Palestine: A cause or a state?

Why did Hamas attack out of the blue? Hamas apologists’ usual shibboleths can’t explain, let alone justify, the terror group’s actions.

By Amir Taheri | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
Hamas supporters protest against Israel in Nablus, in Samaria, on Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Hamas supporters protest against Israel in Nablus, in Samaria, on Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.

Why did Hamas trigger the current tragedy, that has given the old Israel-Palestine conflict an even deadlier dimension? And what are the chances for getting the two sides away from the edge of the abyss?

The tsunami of comments on the latest episode shows that the Israel-Palestine conflict remains a template on which advocates of rival ideologies project their fantasies and prejudices.

Why did Hamas trigger its attack out of the blue? Hamas apologists repeat the usual shibboleths: occupation, colonial settlements, expulsions, apartheid, the two-state solution.

The occupation claim is out because Israeli occupation of Gaza ended in 2005. Since 2007, Hamas has been in full control of the enclave and what is presented as its government.

The colonial settlements claim is equally inapplicable here because the last Israeli settlements in Gaza were dismantled in 2005 prior to full withdrawal.

The expulsion claim is even more outlandish. Between 2005 and the latest Hamas attack the only expulsions that happened in Gaza concerned Bedouin tribes kicked out of their villages and grazing areas by Hamas gunmen. An estimated 20,000 Bedouin have been expelled to Egypt and Israel, the latest being inhabitants of villages in the Om Nasser area.

The apartheid claim is even less credible, if only because there is not a single Israeli living in Gaza to practice it.

The claim that Hamas is fighting for a two-state solution is also untrue, as the militant organization has consistently opposed it. Hamas has never hidden its hope of imposing a one-state solution, which means the elimination of Israel in any shape or form.

People like Josep Borrel, the European Union’s foreign policy spokesman, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the French leftist coalition, try to drown the fish by implying that although none of those “reasons” concerns Hamas, we must assume that it is fighting on behalf of all Palestinians, including those in the West Bank.

But that means bestowing on Hamas a mandate it has never received from the Palestinians, while casting doubt on the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, which is recognized by all Arab and Islamic states, as well as by the United Nations. In the only more or less credible election held among Palestinians, Hamas won 44.2% of the votes to the P.A.’s 42.5%. Even then it was Hamas who withdrew from the scheme and expelled Fatah and other pro-P.A. groups from Gaza.

In the past few days, traditional and social media have been presenting the “two state” scheme as the magic formula that can close this 100-year saga. That, however, is no more than an attempt to fig-leaf the nakedness of pundits and policymakers.

We don’t know what a majority of Israelis and Palestinians think about that fig-leaf. But what is certain is that the leaders on both sides have never seriously committed to a roadmap in that direction.

The P.A. and Hamas have preferred to pose as guardians of the flame rather than builders of a state, Hamas in a straightforward and honest way and the P.A. with a forked tongue. For a brief period between 2007-2013, the P.A. under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tried to promote a state-building culture as opposed to chest-beating for “the cause.” But both Hamas and the P.A. did all they could to derail Fayyad’s project.

The P.A.’s latest position on the two-state formula includes the return to 1949 ceasefire lines, something that no Israeli leader could accept.

Israeli leaders have been equally evasive, if not downright deceptive, on the “two-state” formula. Even before it became a diplomatic cliché, Israel tried to give a nod to Palestinian self-rule with the Yigal Alon plan that offered Palestinians a Bantustan-style administration. Ariel Sharon’s “Gaza first” scheme was presented as the first step towards a two-state solution. Sharon, however, saw a semi-independent Gaza in military terms as a glacis, not realizing that a glacis could also morph into a base for aggression.

The “Gaza first” scheme exposed the concept of “security through evacuation” as a dangerous myth that replaced another myth: land for peace, which has offered what amounts to lukewarm and always reversible peace.

Israeli leaders always tried to drive a wedge between Gaza and the West Bank. They encouraged, not to say actually promoted, the creation of Hamas as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, to undermine not only Fatah but also the grassroots Palestinian leadership represented by people like Haidar Abdul-Shafi that emerged in the aftermath of the Madrid Peace Conference. But when Hamas proved disappointing and the Madrid negotiators not easily controllable, Israel put their chips on Yasser Arafat with the Oslo Accords.

All along, Israeli leaders tried to jump through one hoop after another to avoid seriously dealing with the “two-state” formula which the United States and its Western allies promoted regardless of its lack of support among Israelis and Palestinians.

The Israel-Palestine conflict started as a clash of Arab nationalism and Zionism, both modeled on 19th century European nationalistic movements. After the Second World War the clash assumed a geo-political dimension that was intensified during the Cold War.

With the end of the Cold War that geopolitical dimension has assumed an ideological varnish, with the “Palestinian cause” used, and abused, as a means of legitimizing regimes as diverse as the Islamic Republic of Iran; the AKP in Turkey and, believe it or not, the leftist outfit in Colombia. And that not to mention “return ticket revolutionaries” in the West who draw voyeuristic pleasure from watching others kill and die for “great causes.”

Throughout the Cold War, ignoring the geopolitical dimension of the Israel-Palestine issue encouraged diplomatic wild-goose chases most notoriously symbolized by the “two-state” formula. Today, the same error is repeated by focusing almost exclusively on Hamas without asking who is funding, training, arming and manipulating Hamas in the name of “clash of civilizations.”

The current tragedy has shattered the status quo that took shape in the aftermath of the Cold War. Attempts at reviving it in one form or another will only provide a prelude to even greater tragedies.


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