January 11, 2009
Let's say that you love the Palestinians, are sympathetic to Arabs, and are indifferent to Israel.
Presumably, you would favor an immediate ceasefire to stop Palestinian suffering. But what else? What next? What is the solution from your point of view, from the Palestinian point of view?
The answer is: you should support the downfall of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Let me explain why:
First, only the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank, is capable of making peace with Israel because Hamas does not want to do so and demands total victory and Israel's extinction. But without a negotiated peace, the conflict will go on forever and the vestiges of occupation will not end. There will not be a Palestinian state.
Even if you believe the world should pressure Israel into major concessions, Israel will not give way even under the greatest pressure if Hamas is involved because that would be suicidal. And with Palestinian leadership divided into two regimes, no negotiation can succeed any way.
If Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, progress toward peace is impossible. No peace, no dismantling of settlements (on the West Bank, they've already been dismantled in the Gaza Strip. Remember? When Israel withdrew completely and turned the Gaza-Egypt border over to the Palestinians?]. No peace, no Palestinian state. No peace, no serious economic construction and stability. No peace, no resettling of Palestinian refugees in a country of their own.
Second, Hamas is a disaster for Palestinians as a ruler. It is creating a repressive Islamist state where freedom will be extinguished, women treated as third-class citizens, and children will be brought up to be suicide bombers. While Hamas has had social welfare programs to recruit supporters and support the families of those it has ensured would be martyrs, it has no interest in educational, health, infrastructure, and job creation or anything but waging war.
In addition, Hamas will never get much, if any, economic support from the international community whereas with a PA government, as has been shown previously, billions of dollars of aid money has been given. The resources Hamas gets are mainly plowed into waging war. For Hamas, Palestinians are instruments for waging jihad, privileged to become martyrs to the cause. If the Palestinians were to get their own state or enjoy higher living standards, Hamas fears they will become content with the status quo and abandon the struggle. For Hamas, that is a fate for Palestinians worse than death--their deaths.
Of course, the PA is, to put it mildly, far from perfect. It is plagued by corruption and inefficiency though over the last year it has shown marked improvement. Why did Hamas win the election? Partly due to the PA's shortcomings; largely due to the internal divisions of Fatah which rules the PA. After all, if so many Fatah candidates hadn't run against each other, the race would have been very close.
At the same time, it is important to remember that the current Hamas government is not an elected government. Hamas signed a coalition agreement with Fatah then staged a coup to seize power completely, killing and expelling its rival. The current regime is thus not the product of the people's choice but of a takeover. To cite two examples, the Communists in 1917 Russia and the National Socialist Party in 1932 Germany, both won elections. But they then seized power, outlawed the opposition, and held on for a long time. The Hamas pattern is similar.
Third, in material terms, Hamas has led and will continue to lead to massive bloodshed and suffering. Blame it on Israel if you wish, but remember something rather important: the Israel-West Bank border is completely quiet. There are no sanctions, no blockade. Indeed, Israel supports other countries giving aid and even weapons to the PA, albeit with limits in the latter case. Israel isn't fighting "the Palestinians" it is fighting Hamas. Why? Because Hamas is fighting Israel.
Even if you have the most negative possible view of Israel: go on, throw out all your nastiest adjectives and biggest anti-Israel claims. The fact is that Israel exists and will continue to do so. It will also continue to defend its citizens--you can call it aggression if you want.
But these are facts. With the PA and peaceful strategies, individual Palestinians can enjoy relatively good lives and hope for the future. With Hamas, since it is going to spend decades in the martyrdom business and seeking Israel's extinction through violence, the fact is there is going to be a lot of violence. Even if Israel doesn't react to the first hundred of thousand missiles, mortar shells, and cross-border terrorist attacks, eventually it will do so. And we will see something like the current situation over and over again.
Finally, Hamas is a disaster for Arabs in other countries and for the Arabic-speaking world in general. The survival and strengthening of Hamas will help spread radical Islamism and terrorism to other countries at even higher levels. Many Arabs and Muslims will die, be wounded, and suffer. There will be more attacks and political turmoil in Egypt and Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, North Africa and the Gulf. These events will have nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with the kind of revolutionary movement Hamas represents. And this includes a long-term, internal Palestinian civil war as well.
So if you want to march for a ceasefire, campaign for a Palestinian state, and criticize Israel, just remember this: don't struggle to support those who will do more harm to the people you purport to care for--even if you blame Israel for it, the cause will be Hamas's policies--than anything else.
If you want to help in real terms, let's work together for a peaceful diplomatic resolution, a two-state solution, in which Palestinians have their own country, receive massive international aid, children can live in security, and there is real peace. For that goal, you will find the overwhelming majority of Israelis will agree with you. But remember, too, Hamas doesn't.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).