign Minister Penny Wong has acknowledged by demanding it be “dismantled”. Australia’s foreign policy goals can best be served by searching for ways to make sure the current Gaza war will end with Hamas’ rule dismantled rather than seeking to legitimise or strengthen Hamas in the utterly misguided hope it can somehow be moderated and converted into a genuine peace partner.

Oved Lobel is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

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