The Trouble with the Hamas as Sinn Fein Approach

The other day, Steve Clemons cited this Daniel Levy quote (from a Guardian article) on how George Mitchell might use his experience in Northern Ireland to forge an effective approach to Hamas:

In Northern Ireland, a distinction was drawn between the political wingof the Republican movement, Sinn Fein, and its military wing, the IRA.The same might be done with Hamas’s political wing and its armedmilitia, the Izz-Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, Levy said.

I ran that by our very own Frida Ghitis, who sent me this link to a piece she wrote on Hamas for McClatchy, along with these remarks, which she graciously agreed to let me post here:

As for the Sinn Fein question, I think if there is such an element inside Hamas, it is so removed from the fundamental principles of the group, that it can almost not be called Hamas. When you think about the essence of Hamas, peace talks seem completely antithetical to the organization, to its goals and its values.

Sinn Fein never had an interest in taking over London and destroying Britain. It is a much greater distance for Hamas to travel than it ever was for Irish militants.

Irish militants had to agree to lay down (decommission) their weapons before they were allowed to participate in peace talks. For Hamas to accept something like that would require nothing short of a coup within the organization. If you listen to people like Zahar or Meshal, it’s inconceivable they would ever agree to such a thing. They would have to be overthrown. Hamas would simply cease to exist, even if a new group somehow held on to its name.

If you look at the Hamas charter, you see that they are not fighting for a Palestinian state. They want a Pan-Islamic state. And they are not just fighting Israel. They are fighting all the Jews. That is clearly stated in their charter as a requirement for the Day of Judgment to arrive.

This is something that advocates for engagement, and I include myself in that group, need to come to terms with. In essence, in arguing for engaging with Hamas, we’re arguing for splitting off Hamas’ reasonable head — to whatever degree one exists — from the militant body. But that still leaves the militant body bent on Israel’s — and perhaps all Jews — destruction, only with no reasonable head left to moderate its behavior.

There is the question of how much support the militant Hamas could then garner among the Palestinian people in the face of a reasonable alternative being rewarded with the meaningful results of engagement, and whether the remaining militant wing could actually be contained by a credible Palestinian government.

But that’s a hypothetical, and the reality Frida describes is the one against which I’m forced to check my own hopes for peace between two peoples who, in their suffering and historic disinheritance, bear a striking and tragic resemblance to each other.

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