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Solving the Hamas Problem


The Hamas problem will not go away. Therefore we must bore ourselves with yet another discussion of this discouraging topic. In Jordan Times, well meaning Walid M. Sadi offers the Hamas a way out: to accept the Arab peace initiative as demanded by Arab League Secretary, Amr Mousa. This, says Sadi, offers the same content as international initiatives, but as it doesn't come from the West or Israel, Hamas would not appear to be succumbing to Western and Israeli pressure.

There are a few problems with Sadi's proposal. The first problem is that the Arab peace initiative doesn't have quite the same content as the quartet proposals and Israeli demands. The former only outlines the terms for Arab peace with Israel, but doesn't say anything about what Palestinians must do. The latter insists that Palestinians stand by former agreements with Israel (oops!, that is a Fatah demand too) and abide by the roadmap, which calls for ending terror and incitement. Since the Hamas charter is one big bit of incitement, and since Hamas apparently cannot exist without continuing terror, it is unlikely Hamas will accept either of those conditions.

The second problem is that Hamas could only accept the Arab peace initiative as long as Israel does not do so. If Israel accepts the initiative, then the Hamas has to reject it. That's how the Hamas works.

The third problem is that asking the Hamas to accept the Arab peace initiative is like asking the Mongol marauder Hulagu to accept the Atlantic Charter. It isn't going to happen in reality, even if they pay lip service to it. Their charter states that negotiations are a waste of time, so why would they bother with the Arab peace initiative?

Last week the Hamas went out of its way to prove to all who want such proof that they aren't interested in peace, international opinion or even Palestinian opinion. First they condoned the recent Islamic Jihad suicide bombing in Tel Aviv as part of "legitimate right of resistance." The Fatah and PNA condemned the bombing. If you thought it could not get worse, later in the week, it did. Hamas declared that it was going to put an end to violence, by creating a special police force. The force would be headed by wanted terrorist Jamal Abu Samhadana, head of the renegade Popular Resistance Committees. Samhadana is wanted, among other things, for organizing the demolition of United States government officials who were on an aid mission to Gaza. He would continue his activities in the Popular Resistance Committees while supposedly running the new police force. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas blocked the appointment as illegal, but the Hamas responded that it was not. It remains to be seen who will have the last word.

The question is, what is do be done?

In principle, the European Union, the US and Israel are no doubt right to block aid to the Hamas, as it is the only hope of producing a change in their political direction. The problem with this "solution" is that it is not a solution. It may indeed be that the Fatah, as well as Israel and the Quartet are looking forward to an early demise of the Hamas government, as Charmaine Seitz commented in a MERIP report. We can hardly fault Fatah for trying, though MERIP does. Bringing down the opposition is what democracy is all about. After all, MERIP would be the first to insist that the PLO is the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. If it was OK to blow up Israelis to achieve that recognition, why should it be wrong to try to oust Hamas when they want to deny the legitimacy of the PLO? All's fair in love, war and terrorism.

However, blocking aid will unite Palestinians behind the Hamas, as Danny Rubinstein commented. Blocking aid will also impoverish the Palestinians. That cannot be good for peace. The economic basis of most societies is production of something. The Palestinian economy at present does not not produce much of anything that can be traded for money. Gaza is blockaded by Israel, and in any case, the only industry that seems to interest Palestinians is the munitions industry. Qassam rockets can be exported without going through Israeli customs. Every additional unemployed able-bodied Palestinian becomes a candidate for the "resistance" movement that is funded by Iran. Economic adversity in Palestinian society is sure to generate more terrorists, as it has done since the 1930s. Hamas will make up the shortfall with contributions from Iran, but of course these contributions will require a quid pro quo. Terror thus becomes the main Palestinian export industry.

Even if Fatah were to return to power, they would have a strong Hamas looking over their shoulder, and actively blocking every peace move, as in the past.

One option we should not ignore is the imposition of an international force that would rule either Gaza or Gaza and the West Bank, as Gershon Baskin has suggested for the West Bank.

There are only three problems with this approach:
1. The Hamas and Fatah and other extremists will not permit this force to disarm terror groups.
2. No country, certainly not the United States, would be ready to occupy Gaza and keep the peace. The Egyptians don't want to have anything to do with it, and the Israelis got out with good reason. Perhaps Iran would be ready to undertake this task, but that is not quite what anyone had in mind.
3. Israel probably wouldn't allow it.

Therefore, an international force is a good idea, other than the fact that nobody will allow it and nobody wants to do it. The devil is in the details as always.

There do not seem to be any good options for dealing with Hamas, and the options may get worse. The rain of Qassam (and some Katyousha) rockets on Israel that comes from Gaza has thus far resulted in few casualties. Israel has no effective response to the Qassams other than reoccupying Gaza. What Israel is doing now, shelling Gaza indiscriminately, is worse than no response at all. It doesn't stop the Qassams, it threatens Palestinian civilians and gets everyone sore. The shelling of Gaza is therefore intended for internal political political purposes only. It is Israel's "right" to respond, but it is stupid to respond in this way. It is inevitable that since the terrorists keep trying, they will eventually hit some thing or someone that will cause a huge amount of damage that cannot be ignored, and result in fairly massive loss of life. At that point it will be politically and perhaps militarily impossible for Israel not to reoccupy Gaza, and indeed plans to do so exist, and are mentioned with increasing menace. That is precisely the outcome that Hamas and Islamic Jihad want to see. At that point of course, Israeli soldiers will be inside Gaza, where it would be much easier to target them. Killing of Israeli soldiers could be sold as legitimate resistance to occupation. The pressure would certainly grow in Europe to end the economic boycott of the Palestinian government. At the same time, it would become politically impossible, as well as silly perhaps, for Israeli PM Ehud Olmert to implement disengagement in the West Bank, after the Gaza disengagement proved itself to be a failure.

However, while there are no good options, it doesn't mean that Israel and the quartet and the rest of the world have to be focused only on implementing the worst possible options. There is no reason for Israel to continue bombardment of Gaza in response to Qassam attacks, since the bombardment just gets everyone mad at Israel. The security value of the spectacular strikes against Islamic Jihad terrorists is probably outweighed by the political damage they do in garnering support for militants.

The quartet and moderate Arab countries should be busy making Fatah clean house or building a moderate, non-corrupt political alternative to Fatah that provides the all-important social services which are the backbone of Hamas support. In the long run, providing a reasonable alternative to the Hamas is a much sounder policy than trying to force Palestinians to accept the same old corrupt Fatah-PLO-Tunis government which they rejected.

Finally, Israel should be considering what practical and diplomatic steps it can take to strengthen Palestinian moderates and give Palestinians some real hope for peace. For example, Israel should be offering to open a passage for goods through Rafah as well as a Palestinian seaport and Gaza-West bank passage, in return for real Palestinian action to stop terror. This is not quite the same as the current policy, which just states that none of these can be implemented because of the security situation. Israel should also consider a diplomatic initiative based on the Saudi Peace plan, which is not exactly the same as the Arab peace initiative adopted in Beirut, and should use this initiative both to advance the peace process and to help isolate the Hamas in the Arab world.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000452.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 10 comments

Very nice article.

It deserves to be a 5-10 minute documentary, shown before the movies in US theatres.

Of course, like some of the things you mentioned above, great idea, and no one will do it.

Really, though, thank you.

Posted by Joshua Narins @ 04/24/2006 08:43 PM CST

I don't think an international force is a good idea. Unless the Palestinians themselves to stop terrorism and the anarchy an international force will not be able to do anything but stand idelly while terrorism and Israeli retaliations continue. It is about time leftists and Palestinians realize that the international community is not going to solve this problem for us.

The Palestinian will not stop terrorism or dismantle the organizations or stop anti-Israeli rhetoric. It is also pointless to ask them to codemn terrorism, recognize Israel, cancel charters etc. Statements like that are worthless. When they make them they are not trustworthy, when they don't it is just posturing. Al these prior demands don't acheive anything of value, they just keep everything in a state of paralysis combined with annoying excuses and demands for confidence building measures from the Israelis. Israel can't really strengthen the moderates. Any concession is credited to the 'resistance' any unsatisfactory concession is blamed on the moderates.
Trying to topple the Hamas is also a bad idea, it will just discredit anyone who comes next and will increase the anarchy.

Everything should be moved to a concrete level:
1) Israel should be willing to negotiate with any Palestinian leadership on a two state solution without any preconditions on either side. (Preferably based on the Saudi plan assuming it is a good one). But it should be clear that any agreement reached will not be implemented if the current status continues. This could serve as an incentive for the Palestinian to shape up or discredit the Hamas or place it at a dilemma. (Here the international community could act as hosts).
2) Israel should offer the Palestinians the option of a mutual ceasefire, in which both sides stop attacks. But it should be made clear that if terrorism continues so do Israeli countermeasures. Israel should try to avoid hitting civilians, but it should be clear that Israel has the option to use military force, and that it is willing to stop using it if terrorism stops.
3) Economic incentives and cooperation, reduction of roadblocks, international recognition etc. should be offered in relation to the exact degree in which the Hamas reduces the anarchy in the territories and accepts agreements signed by its predecessors.
4) Humanitarian help should be offered either directly by the international community or by arab states bypassing Hamas or through moderates.

Ultimately this should acheive some or all of these goals.
1) Presenting a clear image of a Palestinian state as incentive for the Palestinians to shape up.
2) Moving to a relationship of negotiations with the Palestinians -- the change of atmosphere is important. Or alternatively showing that the Hamas is the one not willing to negotiate a two state deal.
3) Giving the Palestinians an honorable way and incentive to (temporarily) stop (but not dismantle) terrorism, this stopping the cycle of retaliations, and changing the atmosphere. Or alternatively, making sure that Israel's use of force is inevitable, and is done to prevent actual terrorism that will not be stopped any other way. (A promise that terrorism wil stop in some future date after peace is worthless. If there are real negotiations, and the Palestinians do not stop terrorism while it takes place, Israel is completely justified in using countermeasures.)
4) Creating a system in which there is a price tag for every action by Israel or the Palestinians, good or bad, instead of the system in which Israelis and Palestiniand demand concessions on the promise of future payment.
5) Give the Palestinians real incentives (and the ceasefire) to bring order to their society, and an incentive for the Hamas to become more moderate, or face real criticism from moderates who wil be able to present a real alternative to the Palestinians.

Posted by Micha @ 04/25/2006 02:37 AM CST

This is very funny:-

"Qassam rockets can be exported without going through Israeli customs."

However this is very stupid:-

"the only industry that seems to interest Palestinians is the munitions industry."

A joke has to be true to be funny. Obviously most Palestinians would prefer to have a stable economic situation and get on with their lives unmolested. However misguidedly, they saw Hamas as a better route to that than Fatah.

Don't forget, Hamas itself has maintained a truce for a year now, so your comments about it being unable to exist without terror seem a little wide of the mark.

Your conclusions are good, however.

Posted by Chris @ 04/28/2006 08:34 PM CST

Dear Chris,
I don't know why it is true that the Arabs of Palestine never developed industry, but they didn't. It is not just a problem of the occupation, but a general one that should interest serious students of the Middle East. From 1920 to 1948, the Arab and Jewish communities existed side by side. The Arabs of Palestine had large numbers of people willing to work for little money. The Middle East had no industry then, and anything they produced could have been exported to anywhere in the Arab world. The Jews had a relatively limited number of immigrants who were mostly unused to industrial labor or manual labor of any kind, expecting and requiring higher wages (because they could not live at home in extended families in rural settings), quarelsome and particular about working conditions, and almost anything they produced could not be exported to anywhere except as a charity gesture perhaps. Yet by 1948, each Jew in Palestine produced on average four times as much as each Arab. Between 1948 and 1967 there was virtually no progress in industrializing the West Bank or Gaza. During the years of the occupation, the GDP increased dramatically, though Israel discouraged homegrown industry. Palestinians acquired skills working at jobs in Israel that they could have put to use in Palestinian industries. Certainly after 1994 the Palestinians had a chance to industrialize, yet virtually nothing happened. The GDP decreased steadily after the Oslo agreements were signed, instead of taking off. What big industries do the Palestinian areas have today besides producing crude armaments? It is not funny at all. It is a sad fact.

Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 04/29/2006 03:08 AM CST

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Posted by CT Graphics @ 05/01/2006 12:03 AM CST

Yes, he is correct, that is a sad fact, and no joke at all. Industialization is a serious matter; next to education they nearly make up what determines a third-world country.

Posted by Ijesua Ralan @ 05/01/2006 07:53 PM CST

Thanks for that Ami.

From the CIA World Factbook:-

"In 2001, and even more severely in 2003, Israeli military measures in PA areas resulted in the destruction of much capital plant, the disruption of administrative structure, and widespread business closures. Including the West Bank, the UN estimates that more than 100,000 Palestinians out of the 125,000 who used to work in Israel or in joint industrial zones have lost their jobs. Half the labor force is unemployed."

I assumed that by "industry" you meant productive work in general rather than manufacturing, and on that basis I stand by my comment. I have been to a number of sites of conflict (not including Palestine) and people in general remain primarily interested in earning a living.

Regarding economic development in the West Bank I bow to your local knowledge. However there does appear to have been SOME manufacturing industry or the CIA would not be referring to the destruction of capital plant by the IDF.

Posted by Chris @ 05/04/2006 04:25 PM CST

And from the "Financial Times":-

"Palestinian business calls for unity government
By Harvey Morris in Ramallah
Published: May 2 2006 18:31 Last updated: May 2 2006 18:31

Leaders of the Palestinian private sector on Tuesday called on Hamas and other political parties to set up a government of national unity that would formulate its own plan for peace with Israel.

The unprecedented entry of the business community into the political debate reflected the growing economic crisis in the Palestinian territories where more than 150,000 public employees this week went unpaid for a second month because of a suspension of international aid to the Hamas government."


Posted by Chris @ 05/05/2006 02:57 PM CST

Hopefully, some one will devise a creative solution to this problem which is currently being used to build popular support for Islamic fundementalism's war aganist western civilization.


Posted by peter @ 05/08/2006 02:39 AM CST

Hi all,
I hope I have cleaned up all the spam comments and that we at last have the problem under control.
Regarding Chris's comment, Chris should look at other parts of the CIA factbook, where he will find that the per capita GDP of the Palestinians increased about 8 fold from 1967 to 1993 and then fell between 1993 and 2000. It fell more when the Intifada started, but it began falling before Israeli destruction of infastructure, which only began in earnest with Operation Defensive Wall in April 2002.


Posted by moderator @ 05/19/2006 04:24 PM CST

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