August 13, 2014
Number 08/14 #03
With a 72-hour ceasefire currently holding and intensive talks to find a more lasting way to end the current Gaza conflict occurring in Cairo, (differing reports about whether the talks are making progress or not are here and here) this Update looks at Hamas and what it wants, especially in the longer term.
First up is Ambassador Dennis Ross, former American Middle East mediator, who draws on his own experiences from the Gaza withdrawal in 2005 to explore what has happened since. He notes that he told Palestinian leaders that if they did not take advantage of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza to pursue peaceful development, they would have no one to blame but themselves. He then reviews the history of how Hamas has done exactly the opposite over recent years, focusing on continuing terror attacks and building terror infrastructure, and bringing about the Israel blockade through their actions. He goes on to present some ideas for a diplomatic way forward in view of the fact that Hamas is effectively making progress toward a genuine two-state resolution impossible. For Ross’s detailed analysis of Gaza’s recent history and where things can go from here, CLICK HERE.
Next up is noted American columnist and author Jeffrey Goldberg asking the question “What Would Hamas Do If It Could Do Whatever It Wanted?” He notes that everyone knows the answer to this question but some people are refusing to face it. (He uses New York Times columnist Roger Cohen – who openly insisted when asked about this “It’s not useful to go there” – as an example.) He then goes on to look at the overwhelming evidence that Hamas’ intentions are genocidal – both in terms of its founding charter and it contemporary statements – and the reality that the visceral reaction of Israelis to Hamas is thoroughly understandable. For this important discussion of a reality that too many refuse to grapple with, CLICK HERE. Goldberg quotes historian Jeffrey Herf in his piece, and Herf’s piece about the Nazi influences on Hamas’ charter and ideology is here.
Finally, this Update offers some views from Irwin Cotler, Canadian MP, Law Professor and former Attorney-General of Canada. He says if you want to understand the current Gaza war you have to look at the “root cause”, which is, he argues, the “Hamas Terrorist War of Attrition against Israel since 2000” and the “genocidal anti-Semitism” which motivates it. He therefore proposes a 16-point plan for a “enduring and comprehensive” ceasefire that “will put an end to the Hamas Terrorist War of Attrition” that has led to three Gaza wars, and will also hopefully place the Israeli and Palestinian peoples on the road to two-state resolution. For his analysis and ideas for a resolution in full, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Other good comments on Hamas’ charter and other statements making clear their genocidal antisemitism comes from Israeli historian Dina Porat and American political scientist Michael Curtis.
- Yet another example of Hamas’ genocidal rhetoric this week – a Hamas cleric intones in a sermon ” Oh Allah, destroy the Jews” and also says, “Oh sons of Judaism, oh sons of slavery [i.e., Arab rulers], no matter how much you kill us, we will not let go of our weapons… even if the number of martyrs exceeds two million.”
- Other recent Hamas statements argue that all Gazans, including fighters, are by definition civilians, but all Israelis are ” soldiers…invaders…criminal” and one should “have no mercy on any of them… ignore the whole world that says they are civilians.”
- American columnist S.E. Cupp argues that the clearest sign of media bias on Gaza is the failure of the media to adequately acknowledge Hamas’ goals. Also discussing media problems with Gaza reporting is British intellectual Oren Kessler, while Elliot Cohen notes that media reports almost always say ceasefires are simply “broken” as if this were something that happened spontaneously, rarely that it was Hamas which broke them.
- The Foreign Press Association criticises “in the strongest terms… the blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox methods employed by the Hamas authorities” with respect to journalists covering Gaza – effectively seeming to confirm charges that reporting from Gaza was affected by intimidation and outright threats and harassment.
- Palestinian affairs journalist Khaled Abu Toameh says that Hamas’ main demand in the talks in terms of lifting the so-called “siege” of Gaza are not directed at Israel – they are a demand for Egypt to open its Rafah crossing into Gaza.
- Palestinian Human rights activist Bassem Eid explains why he believes that, by allowing Hamas to do what it has been doing in Gaza, Palestinians bear some responsibility for what is happening in Gaza. Coming close to blaming Hamas for the current war and bloodshed was Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah last week.
- An IDF document which pinpoints the vast number of Hamas rockets fired from schools, hospitals, clinics, mosques and civilian areas.
- Confirmation that the kidnapping and murder of three teens in June, which helped spark the current conflict, was indeed a Hamas operation supported by Hamas’ Gaza command as Israel has always maintained. Some comments on this from Seth Mandel.
- Isi Leibler writes to argue that relying on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as the solution to the Gaza problem would be a mistake.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Or Avi-Guy on the increasing admissions by mainstream media that the widely used Gaza casualty numbers are not reliable.
- Gabrielle Debinski writes about continuing Israeli efforts to ensure humanitarian aid reaches Gazans, despite Hamas efforts to interfere.
- Colin Rubenstein’s remarks made at a rally for peace in Melbourne last Sunday. Plus, the statement provided by Victorian opposition leader Daniel Andrews for that rally and some statements of support for Israel, as well as of concern about rising antisemitism, made by various MPs in the Victorian parliament.
- Jeremy Jones had a feature on the global rise of antisemitism during the current conflict in the Saturday Australian.
- AIJAC National Chairman Mark Leibler, in a piece published online by the Canberra Times and Sydney Morning Herald, takes on those who “excuse Hamas’ aggression by claiming that Israel turned its back on peacemaking with the Palestinians.”
In the winter of 2005, Ziad Abu Amr, a Gaza representative in the Palestinian Legislative Council, invited me to speak in Gaza City. As I entered the building for the event, I saw Mahmoud al-Zahar, one of the co-founders of Hamas. Before I could say anything, Ziad explained: “We decided to invite the opposition to hear you. We think it is important that they do so.”
I had not expected senior Hamas leaders to be there, but it didn’t alter my main message. Israel was slated to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in several months, so I emphasized that this was a time of opportunity for Palestinians — they should seize it. I told the audience of roughly 200 Gazans that this was a moment to promote Palestinian national aspirations.
If they took advantage of the Israeli withdrawal to peacefully develop Gaza, the international community and the Israelis would see that what was working in Gaza could also be applied to the West Bank. However, I then asked rhetorically: If Palestinians instead turn Gaza into a platform for attacks against Israel, who is going to favor an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the creation of a Palestinian state?
Much of Palestinians’ history might have been imposed on them by others, I said. But this time they had the power to shape their future. If they made the wrong choice, they could not blame the Arabs, the Europeans, the Americans — or the Israelis.
While the audience was not shy about criticizing the U.S. role in peacemaking, no one challenged my main message that day.
Unfortunately, we know the path Hamas chose. Even as Israel was completing the process of withdrawing all its settlers and soldiers from Gaza, Hamas carried out a bus-station bombing in Israel. Then, from late 2005 to early 2006, Hamas conducted multiple attacks on the very crossing points that allowed people and goods to move into and out of Gaza. For Hamas, it was more important to continue “resistance” than to allow Gazans to constructively test their new freedom — or to give Israelis a reason to think that withdrawal could work. Some argue that Israel withdrew but imposed a siege on Gaza. In reality, Hamas produced the siege. Israel’s tight embargo on Gaza came only after ongoing Hamas attacks.
The embargo on Gaza might have hurt the Palestinians who live there, but it did not stop Hamas from building a labyrinth of underground tunnels, bunkers, command posts and shelters for its leaders, fighters and rockets. The tunnels are under houses, schools, hospitals and mosques; they allow Hamas fighters to go down one shaft and depart from another. According to the Israeli army, an estimated 600,000 tons of cement — some of it smuggled through tunnels from Egypt, some diverted from construction materials allowed into Gaza — was used for Hamas’s underground network.
At times, I argued with Israeli leaders and security officials, telling them they needed to allow more construction materials, including cement, into Gaza so that housing, schools and basic infrastructure could be built. They countered that Hamas would misuse it, and they were right. Developing Gaza — fostering a future for its people and protecting them — was not Hamas’s goal.
So long as Israel exists, Hamas will seek to fight it. It was not Israel’s opposition to the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) that led to this latest round of warfare. Rather, it was Hamas’s political isolation and increasingly desperate financial situation. The group was broke after Egypt closed the smuggling tunnels into Gaza, Iran cut off funding because of Hamas’s opposition to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and Qatar was unable to send money through the Rafah border crossing, which Egypt controls.
The reconciliation deal relieved Hamas of the need to govern Gaza and meet its financial obligations there — without relieving it of its weapons. But the PA wasn’t willing to pay the Hamas salaries, including to its security forces, so Hamas did what it does best: use force to alter the political landscape.
In the 1990s, when I was the U.S. negotiator on Middle East peace, every time we made progress or seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough, Hamas suicide bombers would strike Israeli cities. Six months before Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, he told me that the next Israeli election and Israel’s position toward the Palestinians would be determined not by anything he did but by whether Hamas carried out bombings in Israel. His message was that his security forces — and especially those of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat — had to do a better job of rooting out Hamas or our hopes for peace would be thwarted.
With its finances dwindling, Hamas initiated the recent conflict. This time, however, its leaders held the people of Gaza hostage to its needs, hoping that Egypt would feel the need to open Rafah, that Qatar would deliver money and that Israel would be forced to release Palestinian prisoners.
The Israelis will certainly resist an outcome that offers Hamas any gains. Having destroyed the tunnels that could penetrate Israel, the Israelis have pulled out of Gaza and were willing to extend the 72-hour truce that ended Friday. Hamas was not willing to do so. If Israel hopes to build broader international pressure on the group to stop firing, the Israel Defense Forces will need to avoid targets such as U.N. schools and hospitals. Of course, that is easier said than done, given that Hamas often fires rockets from or near such sites.
At some point, Hamas will stop firing rockets — if for no other reason than its arsenal is depleted. For the people of Gaza, however, the price has been staggering. But Hamas’s leaders have never been concerned about that. For them, Palestinians’ pain and suffering are tools to exploit, not conditions to end.
When relative calm returns, there will understandably be a push for a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas now even less able politically to tackle the core issues , a permanent agreement between the two sides is not in the cards. U.S. diplomacy, therefore, needs to be guided by several considerations and achievable aims.
First, the new strategic alignment in the region must be recognized. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates see the Muslim Brotherhood as an existential threat, and they will be natural partners in denying Hamas, the Palestinian wing of the Brotherhood, potential gains and assisting the PA’s reentry into Gaza.
Second, because Hamas is incapable of changing, it needs to be discredited. In the short term, humanitarian and reconstruction aid in Gaza must be managed so that Hamas cannot exploit it politically or militarily. The Obama administration should insist that the crossing points cannot be reopened until adequate safeguards are in place to prevent the diversion of the assistance. Not only would this permit the PA to reestablish itself at the Gaza crossing points, but it could also prevent Hamas from seizing materials shipped into the Gaza Strip. For the longer term, the United States should organize a Marshall Plan for Gaza contingent on Hamas disarming. If Hamas chooses arms over civilian investment and development, it should be exposed before Palestinians and the international community.
Third, it is important to build the political capital of Abbas and the PA by showing that they can deliver something in the West Bank. Consistent with its security concerns, Israel can expedite the movement of goods and materials destined for the West Bank, preventing them from needlessly getting held up in Israeli ports.
Fourth, focus on conflict management, not conflict resolution. The United States should try to broker unilateral steps that could change the dynamic between the Israelis and the Palestinians. For example, in what is referred to as Area C of the West Bank, Israel controls all planning, zoning and security. We would ask Israel to open Area C, which is 60 percent of the West Bank, to the Palestinians for housing construction and industrial parks. In exchange, we would ask the Palestinians to forgo moves in international organizations designed to symbolize statehood and pressure Israel.
Fifth, try to persuade Netanyahu to declare that Israel’s settlement construction will be made consistent with its two-state policy, meaning it will not build in areas that it thinks will be part of a Palestinian state. This would not only defuse the movement to delegitimize Israel internationally, but it would also make it easier for the Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis and Emirates to work more openly with Israel.
The point would be to create some positive movement on peace and Israel’s relations with its neighbors. The United States would publicly maintain its commitment to achieving two states for two peoples. Our diplomacy after this recent conflict must foster tangible changes on the ground, not promise a vision that is unachievable. That is the essence of good statecraft, and rarely has it been more needed.
Dennis Ross, counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, served as President Bill Clinton’s Middle East negotiator and was a special assistant to President Obama from 2009 to 2011.
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Understanding what the Muslim Brotherhood’s Gaza branch wants by studying its theology, strategy, and history
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The notion that truth is the first casualty of war has found expression in the ongoing fog of the current Israel-Hamas conflict – where truth is obscured or masked by oft-repeated clichés such as “cycle of violence,” false moral equivalences, or unconscionable allegations of Israeli “genocide.” If we want to prevent further tragedies in this conflict — let alone frame the basis for its resolution — then we have to go behind the daily headlines that cloud if not corrupt understanding, probe the real root causes of conflict, and finally travel the road not yet taken to its just resolution.
While the deliberate – and indiscriminate – bombardment of Israeli civilians, and the threat of abductions and mass killings from the terror tunnels, have been the trigger for this latest war, there is a longer and underlying proximate cause: the Hamas Terrorist War of Attrition against Israel since 2000.
Simply put, from 2000 to 2004, Hamas suicide bombers murdered over 1,000 Israelis – wounding some 3,000 – in a horrific and sustained terrorist assault that was defeated in part by the Israeli “Operation Defensive Shield” in 2002, and in part by the building of a security barrier, which dramatically reduced penetration by Hamas suicide bombers. In 2005, with the Hamas terrorist onslaught defeated, Israel moved to unilaterally disengage from Gaza. Accordingly, Israel withdrew all its soldiers and citizens, uprooted all its settlements and synagogues, but left behind 3,000 operating greenhouses and related agricultural assets, the whole as the basis for industrial and agricultural growth and development in Gaza.
How did Hamas respond? They destroyed the greenhouses, brutalized the Fatah opposition, effectively instituted a theocratic dictatorship in 2007, repressed its own people, and began the launching of more than 14,000 rockets and missiles targeting Israeli population centers. In effect, then, Hamas squandered the opportunity offered by Israel to live in peace, to utilize the industrial and agricultural assets, to engage in state-building; rather, Hamas preferred to divert resources for the building of a terrorist infrastructure that would punish its own people while threatening Israel.
In effect, then, this is the third Israel-Hamas war since the 2005 disengagement, with each prior truce or ceasefire only providing a basis and incipient trigger for the next war. In this latest conflagration, Hamas has repeatedly repudiated, yet again, a series of ceasefires arrangements and “humanitarian” pauses – while launching more than 3,000 rockets and missiles in the last month alone.
But while these unceasing terror attacks – and ongoing threats – have once again forced Israel to take action in self-defense and to target the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, this ongoing proximate trigger does not tell the whole story. Rather, it is a symptom, or proxy, for the root cause – the unwillingness of Hamas to recognize Israel’s existence within any boundaries. And more: the public call in the Hamas Charter – and in its declarations – for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews wherever they may be.
Let there be no mistake about it, Hamas is a unique – and evil – manifestation of genocidal anti-Semitism. These are not words that I use lightly or easily, but there are no other words to describe the toxic convergence of the advocacy by Hamas of the most horrific of crimes – namely genocide – anchored in the most enduring of hatreds – namely antisemitism – with state-orchestrated terrorism as the instrumentality to pursue these goals.
UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon said that one must seek the “root cause” of the Israel-Hamas conflict so as to enable us to resolve it. However politically incorrect it may be to say so, this culture of hatred – this genocidal anti-Semitism – is the root cause and has fueled the ongoing Hamas terrorist war of attrition.
Accordingly, what is so necessary now is not another ceasefire or humanitarian pause, but a ceasefire that is enduring and comprehensive, that will put an end to the Hamas Terrorist War of Attrition that has targeted Israel’s population and engulfed its own, and that will be protective of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians, as President Obama and other leaders have called for. Such a ceasefire will hopefully be the basis for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, anchored in two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security. This will require traveling on the road not yet taken – an agreed upon, and guaranteed, set of international, legal, diplomatic, political, security, economic, and humanitarian undertakings and initiatives as follows:
- A comprehensive — and enduring — ceasefire framework not only to halt but to end hostilities must be put in place. For such a ceasefire to endure, the casus belli that triggered these latest hostilities – that has underpinned the Hamas War of Attrition – must be addressed and redressed. Simply put, Hamas must cease and desist from its policy and practice of targeting Israeli civilians and terrorizing Israeli civilian populations.
- The ceasefire must be accompanied by massive humanitarian and medical relief, the delivery of some of which has thus far been hindered by Hamas itself, as with Hamas’ refusal to allow Gazans to avail themselves of an Israeli field hospital. Clearly, after the tragic death and destruction, there must be mandated and comprehensive international humanitarian assistance.
- Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist militias must be disarmed, as called for by EU Foreign Ministers, as a sine qua non for the cessation of hostilities.
- The Hamas military infrastructure – and related military and terrorist assets – rockets, missiles, launchers, mortars, munitions, and the like must be dismantled.
- There must be a complete closure – and destruction – of the Hamas terror tunnels – the standing instrument of terror and incipient mass murder. Indeed, captured Hamas battle plans reveal that Hamas was planning a mass terror attack during the Jewish New Year that would have threatened the lives of thousands. Even during the latest ceasefire, Hamas continued to threaten to deploy these terror tunnels.
- An end must be put to the Hamas capacity to manufacture rockets and other military assets. Simply put, there must be a supervised monitoring of the importation of building materials – like cement and steel – that have been used for the manufacture of weapons and tunnels, rather than the building of hospitals, schools, and mosques for which they were intended.
- The prohibition of the transfer or smuggling of weapons, like those advanced missiles from Iran, which both Hamas and Iran have boasted about, and with which Iran has threatened to re-supply Hamas in recent days. As senior Iranian official Mohsen Rezaei said this week “Palestinian resistance missiles are the blessing of Iran’s transfer of technology.”
- A robust international stabilization and protection force – with the necessary mandate, mission, and numbers – should be deployed to ensure that the ceasefire is respected; that Hamas and other terrorist militias are disarmed; that the military terrorist infrastructure is dismantled; that the terror tunnels are closed and destroyed – the whole to protect against the targeting of Israeli civilians and the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields. Indeed, while Israel has been forced to use weapons to protect civilians, Hamas has been using its captive civilian population to protect its weapons.
- This international protection force must also be empowered to secure a total interdiction of the transfer, import, or smuggling of weapons into Gaza – which is what triggered the blockade of Gaza in the first place after Hamas assumed power in 2007.
- An international framework – one of the most important initiatives of the road not yet travelled – will be necessary to secure and maintain the demilitarization of Gaza, while supervising the entry of people and goods into Gaza.
- The deployment of this international protection force – and the demilitarization of Gaza – can provide a basis for the reciprocal opening of border-crossings, the commensurate easing of the blockades, and the development of a Gaza sea port. Indeed, the movement of people, goods, commerce, trade, development, and evolving economic prosperity were precisely what was contemplated – and was clearly possible – when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. There was then no occupation, no blockade, no Israeli presence – only the potential for Gaza to freely develop and help usher in a nascent peace with Israel and self-determination for its people.
- In particular, the dismantling of Hamas’ extensive military and terrorist infrastructure – which is embedded amongst Gaza’s civilian population – and the demilitarization of Gaza – can ultimately lead to a “Marshall Plan” for Gaza with the ultimate goal of securing economic growth, development, and a sustainable peace.
- With order restored, an international governing authority – possibly led by the PA, but including European, American, Canadian, and Egyptian representation – should be the mandated trusteeship authority for Gaza. This can serve as a state-building authority that can be the basis for the emergence of a peaceful, rights-protecting, Rule of Law Gaza that can ultimately travel the road not yet taken to a peaceful and democratic Palestinian State.
- The direct financing of Hamas which was put to military and terrorist purposes must end. The internationally mandated authority should ensure that banks in China, Turkey, and Qatar do not continue to finance Hamas, and that governments such as Qatar and Iran do not finance Hamas’ war crimes.
- A crucial point oft ignored: Palestinian society in Gaza must be freed from the cynical and oppressive culture of hate and incitement. This not only constitutes a standing threat to Israel, but undermines the development of authentic Palestinian self-determination, as in the cruel deployment of Palestinian child labour in the terror tunnels. No peaceful solution will be possible if massive resources continue to be poured into state-controlled media, mosques, refugee camps, training camps, and educational systems that serve the sole purpose of demonizing Israel and the Jewish people, and inciting to war against them.
- Indeed, Hamas’ militant rejectionism of Israel’s right to exist –its public call for Israel’s destruction and the killing of Jews wherever they may be – have threatened the safety and security not only of Israelis but of Palestinians too. Regrettably, the Gazan people’s desire – and right – to live in peace and security cannot be realized so long as Hamas continues to hold its own people hostage, and to pursue a strategy of terror and incitement. Indeed, this war in Gaza is not only one of self-defense for the Israeli people, but should lead to the securing of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, who deserve better than to be held hostage by a terrorist regime.
Admittedly, these initiatives, undertakings, and objectives may be difficult to secure. But the time has come – indeed it is long past time – to realize that if we want to protect the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this is the road we must travel now.
Irwin Cotler co-chairs Canadian Parliamentarians for Human Rights and Democracy in Iran with MP James Bezan, and the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran with U.S. Senator Mark Kirk; He is the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada and emeritus professor of law at McGill University