Netanyahu needs Hamas, and here's why
Many Israeli leaders have always been far more concerned about Palestinian nationalism than Hamas
“Hamas is like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah or Boko Haram” boomed the chest-thumping Benjamin Netanyahu. It seems the Israeli prime minister wants outsiders to believe that this should permit all manner of aggressive actions against this enemy even if it includes pummeling civilian targets inside Gaza. Yet whilst Hamas has committed atrocities (as has Israel), it is far from being al-Qaeda and Netanyahu knows it.
Despite the thousands of tons of Israeli (and most likely U.S.) bombs being dropped on Gaza once again and the endless Palestinian civilians and children in body bags, Israel even under Netanyahu has had a rich tradition of doing deals with Hamas. It has turned a blind eye to its rearming and even had a hand in encouraging its growth in its early years. Netanyahu himself agreed ceasefire terms with this group in 2012. He released 1,027 prisoners in a deal with its leadership in 2011, all approved by the Israeli cabinet.
This is nothing new. Hamas grew out of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its growth was encouraged by Israel throughout the 1970s and 1980s as a counterweight to the Palestinian national movement in the form of the PLO. Their charitable activities were permitted and their work facilitated. There were rumors that Israel even helped fund it.
Israeli and Palestinian peace camps have been squeezed by the more warlike parties and movementsChris Doyle
Many Israeli leaders, particularly from the Likud, have always been far more concerned about Palestinian nationalism than Hamas. Ariel Sharon was obsessed with Yasser Arafat for this reason, as the former PLO leader was possibly the only man who could deliver a Palestinian state and end Sharon’s dreams of settling in all of the West Bank. The then Israeli finance minister, Silvan Shalom, shared his view when he said in 2001, “Between Hamas and Arafat, I prefer Hamas.”
Hamas is Netanyahu’s get-out-clause. He knows he will never have to sign any peace deal nor accept a Palestinian state he openly opposes as long as Hamas is in power in Gaza. This is why I believe he had to destroy the April Fatah-Hamas unity deal, which, if he was interested in peace would have been welcomed. This is why he has never done a deal with President Abbas but instead undermines him by continually announcing settlement expansion and demolishing Palestinians homes.
Middle Eastern playbook
And this is the playbook adopted across the Middle East. Regimes are ensuring that they have unacceptable, violent and fanatical oppositions. Some say that the Syrian regime facilitated this by releasing hard-line Islamists onto the streets. The secular regime could be delighted to see the rise of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. The pitch to his doubting Syrian population was: do you want Assad or these guys who blow you up, crucify people or flog them? In Iraq, Maliki is scaring his own Shiite heartlands in just the same way about ISIS. It is not a tactic unique to the region. The West built up communism and communists as the enemy of the age, and then repeated the trick with success with Muslims. Of course the U.S. also found Muslim fighters to be strategically useful in confronting the Soviet Union. Israel likewise portrays Hamas in such terms, confident that it can be counted on to be provoked into committing atrocities.
For years, Israel calmly watched as Hamas and other groups built up their missile arsenals underneath Gaza, using the tunnels under the Egyptian border. These tunnels, I believe, were large enough to allow a Hummer to drive through and numbered at their maximum some 2000. For a state seemingly so concerned about rockets and other weapons arriving in Gaza, Israel, far from tackling this, tacitly encouraged this armament process especially after Operation Cast Lead in 2009. It tightened the blockade, making the tunnel economy extremely profitable. Unable to import through the legal, verified and monitored means at the official crossing points, Palestinians had to import nearly all products via these tunnels. Even the fish in Gaza largely came via the tunnels, as fishermen were unable to go beyond three nautical miles as enforced by Israeli gunboats. Construction materials could only enter via the tunnels. And of course, so did all the weapons, including the long-range missiles that have been indiscriminately fired at Israeli civilians even to the outskirts of Haifa.
If Israel had at any time decided to open the official crossing points to imports, it would have taken all the financial benefits out of the tunnels, ended a massive income stream for Hamas which taxed every single product imported via the tunnels. Yet again the question remains: Why were Israeli ministers content for so long for Hamas and other groups to rearm? It was not as if there was a lack of international support for any effort to prevent Hamas disarming.
Israeli leaders are fully aware of recent history. It seems that every time they launch a military operation against Hamas, the latter ends up more popular. Hezbollah was also a beneficiary of Israeli aggression, not least in 2006. Is this accidental?
As in Syria and Iraq, Israeli and Palestinian peace camps have been squeezed by the more warlike parties and movements. Israel has arrested even deported peaceful non-violent activists such as Mubarak Awad. The simple reason, I feel, is that any pluralistic, peaceful, democratic opposition is a serious threat to any regime and any occupying power. A single elected Palestinian legitimate leadership would be a nightmare to those in Israel who want no peace deal. As long as this continues, the warmongers of the Israeli Right and Hamas will engage in their regular confrontations and ceasefire agreements, always checking their domestic backyard to ensure the wannabee peacemakers remain beleaguered and side-lined. This is symbiotic relationship where the Israeli far Right and Hamas feed off each other to stay in power is to the ultimate detriment of all Israelis and all Palestinians.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
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