Hamas and Armed Palestinian Resistance

I’ve written quite a bit about Israel’s strategic objectives in the Gaza War. By way of Rob at Arabic Media Shack comes this Alistair Crooke piece in the National which tries to explain why Hamas basically chose to provoke what it knew would be a devastating Israeli response by marking the end of the ceasfire last month with a volley of rockets into southern Israel. Short version: Hamas was already dying a slow but quiet death that was failing to mobilize any international urgency to loosen Israel’s grip on Gaza. Going out with a bang would speed up the process, but with the chance of drawing some political benefits from it.

After 40 years of occupation, the armed Palestinian nationalist movement amounts to a suicide gambit. (See Frida Ghitis’ WPR column.) But the idea that its will to resist can be broken is, to my mind, misguided. It’s anecdotal, I know, but I was talking with a friend the other day who, despite a lifetime of working towards and supporting moderate coalition building, bluntly said that the Gaza War leaves her convinced of Hamas’ necessity. Not out of any sympathy for Hamas, but simply because there is no one else resisting. And if that is her reaction, I can only imagine it is even more widespread among people who don’t have any predisposition to a negotiated settlement.

I take issue with the idea that so long as there’s one person left to wave a Hamas banner in Gaza that Hamas will have won this war, or that Israel will have lost. Were it willing to sustain the necessary casualties, Israel could very well destroy Hamas as an organization (although it seems like time is running out for the kind of lengthy urban warfare that would entail). But even if it destroys Hamas, Israel will not destroy the will to resist, especially among that part of the Palestinian people willing to take up arms.

So whether the beneficiary is an organization named Hamas or some other, the political benefits of this war will very likely go to that part of the Palestinian people least amenable to a negotiated settlement. The only way that Israel can mitigate that, after having chosen the path of disproportionate, destructive reprisals, is to follow up whatever breathing room the eventual ceasefire creates with a posture of disproportionate, generous negotiations. By punishing both militants and moderates, Israel creates a no-win situation for the divided Palestinian leadership. And as long as the Palestinian leadership remains in a no-win siutation, Israel itself will remain in a no-win situation.

More World Politics Review