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Hamas: Twisting in the Wind


On the evening of 6th June 2006 during the BBC Newsnight programme, a representative of Hamas (Aziz Dueik) was asked directly whether Hamas recognised Israel's right to exist. His response was very interesting as an insight into the perspectives of Hamas and the dilemma it finds itself in. He provided two responses. The first that the PLO had already recognised Israel, the inference being that any further statement of recognition was unnecessary. The second was that Israel as the occupier / oppressor should be the first party to state that it recognised the right of the Palestinians to a nation state and the final boundaries of that state. It was in this second part, that he elucidated more upon his and Hamas' paradigm.

His perspective was that the occupied as the victim is not morally obliged to provide any initiative in pursuit of resolution, whereas the moral obligation to initiate and effect any progressive action remains exclusively with the oppressor / occupier. This stance resonates with the use of victimhood within Western society as a means to lobby for and obtain access to community resources, to stake the alleged moral high ground and to refute any substantive criticism. This "victimocratic" stance seeks to exploit the degree of uncertainty amongst observers in the democratic West, particularly the "liberal left" who evince a considerable lack of confidence in themselves and their values when it comes to requiring others to be in concord with them. This is rooted in large part in the guilt that they feel with respect to their governments' past and present policies. The degree to which they obtain vicarious pleasure from indulging this emotion is a debate for another place.

Nevertheless such statements by Hamas are indicative of the degree to which they are simply unready and incapable of providing government for the Palestinian nation. Such is their state of mind and the conflict within Hamas between those who perceive a pragmatic need to ensure supplies of material and financial resources, and those who are diametrically opposed to any action which might validate Israel. This creates a situation where effective and appropriate leadership is absent. It suggests also that Hamas was wholly unprepared to be elected into government, and had not considered the range of scenarios that might have evolved. Consequently they find themselves now twisting in the wind rather impotently attempting to resolve the crisis that the Palestinians face.

The proposed referendum exaggerates this dilemma by requiring Hamas either to accede to recognising Israel explicitly, thus obviating the need for referendum, or to establish clear distance between themselves and Fatah, establishing the need for the referendum. Hamas seems acutely aware of, and thus sensitive to, the appearance that if they do declare that they recognise Israel, they will appear to have lost, unless Israel declares its recognition of Palestine first. This strongly indicates that Hamas perceives itself as being very vulnerable at the moment to internal and external challenges from a number of quarters.

On one hand Hamas needs to keep its militant armed wing on-board, and thus maintains the appearance that it is seeking to pursue existential war against Israel. I suspect the driver here is that the armed factions who draw pay currently are aware that if peace breaks out then their services would be no longer needed. On the other Hamas has taken office on the premise that it would address the imbalance in the relationship between Palestine and Israel to satisfy the Palestinian need to enhance their collective sense of self-esteem. Hamas’s tough talking has failed to deliver either reform of the corrupt administration or a sense of empowerment in its engagement with Israel. Instead it has led Palestine closer to national implosion and collapse. However both these perspectives are introspective, and do not allow for the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exists within a global context. They both ignore that currently Palestine is a dependent of the global community, and has neither the resources nor the social structure to escape the constraints of that dependency.

In my opinion the reason that the Palestinians now find themselves in this position with a “lame-duck” government is that they have consistently failed, together with their allies, to engage in a national debate about what the final objectives of their struggle should be, within the framework of what is achievable. Nor has the Palestinian nation sought to explicitly recognise their own culpability for their own failure. Instead they have wallowed in self-pitying victimhood, or indulged in vainglorious expressions of national fervour, neither of which is capable of delivering up a viable nation state. This has been compounded by the liberal left in the West and their constant willingness to hold Israel culpable for all events while effectively infantilising the Palestinians.

The future is very bleak. If the Palestinians cannot find within themselves effective leadership, and form a government accordingly, then we can expect to see the steady and inevitable degradation of Palestinian society to the point where it collapses. In such circumstance the factions will battle openly for the limited resources available and the weak and the vulnerable will suffer. As this progresses, Israel will find itself drawn into the conflict in order to contain it, and to deal with its human victims.

Rod Davies

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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/00000470.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.

by Moderator @ 04:02 PM CST [Link]


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Replies: 14 comments

I disagree with the idea that the Palestinians have no national concensus. Polls have shown consistantly that Palestinians support a two state solution. One poll even shown that 90% of the refugees won't even attempt to try to return home even if they are given the right to. I have always disagreed with your assessment that the Palestinians lack of direction has hurt them. As Henry Seigman said in the New York Times if Abbas were given a chance to talk to the Israelis he could a referendum within a year on any compromise made between the Israelisand the Palestinians.

The IRA once wanted to unite Ireland but decided to accept no reunification. Groups have started out with radical idealogies and slowly changed their ways to more realistic goals. These groups need reasons to be realistic. Compromise and negotiation can reach realism but unfortunately Israel since Sharon has no desire to make a deal that would give land without the Palestinians throwing down all their cards by disarming themselves. Hamas decided to just as stubborn and demanded that Israel leave the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These hardline positions are what keeps the conflict going. Compromise leads to peace not peace then compromise.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 06/08/2006 06:19 PM CST

Dear Buhtros, if you imagine that weapons give the Palestinians an edge, you are much mistaken I am afraid. The hard-line Zionists want nothing better than the Palestinians to remain wedded to the gun. They can absorb anything that the Palestinians can throw at them, and they can retaliate far in excess of anything the Palestinians can match. The war is futile, and with each bomb the Palestinians lose more.
If the Palestinians want to win this struggle, it can only be with peace and flowers. If, instead of posturing with guns, the Palestinians simply stood quietly in front of the Israeli soldiers, smiled, then handed them a flower and simply said "Please let me have my home land too." How long would it be before the soldiers joined them?

There is no point trying to use violence against Jews, they have too much experience of it and they have been handled by experts to be much impressed by the Palestinians pathetic attempts. But their weakness is their desire for kindness and gentleness. It is so obvious, and the only questions that remain are:
1. Why haven't the Palestinians tried this approach?
2. Who, other than the Jews, benefit from this continual war and fears peace?

Posted by Rod Davies @ 06/08/2006 09:22 PM CST

You want to know why the Palestinians don't compromise. Because the PLO and others like Hamas have it easy manipulating the public while blaming the Israelis for everything. They don't want peace because with peace comes being responsible for fixing problems. These groups only know how to destroy not to build. So while they fight Israel they get money from other Arab states via grants and "charity" that they proceed to launder and make themselves rich like Arafat did. So for these terrorist groups peace is very unprofitable. Do you really think they care that they are making the average Palestinian live in squalid conditions? Hell no!

Posted by Jeff @ 06/08/2006 09:30 PM CST

While I do agree that the armed struggle is probably not the best strategy for the Palestinians, this idea that the Israelis are cuddly peace loving hippies who will on presentation of flowers will immediately join hands with their neighbours and sing "We are the World" strikes me as a little far-fetched. The more likely result of a complete Palestinian cessation of violence would appear to be continued settlement activity and provocation by right-wing Israelis to get the conflict restarted.

The main reason that non-violence would be a better strategy is that it would make it easier for Palestinians to enlist support from outside the region. They certainly cannot beat Israel militarily and the struggle itself is damaging their society as well as validating the Israeli hawks.

Your analysis of the situation Hamas finds itself in seems sound, however seeking to blame the victims doesn't alter the fact that the Palestinians *are* the victims in this conflict and Israel holds most of the cards when it comes to dealing out a settlement. All the Palestinians can do presently is choose between a variety of bad options none of which seem likely to give them what they require.

And no-one seems to be applying that "you brought it on yourselves" argument to the Darfur situation (among others), although it is equally valid there.

Posted by Chris @ 06/08/2006 10:47 PM CST

Incidentally, doesn't the fact that someone from Hamas made an interesting and extremely ambiguous comment on Newsnight suggest to anyone that it might be worth talking to Hamas? Even if only in a backchannel sort of way....

Posted by Chris @ 06/08/2006 10:51 PM CST

Regarding your comment about "the "liberal left" who evince a considerable lack of confidence in themselves and their values when it comes to requiring others to be in concord with them", I was immediately sure that you have a misunderstanding. As a liberal leftie myself, I hold the core value of NOT "requiring others to be in concord" with me. I have excellent self-esteem about and confidence in this core value. It is a value that terrorists (and the present US administration) absoloutely do not hold.
In my opinion, Israel and Palestine at this point have both committed so many atrocities that they are equally culpable, and should be forcibly separated by high walls. Unfortunately, Middle Eastern cultures indulge in ridiculously long memories of hatreds, killing each other for 2000-year-old grudges, so the walls may need to stay up for five thousand years or more. This is rooted in large part in a worldview that cherishes a particular area of rocky desert over the lives of their children. The degree to which they obtain vicarious pleasure from indulging these emotions is a debate for another place.


Posted by Daphne @ 06/08/2006 11:58 PM CST

1. The IDF is trained to respond to violence, as are all armies. Thus to present the IDF with non-violence and peaceful gestures attacks the fundamental elements of their training and appeals to individual soldiers as human beings. This in turn assaults the organisational unity of the IDF and the polarisation that exists in any conflict. I believe that 90% of IDF conscripts would rather being doing anything else other than fighting the Palestinians - therefore they are suspectible to individual peaceful gestures.
2. The comments made by Hamas indicated that while talk with them may be possible they are not at the stage of political maturity for those talks to be fruitful. Fundamentally they are not willing to accept responsibility, and there remains serious doubts that Hamas can deliver on peace.

While the application of the term "liberal left" is almost hopelessly broad, there is nevertheless, in my opinion, a crisis within many that like to claim that appellation. It is inconsistent and frequently patronising in its dealing with other groups. It demands standards of one group that it doesn't apply to others. However, it is my sad experience that many on the left evince attitudes which one can only conclude are rooted in racism.
Finally despite the liberal left's frequent claims to intellectualism, too frequently it applies criteria which are irrational, emotive and unfactual. This latter situation applies across the board, and not just in relation to the Middle East, and is highly damaging to the societies that are impacted by it. The worst symptom of this is the apparent ease that the liberal left demonstrates in using violence in suppressing open debate when dissenting voices seek to express themselves.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 06/09/2006 10:37 AM CST

As a signatory of the Euston Manifesto, and a firm believer in being careful about generalizations, I don't like the wholesale smearing of the "liberal left." If we insist that only reactionaries are against terror, we are giving the opposition an advantage they do not deserve.

Ami Isseroff

Posted by Moderator @ 06/10/2006 04:36 PM CST

The point that I would like to make to Daphne is that this is not a 2000 year old grudge, it's a 58 year old grudge. So far as I can see the Zionists never bore any particular grudge against the Palestinians, they just chose to ignore their interests when implementing their own solution to the European "Jewish Question" - and then wondered why they got so upset.

Posted by Chris @ 06/12/2006 06:09 PM CST

In my opinion to consider the present conflict in terms of only the last 58 years is an error. Minimally I believe that we should consider a historical envellope of about 200 years. The reason for this is that we need to understand the relative decline and weakness of the Ottoman Empire. The rise of nationalism in the West and how the Middle East responded. The structure of the "Palestinian" society at the end of the 18th century. It may even be fruitful to expand the envellope to take in the pre-Crusuade period when looking at the economy.
I am far from certain that I have a grip of all the elements, but for certain this conflict is much more complex than many would have us believe. I suspect we are unable to distance ourselves sufficiently from it to be truly objective.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 06/12/2006 09:56 PM CST

Rod: I must say that you make many good points. Personally, my beliefs are similiar to Daphne's. I believe both sides gave up the right to call themselves 'moral' a long time ago. And remember, what you have said about the left is equally true about the right. Two sides to every story.

Posted by Paul Jones @ 06/14/2006 06:40 PM CST

Hi Chris and Rod if you are still reading this.

All the elements of the Jewish-Arab conflict were born long before 1948. The riots of 1936 were a dress rehearsal for 1948 and the riotss of 1929 were a dress rehearsal for 1936, and it went back much farther than that, to the Arab kids who threw rocks at my great grandather in Jerusalem 125 years ago.

It is not a matter of a grudge or 58 years or 200 hundred years. We have to understand what "Jew" meant in Arab society (and in European society) for 2000 years. A Jew was someone who by definition was unfit to rule and by Muslim law, like Christians, could not be a soldier either. A Jew had only privileges or concessions in both Muslim and Christian societies, but no rights. In Muslim society, Christians could be OK as soldiers if they were converted (Janissaries were a famous example), but Jews were deemed to be genetically worthless as fighters. In Muslim society, if you could not be a soldier, you could not really be a man. The Turks, after the reform, had a joke about a unit of Jews that was recruited to the army. They trained up and were finally sent out on their mission in a far province, but they came back, because they met robbers on the way and were afraid.

At the same time, the Zionists considered the Arabs mostly as a problem, rather than as people. It is not true that Zionists ignored the Arabs of Palestine, except perhaps initially. At least they didn't ignore them after about 1910. Neither Jabotinsky nor Ben Gurion ignored them. However, Arab opposition to Jewish settlement had become so implacable that there didn't seem to be any way to treat the Arabs except as a problem. There was a movement for a binational state, but after 1929 this melted away.

Posted by Moderator @ 06/15/2006 11:43 PM CST

Thank you Mr Moderator

I think the point I was making is that the present situation is not really a local feud which has been going on for millenia, as it's sometimes presented, and as I felt Daphne was suggesting. While it's true that Jews (and Christians) had subordinate status in Islamic society, without the European Zionist movement (which really only got going once Herzl was around) it's doubtful there would be a "Middle East Conflict" as we understand it. (A few sectarian riots don't constitute a conflict, we have those in Bradford).

Obviously the historical roots go back a long way, but any number of plants could have grown from those roots. The shooting wars only really started once Jews demonstrated they were serious about having a nation state. I guess that does put the dividing line a little further back than 1948, but not that much.

BTW, I didn't say the Zionists ignored the Arabs. I said they ignored their interests. That's an overly simplistic way of putting it, but I think it's broadly true and in fact you've expressed the same thought in different terms.

Posted by Chris @ 06/16/2006 01:14 PM CST

In regards to the discussion between Ami and Chris, this passage from Maxine Rodinson's "Israel and the Arabs" is enlightening:

"Relations between communities in the Muslim world...were not at all as idyllic as is alleged by Arab and Muslim apologetics, though neither were they marked by constant and brutal persecution of minorities, as Zionist apologetics claims. Just as in relations between nations, there was an infinitely varying mixture of hostility and peaceful coexistence.

The Muslim religious ideology is, of course, hostile to Judaism, but less so than Christianity. It allows to Judaism, as to Christianity, a certain share of essential validity, as being a monotheistic religion. In principle, it does not compel the adherents of these religions to convert to Islam and, in practice, it has tried to do this only very rarely. The Muslim conception of three legitimate faiths coexisting under Muslim domination and preponderance was much more favourable to the underdogs than was the Christian theory. This was usually true of Muslim practice as well, the best proof being the many occasions on which numbers of Jews persecuted in Christian states (as also Hungarian Protestants threatened by Catholic reaction) sought refuge in the Muslim world.

In any case, these features of the classical Muslim world were in process of changing in the course of the nineteenth century, especially in the region where Palestine is situated, the Arab Middle East. Evolution was proceeding in the direction of a secular society on the European pattern, starting with a tendency towards equality of status for the three communities. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Jews were, in these countries – let us be clear on the geographical point – in a peaceful, prosperous and often envied situation.

This evolution was partly checked, first by the reaction to the Zionist implantation in Palestine and then by the creation of the state of Israel. True, hostility to Zionism, like every similar movement, made use of every means available. It exploited what was left of the religious hostility to Judaism and the feelings of contempt towards the Jews which had been inherited from the medieval situation. It quoted those verses from the Koran which date from the period when the Prophet was combating the Jews of Medina. But there can be no doubt that the hostility felt towards any implanting of an alien state on Arab soil would have been the same whether those involved had been Chinese or Greeks, Christians or Buddhists. It would simply have found other texts, sacred or otherwise, to exploit."

Posted by Peter H @ 07/15/2006 05:17 AM CST

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