Dealing with Gaza and Hamas
Sep 18, 2007 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
September 18, 2006
Number 09/07 #06
The Qassam rocket from Gaza that struck a military camp and wounded 67 soldiers last week has given additional intensity to an already robust Israeli debate about how to cope with the problem of rocket attacks and other security threats emanating from Hamas-controlled Gaza. This Update details ongoing debates on various aspects of this problem.
First up, Yitzhak Ben-Israel, a former general turned member of Knesset for the ruling Kadima party, offers one interesting take on how rocket attacks can be deterred, via repeated short-term Gaza incursions. He also, in the process of making his argument, provides a reasonable summary of the alternative case that such Israeli responses seem futile in the medium term. For this one taste of this intense Israeli debate, CLICK HERE.
Next up, British columnist Melanie Phillips takes on repeated arguments in Britain that Hamas, or perhaps its “moderates”, must be diplomatically “engaged”. She reveals that some of the bodies pushing this line appear to have a disreputable agenda, while others are apparently in thrall to model of northern Ireland, where talking to the IRA eventually proved to be part of the solution. She disposes of the Northern Ireland parallel by noting differences not only between the IRA and Hamas, but also between what actually happened in Ireland and what the “Hamas engagement” brigade are in fact proposing. For Phillips’ argument, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Mohammed Yaghi, Palestinian affairs expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, describes the increasingly authoritarian state of Gaza under Hamas and its relationship with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank headed by Mahmoud Abbas. He proposes a policy for the PA to pursue, with Western and Israeli assistance, in order, in the long-term, to regain control of Gaza from Hamas, centring on reform, good governance, and clearly differentiating from Hamas politically. For Yaghi’s analysis, CLICK HERE.
Repeated Gaza operations will reduce Palestinian motivation to fire rockets
The situation in Sderot is intolerable. Every day, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fire Qassam rockets at western Negev residents and particularly at Sderot. The casualty toll is indeed low, yet the disruption of day-to-day life is intolerable. We cannot expect residents to continue living normally when a rocket may land on their heads at any given moment.
The deliberate firing on civilians is a war crime, and it would suffice to note Islamic Jihad’s announcement last week that the massive fire was “a gift for the opening of the school year.” Against this backdrop, we should be asking why Israel refrains from resorting to military force against the rockets.
I assume that the hesitation to use force stems from considerations pertaining to the cost and benefit analysis of a military operation in Gaza:
First, we do not possess technology capable of intercepting the rockets in midair. The defense establishment has indeed decided to develop such technology, yet its operational deployment will only happen years from now. Until that time, an end to the rocket fire could only be achieved by entering the Strip and taking over several kilometers that would push back the launchers beyond the Qassam range.
Such takeover is possible, but it would come with a casualty toll (for both sides, and particularly for the Palestinians). The nature of this area, which is densely populated, would lead to casualties among civilians regardless of IDF efforts to minimize such deaths. We can assume that the world will back the weak side and Israel would lose further points in the international public opinion arena.
Secondly, because we do not wish to stay in the Strip, we will have to depart after we clear the launching sites. And what then? Terror groups will apparently be able to return to the sites and renew the rocket fire. The overall balance sheet of such military operation does not seem overly positive.
Yet I believe that the “balance sheet” presented above, although it is accurate in terms of the physical reality, is misleading. Our opening position should not be to seek ways that would physically prevent the rocket fire (as noted, such modus operandi is unavailable.) Rather, we should start a process that would increasingly minimize the rocket threat, until it is curbed almost entirely.
Long-term strategic vision needed
Such a process is impossible under circumstances whereby the State of Israel hesitates to use force, even if the short-term balance sheet does not justify such move. We must change our way of thinking and reshape the rules of the game.
Let’s assume that we embark on a ground operation in Gaza (with the aim of eventually returning the troops to our territory) where we sustain casualties and cause many casualties to the other side. Let’s also assume that following a certain period of calm to be achieved through this operation, the rocket fire will be renewed. We would always be able to repeat the operation and enter the Strip, time and again.
Terror groups would be able to embark on a new round of rocket fire-Israeli military operation-period of calm-rocket fire time and again. Yet the experience we accumulated over the past 60 years, as well as common sense, show that every decision to embark on a new round would become increasingly difficult for them and be met with increasing resistance by the Palestinian population, which would recall the results of the previous round.
The accumulated deterrence to be acquired this way has been one of the most basic fundamentals of Israel’s security doctrine since its inception. The long-term strategic vision should overcome the short-term tactical balance sheet in this case.
Ultimately, the situation is rather simple: There is no way to curb the activity of fanatical organizations that do not even recognize our right to exist unless we use force. The use of force, in and of itself, even if it comes with a price, and a heavy price at that, is the only way to create a process that will culminate in the minimization and possibly end of indiscriminate rocket fire on our civilian population.
The writer, a major-general (res), is a Kadima Knesset member
THE JERUSALEM POST, Sep. 15, 2007
In Britain, the volume of pressure to “engage” with Hamas is fast approaching critical mass. While the official position of Prime Minister Gordon Brown is that Britain will never talk to Hamas as long as it aims to eradicate Israel, the number of voices insistently urging that Hamas be “brought in from the cold” has made such a proposition respectable and leaves Brown’s stand looking increasingly vulnerable.
The most prominent political proponent of “engagement” is the Conservative grandee and former Northern Ireland spokesman Michael Ancram, who has now met Hamas (and Hizbullah) in Beirut on three separate occasions in the past year. Ancram says he believes that a two-state solution to the Israel/Arab conflict is only possible if Hamas is part of that solution.
In similar vein, last month the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee recommended that the British government should now “engage” with moderates in Hamas, along with Hizbullah parliamentarians, Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood.
SUCH PEOPLE have been heavily influenced by less establishment voices purporting to be in the business of “conflict resolution.”
Under cover of this rubric, they often promote not merely engagement with Hamas and other Islamist radicals, but their actual cause itself. There are three such organizations: Conflicts Forum, run by the controversial former MI6 agent Alastair Crooke; Forward Thinking, headed by William Sieghart, principally known as an arts administrator; and Prospects for Peace, run by Daniel Levy, a former adviser to Yossi Beilin.
Alastair Crooke, a former adviser to the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Javier Solana, has in the past opened up numerous unofficial channels of communication between Hamas and Western governments. Crooke, whose organization sports the slogan “Listening to Political Islam, Recognizing Resistance,” supports the aims of Hamas and other Islamists as “striving to create just societies and bring about political reform in a region entrenched with inequity, that has long suffered the overbearing influence of foreign powers.”
Crooke has been given unprecedented opportunities to advance his agenda by the BBC, which has been repeatedly pressing the cause of “engagement” with Hamas. This has been particularly noticeable since Hamas claimed the credit for securing the release last July of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston from his four-month kidnap ordeal in Gaza – an episode which Hamas not only ruthlessly milked but may even have played a part in instigating, in order to make precisely the inroads into the British establishment that it has now achieved.
IT IS A common human impulse to pin one’s faith on the capacity of extremists to be seduced and tamed by the prospect of power through compromise, when the only alternative seems to be yet more warfare. But it is vital to understand that every argument supporting this position is as specious as it is dangerous. Far from helping to resolve the Middle East impasse, “engagement” with Islamist radicals is likely not only to further endanger Israel, but also to strengthen the enemies of the free world and undermine its potential allies in the wider arena of the global jihad.
The Quartet’s new envoy to the Middle East, Tony Blair, has long wanted to talk to Hamas. Like Michael Ancram, Blair believes that Britain’s experience in Northern Ireland, where former Republican and Unionist wild men who were once deadly enemies now share in governing the province, is the paradigm for success in the Middle East. Just as peace was achieved only once the British government started talking to the IRA, the thinking goes, so peace will only come if Hamas is similarly included.
This analogy is so fundamentally flawed as to be entirely worthless. First, there are obvious differences in the nature of these conflicts. The IRA did not want to Catholicize Britain, nor to replace the government of the United Kingdom by Irish rule. It wanted instead a united Ireland; and while one might disagree with this and deplore the terrorism employed to bring it about, such an aim was itself reasonable. But the core aim of Hamas, to annihilate Israel and destroy every Jew, is unconscionable and should put dialogue with it beyond the pale. After all, what’s to discuss?
An even more crucial difference is that the IRA was not invited to join the political mainstream. It itself asked to do so, declaring that the war with Britain was over. That was because the British Army had fought it into a permanent stalemate, forcing it to realize that it could never achieve its aims by violent means.
That is very different from seeking to bring into the political process the terrorists of Hamas, who are still actively engaged in violence against Israel and have no intention of stopping until Israel is destroyed. Treating undefeated terrorists as legitimate interlocutors helps turn them into victors.
IN FACT, the British did talk to the IRA through back channels before it gave up its military struggle. As the Cambridge historians John Bew and Martin Frampton have written in their forthcoming book Talking to Terrorists, the outcome of such approaches was a disastrous intensification of violence and a deepening of the Northern Ireland crisis.
In similar vein, every time Israel or the West have attempted to engage the Islamists, disaster has ensued. As a result of “engaging” Ayatollah Khomeini, for example, Jimmy Carter helped bring about the fall of the Shah, the American hostage debacle and 28 years of the Iranian jihad against the free world.
Moreover, far from refusing to have anything to do with Hamas, since 1991 Europe, America and Israel have all made repeated contacts with it through back channels. Yet far from moderating its stance, it has instead become even stronger through perceiving the weakness of a free world so desperate to mollify it.
When Tony Blair was Britain’s prime minister, he advocated talking to Hamas until he was roundly told by both King Abdullah of Jordan and Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah that such a move would help destroy their own administrations. Now he is the Quartet’s envoy, he is reportedly being informally advised by Daniel Levy, who has repeatedly urged engagement with Hamas, Hizbullah and the Muslim Brotherhood. But the arguments used by Levy are dangerously wrong.
In a recent article in the Jewish Chronicle, Levy claimed that Hamas and the Brotherhood were a bulwark against al-Qaida because they were “in their own struggle with al-Qaida and reject the latter’s nihilism.” But in a report last May, Jonathan Halevi of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs reported that there was a growing connection between Hamas and al-Qaida, which was establishing a presence in Gaza, with close ties between the Hamas leadership and senior al-Qaida figures.
And the attack on the Mike’s Place bar in Tel Aviv in 2003 by British human-bomb terrorists was a joint al-Qaida/Hamas operation.
INCONSISTENTLY, Levy says that al-Qaida and its “copycat crew” “cannot be reasoned with” because they want to “burn down the house”; so “part of defeating them will be to isolate them.” But why must al-Qaida be isolated in order to be defeated, while Hamas is to be engaged with and appeased? What evidence is there that, unlike al-Qaida, Hamas might renounce its murderous jihad? None.
And if conflicts can be ended only by reasoning with the extremists, then why Hamas but not al-Qaida? Even more recklessly, Levy and the rest simply ignore the fact that engaging with Hamas and other Islamists will destroy relatively moderate Arab governments, whether in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco or the Abbas Palestinian administration.
In Gaza, there are growing signs that the Palestinian public is aghast at the thuggery of Hamas, which has been beating and intimidating journalists and detaining and torturing opponents.
Those people will be utterly betrayed if, through being bolstered by the West, Hamas is further entrenched in power. Why does Levy think it is in the interests of Israel, or the West, to destroy those who are less hostile to it in the Arab world and reinforce those who are openly bent on its destruction?
LEVY TALKS about Hamas “moderates.” Who are these moderates? And what exactly does moderate mean in the context of Hamas? There is no Hamas official who renounces the core Hamas aim to wipe Israel off the map. How, then, can any of them be moderate? Perhaps he is thinking of someone like Osama Hamdan, the senior Hamas official in Beirut, who is repeatedly touted as a moderate. It was the moderate Hamdan whom Michael Ancram met on three separate occasions in Beirut.
Last month, Hamdan expressed his unwavering support for human-bomb attacks against Israel, rejected the right of Israel to exist and stated that the final goal of Hamas was “to wipe that entity off the face of the earth.” That is what “engaging” with Hamdan has achieved.
Levy casts himself as a “realist Zionist,” as opposed to something he calls “apocalyptic Zionism.” But it is Levy who is demonstrably living in a fantasy world if he seriously believes that talking to terrorists brings anything other than a strengthening of their position and an upsurge in violence.
Levy smears his critics with the calumny that they don’t want Israel to live in peace but instead to live in perpetuity “by the sword.” But it is Levy’s approach that will doom Israel’s neck to be offered up in perpetuity to the sword.
ACCORDING to the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the deposed Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, is a “moderate.” Yet Haniyeh has said that the final solution is the “liberation of all Palestine, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river” and the establishment of an Islamic Palestinian state ruled by Islamic law; he has praised the suicide bomber culture and said human-bomb attacks are the best way of dealing with Israel.
If British MPs believe this man is a moderate, what would it take to get them to acknowledge Islamist extremism?
The committee’s conclusion that Britain should talk to Hamas was unanimous. Yet last June its chairman, Labour MP Mike Gapes (a former vice-chairman of Labour Friends of Israel), said in a discussion with William Sieghart on BBC TV’s Newsnight that it would be wrong to engage with Hamas while it refused to meet the Quartet’s conditions.
When challenged on why he had now changed his position, Gapes maintained he couldn’t remember what he had said on Newsnight. In fact, on that occasion he disagreed strongly with Sieghart, who was urging engagement with Hamas. Gapes explicitly rejected the comparison with Northern Ireland, claimed that engagement with Hamas would undermine moderate Arab governments, and stated that the only possible dialogue was on the basis of a two-state solution, which Hamas had never accepted.
Yet two months later, Gapes chaired a committee report which said precisely the opposite and promoted the Sieghart position. When pressed, Gapes claimed he was “merely the committee chairman.” When pressed further, he said circumstances had changed – but was unable to say what had changed, except now to reiterate the Sieghart/Crooke/Levy mantra that there could be no peace settlement without the involvement of Hamas.
IN PURPORTING to want to use Hamas against al-Qaida, the “engagement” lobby would apparently sacrifice Israel’s interests to appease Islamist demands. But as the relatively moderate Arab regimes understand only too well, legitimizing Hamas, Hizbullah and the Brotherhood will put rocket fuel behind Islamism itself throughout the region. Israel is merely the pawn in a much broader war – and the big loser will be a Western world which does not understand the suicidal game that it is being seduced into playing.
Ultimately, the Western “engagement” rationale is a brutal one. Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, for example, appears to believe that Israel must talk to Hamas because it is inevitable that Hamas will defeat Fatah. This appears to mean that we should talk to tyrants simply because they have won power.
It is a doctrine which effectively holds that power confers legitimacy, however illegitimately it has been pursued. It is hard to imagine an argument that hands terror a greater victory.
The writer, a columnist for The Daily Mail, is author of Londonistan.
By Mohammad Yaghi
September 13, 2007
During the first eighteen months following its January 2006 electoral victories, Hamas took an incremental approach toward official integration into the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Since its takeover of Gaza in June 2007, however, Hamas has changed tactics and imposed an independent, authoritarian regime.
After an initial period of calm, there are increasing signs of public discontent over the faction’s nascent rule. Yet, Hamas has a near monopoly on the means of force — its disciplined and well-organized security forces have managed to control Fatah-led disturbances. The group will continue to consolidate its rule in Gaza unless PA officials in the West Bank initiate a clear strategy aimed at the long-term restoration of authority there. Without such an effort, Hamas will further undermine the legitimacy of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad, limiting their mandate to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians at the planned international peace conference this fall.
Hamas’s Political Agenda
Since the Gaza takeover, Abbas has maintained that he will not negotiate with Hamas until the territory is restored to its pre-June status and a public apology is issued for the violence Hamas has perpetrated. For his part, Fayad insists that Hamas disband its militias before it can become a full participant in the PA. Frustrated by this stance, Hamas has attempted to delegitimize the two leaders in several ways.
First, the group declared that his appointment of the Fayad government, his change of the electoral law to an entirely proportional system, and his call for early elections are all illegal actions taken without approval from the Palestinian Legislative Council — a body that Hamas dominates. Second, Hamas refuted Abbas’s right to negotiate with Israel in an effort to undermine any diplomatic progress in the coming months. Finally, Hamas claimed to have seized documents from Abbas’s security forces that allegedly prove Fatah’s corruption and collaboration with Western intelligence agencies. These efforts to challenge Abbas in public have been accompanied by a Hamas ground offensive in Gaza to eliminate opposition and ensure political hegemony.
Hamas has conducted a sustained campaign aimed at capturing and intimidating Fatah activists since the June takeover. The group has arrested and tortured dozens of Fatah leaders and assaulted Ashraf Juma, a Fatah member in the legislature, in his office on July 24. These initial violations of civil liberties appear to have sparked further dissent against Hamas rule.
Over the past several weeks, Hamas has prevented or broken up peaceful Fatah demonstrations in Khan Younis, Beit Hanun, and Gaza City. On August 31, Friday prayers were conducted in the center of Gaza City in protest of Hamas’s use of mosques as political platforms. Shortly afterward, Hamas violently dispersed a peaceful march of PLO supporters. Despite a September 4 ban on further public prayer gatherings, several thousand PLO supporters challenged the prohibition just three days later. Hamas security forces broke up that gathering as well, beating protesters, severely wounding sixty people, and arresting dozens of activists, including several top PLO officials. As a result of the crackdown, the PLO called for a general strike that many Palestinians have supported.
Journalists have also been victims of these repressive activities. According to the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, Hamas has prohibited journalists from recording human rights violations, confiscated and destroyed cameras, and invaded offices. Hamas has also prevented the official Palestinian television network from using its offices or covering events in Gaza. And on at least one occasion, the group has prevented distribution of the main Palestinian newspapers.
An Agenda for Competition
Abbas has focused his recent activities on securing control of the West Bank and revoking decisions he made during the unity government period. Under his and Fayad’s leadership, the PA has arrested Hamas members in the West Bank, blocked their organizational activities, dismissed Hamas members from PA institutions, and banned more than one hundred nongovernmental organizations and charities in an effort to combat Hamas’s charitable network. Although some of these policies may prove effective in weakening Hamas in the immediate future, the current strategy lacks a long-term vision. Concentrated actions in the following three areas would help Abbas and Fatah counter Hamas’s appeal and dominance in Gaza:
Politics. Abbas must challenge Hamas politically and highlight the fundamental differences that led to the breakdown in unity negotiations. He must state clearly that dialogue with Hamas is possible but is contingent on the group’s acceptance of a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel, the Arab League’s 2002 peace initiative, and past PLO agreements with Israel. This strategy would shift the debate from the factional rivalry in Gaza to the divergent policies and visions for the future of Palestinian statehood advocated by Fatah and Hamas. Moreover, Arab states would be encouraged to end their advocacy of another unity agreement without Hamas concessions on behalf of peace with Israel.
Economic Relief. Although Hamas’s control of Gaza places significant restrictions on what officials can do from Ramallah, Abbas and Fayad must appear relevant to Gazans. They should use their public profiles and diplomatic influence to help ensure the delivery of basic needs such as electricity, medicine, food, and water. Given their absence from the public debate on Gaza’s humanitarian plight, Abbas and Fayad have been accused of conspiring against Palestinians rather than advocating on their behalf. If the PA remains invisible on humanitarian and economic issues, it will only further drive Gazans into the hands of Hamas. For this reason, the upcoming international conference must produce immediate donor support for the PA, including humanitarian relief for Gaza.
Reform. For Fatah to challenge Hamas in Gaza, the movement needs active and legitimate leaders who are responsive to the population and removed from the corrupt, failed legacy of Muhammad Dahlan. Fatah will only be restored in Gaza as part of a broader initiative to revitalize the movement as an effective and representative political party. Until Abbas recognizes that such reform is a top priority, Palestinian moderates will not gain sufficient political backing to challenge Hamas in future elections.
A Gaza agenda alone is no substitute for the actions Abbas must take in order to preserve and enhance the PA’s authority in the West Bank: enforcing the rule of law, fighting corruption, and reforming Fatah in order to overcome Hamas in any future election. Progress on these fronts will not only strengthen Palestinian moderates domestically, but also legitimize their efforts at the international conference this fall. Palestinians will reject the summit as an exercise in empty promises if they do not begin to see tangible improvements in their daily lives. Therefore, if the Bush administration seeks to advance the peace process, it must focus on helping Abbas and Fayad implement a competitive agenda that will raise their political standing.
Mohammad Yaghi is a Lafer international fellow at The Washington Institute and a columnist for the Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.