North East Stop The War Coalition Discussion Forum

General Category => South Tyneside Stop the War => Topic started by: John Tinmouth on November 22, 2014, 11:54:50 AM

Title: Hamas and Palestinian-Israeli Peace Negotiations
Post by: John Tinmouth on November 22, 2014, 11:54:50 AM

Hamas and Palestinian-Israeli Peace Negotiations
A Review Of Khaled Hroub’s Hamas: A Beginners Guide

Khaled Hroub is a leading Arab journalist, author, and Cambridge-based scholar, who for many years has been following Hamas, and written extensively about it. He is a secular Palestinian, and declares his aspiration for Palestine to be governed by ‘human-made laws’ (rather than divine ones). He sees Hamas as a natural outcome of unnatural, brutal occupational conditions in Palestine. The radicalism of Hamas, he states, should be seen as a completely predictable result of the ongoing Israeli colonial project in Palestine. Palestinians support whichever movement holds the banner of resistance against that occupation and promises to defend their rights. At this juncture of history, they see Hamas as the defender of those rights.

Mr. Hroub’s book Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide actually came out, in both Britain and America, in the autumn of 2006. The general impression gained from a reading of the book is that Mr. Hroub approves of Hamas, but he is not uncritical of them, and he certainly would have been happier if they had been secular like himself. That said, there is little doubting his general endorsement of them. He says that there is no intention on his part to be an apologist for Hamas, that his book is there to provide the basic information and necessary clarifying analysis, and that it is up to the reader to make up their own mind on Hamas. He has done that job

An examination of his book is particularly useful, not to say vital, at this time. It is crucial to provide a fuller understanding of Hamas in the opening days of the new American administration, now that the discredited Bush regime is no more, and the world awaits, with a hope it has not known for years, the possibility that America under President Obama will at last act to justly settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict..

Hamas Gains Power In The 2006 Elections – Only to Have It Removed
Hroub first lays out the history of Hamas as one of the political entities in Palestine. Hamas shocked the world by unexpectedly (at least, for the West) winning, in January 2006, the elections for the Palestine Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority - the Authority, although a quasi-parliament with limited sovereign powers, represents the embodiment of Palestinian political legitimacy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The election victory was a landslide (Hamas got 60% of the votes, with a turnout of 78% of eligible voters) in an election that was widely, indeed universally, accepted as fair. Hroub notes that Hamas’s victory in those elections against their main rival, Fatah, was in fact almost unavoidable, due principally (but among other things) to the cumulative failure of Fatah to end a continuing brutal Israeli occupation. Hamas duly formed a government and became the leading force in the Palestinian struggle for the first time since it was founded in 1987.

Hamas’s main rival had been the secular Fatah, which, until the Hamas victory, had led the Palestinians for almost half a century without interruption. Many parties interested in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, not least America and Israel itself, wanted Fatah to win. By the late 1980’s, when Hamas was founded, Fatah had suffered a long and gradual, but major decline in popularity due to the perception of the Palestinian people that, despite having reduced its goals from liberating the whole of Palestine to liberating merely the Occupied Territories, and despite having acknowledged the right of Israel to exist, it had failed to achieve anything beyond the creation of a resistance movement which was increasingly perceived to be self-serving and corrupt. Hamas, meanwhile, continually rose in popularity, both because of its widespread social work, and its principled refusal not to be deflected from the aim of liberating the whole of Palestine together with its refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist. By 2006, Fatah’s popularity had declined even further due to the failure, after seven years, of peace negotiations (the Oslo Agreement, itself perceived to be tilted, with American approval, so far towards the Israelis as to be worthless to the Palestinians anyway), and a further disastrous decline in the conditions of the Palestinian people under a harsh Israeli occupation which took more and more of their land for Jewish settlement. Thus, when Hamas did run for election in 2006, it easily defeated its main rival, Fatah.

The democracy which the US had advocated for Palestine had brought Hamas to power. However, when it came down to it, the US, under the notoriously pro-Israeli Bush regime, rejected the outcome of Palestinian democracy and mobilised an international political and financial embargo against the newly-formed government. It succeeded in persuading the EU to join forces with it and stopped all financial aid to the Palestinians, bringing a great many Palestinians, already impoverished by Israel's harsh occupation, to the verge of starvation. Bush and his neoconservative cabal then sat back, together with a shamefully supine EU who acquiesced to it, and watched as the Israelis blockaded the Palestinians before making, in the last few weeks, their latest murderous assault on Gaza.

Hroub correctly contends that, ever since Hamas’s accession to power (and even before), American, British and other Western politicians, and the mainstream Western media, have consistently belittled Hamas power and leverage, and portrayed it as merely a terrorist group whose only function has been to kill Israelis. However, he reports, on the ground, in their own country, Hamas has been seen by  many Palestinians as a deeply-entrenched socio-political and popular force. In Palestinian eyes, Hamas had been managing to chart parallel paths of both military confrontation against the Israeli occupation, and grass-roots social work, supported by their strong religious and ideological (political) convictions. Hroub’s book sets out to tell the story of the ‘real’ Hamas, not the misperceived and distorted one we normally see here in the West (in America in particular).

The History Of Hamas From Its Inception
In the 1948 war to create Israel from Palestinian land, the Palestinians lost more than 78 per cent of the land of Palestine, including the western part of their capital Jerusalem. What remained were two separate pieces of land known as the West Bank (of the Jordan river), and the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean. As a result of the 1948 war, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven out from their cities and villages to neighbouring countries by Zionist forces. These refugees have become one of the most intractable problems of the conflict, growing in numbers with their descendants to more than 6 million by 2006.

In 1967, Israel launched another successful war, not just against the Palestinians, but also against the bordering Arab countries as well. With this war, Israel occupied the West Bank and the eastern part of Jerusalem (which had been under Jordanian rule), and the Gaza strip (which had been administered by Egypt since the 1948 war) -  these two territories (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) were later generally referred to as the Occupied Territories. Israel also invaded Syria’s Golan Heights in the north, and Egypt’s Sinai desert in the south, and staunchly occupied them all in the name of Israeli security (Egypt eventually recovered the Sinai after a bilateral peace with Israel in 1979). The Palestinians suffered a further mass transfer of Palestinian refugees forced upon them by the Israeli army, this time from the West Bank cities and villages, to neighbouring countries - many of the refugees who had been uprooted to the West Bank during the 1948 war were moved on yet again, together with new refugees because of the 1967 war. The refugee problem had worsened again.

Two years prior to that war, Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian activists in the West Bank and Gaza strip and neighbouring Arab countries, established Fatah, the Palestinian national liberation movement. Fatah declared a no-ideology affiliation and a secular outlook. Around the same time, and with other, smaller leftist factions, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was established as a national umbrella front for the Palestinian struggle, with the clear leadership of Fatah, with the aim of liberating Palestine - that is, the land that had been occupied in the war of 1948, and which had become known as Israel. Over the years, after the devastating loss of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Arab weakness, and Western (particularly American) support of Israel, made the Palestinian’s mission of liberating their land almost impossible. Achieving no success over decades of struggle, the PLO made two historic concessions by the end of the 1980’s. It relinquished it’s long-term goal - the liberation of Palestine in it’s entirety - by recognizing Israel and it’s right to exist. It also dropped the armed struggle as a strategy, for the sake of a negotiated settlement that hoped to regain the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and establish an independent Palestinian state.

Founded in 1987 Hamas emerged as a religious-nationalist liberation movement which preaches the Islamic religious call while at the same time embracing the strategy of armed struggle against an occupying Israel. Its supporters felt that it came at just the right time to salvage the Palestinian national struggle from complete capitulation to Israel due to the decline of Fatah/PLO. It refused to come under the PLO, and adopted the ‘old’ call for the ‘liberation of Palestine’ as originally enshrined by the PLO founders back in the 1960’s. Hamas rejected the idea of concluding peace treaties with Israel that were conditional on full Palestinian recognition of the right of Israel to exist.

In 1993, an initial agreement was reached between the PLO and Israel, the Oslo Agreement, after months of secret talks in Norway. Endorsed in Washington by the Clinton administration, the agreement was in theory divided into two phases:

Those Palestinians who:

Hamas has consistently opposed the Oslo Agreement, believing that it was designed to serve Israeli interests and compromised basic Palestinian rights. After more than ten years of Oslo, the Palestinians had become completely frustrated and their initial shaky trust in the sincerity of peace talks with Israel had evaporated. During the interim period of years that would supposedly pave the way for permanent peace, Israel did everything possible to worsen the life of Palestinians and enhance its colonial occupation of the Territories. During that period, for example, the size and number of Israeli settlements in the West Bank doubled.

With the failure of the Oslo peace negotiations, a second intifada (uprising – literally, a ‘shaking off’) erupted in 2000, giving more power to Hamas and its ‘resistance project’.

In March 2005, Hamas made three historic decisions:

These decisions had a profound impact on the nature of the movement and on the Palestinian political scene. Hamas was also becoming confident of its own strength. We have seen (see above) that in fact Hamas won those elections but, despite having done so, was subsequently ignored and sidelined by the US and EU.

Hamas has sustained a continuous rise since its inception. Currently, it has become a key player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has a continuing popular appeal to Palestinian constituencies inside and outside Palestine because of:
Hamas is thus seen by the Palestinians as functioning on several fronts at the same time.

Hamas has limited its struggle to one for and within Palestine, fighting Israel as the foreign occupier, and only Israel. That is, Hamas are not ‘globalised Jihadists’ furthering pan-Islamic notions. The vast majority of non-globalised Islamic movements are focused on fighting the corrupt regimes in their own countries - Hamas differs from these in that it is fighting a foreign occupier; Israel. Moreover, Hroub contends that, in the tension between Hamas’s religious and political-nationalist aspects, at critical junctures in its life, it has been the political-nationalist aspect which has been firmly in the driving seat.

Militarily, Hamas adopted the controversial tactic of suicide bombing. This was first used in 1994, in response to an Israeli atrocity. Since then each and all of Hamas’s vicious attacks against Israeli civilians have been directly linked to specific Israeli atrocities against Palestinian civilians. Hroub states that, although no more brutal than that which the Israelis have been doing to the Palestinians for decades, the suicide attacks have damaged the world-wide reputation of both Hamas and the Palestinians. We might add that this is true, but only because of the pro-Israeli bias of the Western media, in particular, the American media, and their refusal to fairly compare and consider Palestinian violence with Israeli violence. The matter is considered further below.

Hroub lists the detailed reasons behind the Hamas victory in the January 2006 PLC elections:
Hamas, because of its dual religious-political nature, attracts to its cause both those politically-minded Palestinians who wish to liberate Palestine, and those religious people who want to Islamicise Palestinian society. Hroub says that it can hardly be said that people voted for Hamas on religious grounds. Christians and secular people voted for Hamas side by side with Hamas members for the reasons set out above, and despite, Hroub implies, Hamas’s Islamism. The vast spectrum of Hamas’s voters supported the suggestion that people were voting for new blood, and for a nationalist liberation movement that promised change and reform on all fronts, more than for Hamas as a religious group.

After Hamas’s historic 2006 election victory, a fundamental change, then, had been achieved through peaceful and democratic means. For Hamas itself, its election victory would have been its greatest challenge yet. Power would have forced it to consider its ideals and slogans in relation to the harsh realities on the ground. Hroub considers that Hamas in power after the election would have perhaps been more pragmatic than before. However, as we know, this did not happen – Hamas was ignored and sidelined by the Americans, who marshalled a political and financial embargo against it, and persuaded the supine EU to join it. They then turned to the unpopular and discredited Fatah and Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, ignoring the verdict of the Palestinian people. The Western call for democracy (certainly that of the American Bush regime) has been seen by the Moslem world as a hypocritical sham. All of this before the Israeli’s recent murderous and criminal assault on Gaza, where there has been the usual unbalanced ratio of Palestinian and Israeli deaths (1300-plus Palestinian and 14 Israeli) – a last gift to the Israelis from the American Bush regime, who allowed it to happen. 

Hroub argues that, because of Hamas’s central position now in Palestinian life, and Fatah’s fall from grace, there cannot be a sustainable and final peace deal without a real Palestinian consensus, to which Hamas’s contribution is vital.

The Role Of Islam In Hamas, And In Muslim/West Conflict
Hroub examines the role of Islam in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
The Islamic roots of Hamas are described by Hroub:
The Reasons For Founding Hamas
Hamas officially came into being on 14th December, 1987, a few days after the eruption of the first intifada on 8th December. The decision to establish the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) was taken on the day following the start of the intifada, by the leadership of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas was formed as an adjunct to the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood in response to a number of pressing reasons:
The Muslim Brotherhood Approach To Conflict - 'Preparing The Generations'
‘Preparing The Generations’:

Hamas Aims And Strategies
After first reproducing at length a statement of Hamas's aims and strategies, which it had once produced by way of introducing itself to a European government, Hroub considers the document and points several things out:
Hroub then refers to a 1993 Hamas document, an 'Introductory Memorandum', under the heading 'The Movement's Strategy', and quotes the detail (page 23 of his book). He points out that, in this strategy, Hamas confirms the 'boundaries' of the armed conflict, stating clearly that it wishes  to undertake no military steps outside Palestine - from the document: "The field of engagement with the enemy is Palestine ... " and "Confronting and resisting the enemy in Palestine ... ". Hroub then goes on to say that Hamas reiterates this conviction in its strategy to assure the outside world that attacking any Western targets outside Palestine is not on the agenda of the movement. He emphasises that these guidelines were outlined thirteen years before Hamas came to power and took control of the Palestinian Authority after it won the January 2006 election [our italics]. He emphasises that, in 1993, Hamas had very little expectation of achieving power, and therefore, he implies, there is all the more reason to believe their statement.

Hamas And The World Beyond The Islamic World
Hroub then goes on to look briefly at the way Hamas sees the world outside the Islamic world:
Hamas’s view of:
Hamas’s view of Israel:
Hamas Military Policy – Suicide Attacks – Action Against Israel Only
Although Hamas came into being in 1987, its trademark suicide attacks did not begin until 1994, and the first attack was a revenge attack after an Israeli atrocity in Hebron. According to Hroub, it was at that point that Hamas discovered the spectacular effect this kind of attack had on the public imagination, and embraced it. He notes that Hamas has been careful to link any suicide bombings of civilians to specific Israeli killings of Palestinian civilians. Hroub notes that Hamas has geared up its use of suicide operations over the years, because of the aura of strength and popularity accorded to it by the desperate Palestinian population. Hroub says the perceived downside was that they rallied the international community against Hamas. We would add that this is only because of Israeli propaganda, and the strength of the Israel lobby in America (and perhaps elsewhere), particularly in the print and television media, which has prevented the American public (and perhaps other publics) from learning the truth. Ordinary people, if they knew the truth, are perfectly capable of understanding that desperate measures are necessary against a callous and implacable enemy. For example, if Britain in the Second World War had been invaded and occupied by Germany, Churchill had organised a resistance which would have used all methods, however horrible, to defy the invaders. It is not hard to believe that most British people would have applauded the resisters, no matter how grisly their methods. It is also not hard to believe that the intensely patriotic Americans, if faced with a similar situation, would have done the same thing. The British and American publics would understand - if they were ever told the truth.

Hamas's suicide attacks have given the Israelis the opportunity to sell Hamas as a 'terrorist' organisation. Reaction, especially in America, has been gravely uneven compared with the mild condemnation of Israeli killings of Palestinians. Hroub reports that the number of Israelis killed by Hamas and all other Palestinian factions from Hamas's inception in December 1987 until April 2006 amounted to only a quarter of the number of the Palestinians killed by Israel in the same period. Hroub notes that the aggregate figures of the statistics provided by the human rights organisation Btselem ( show that 1,426 Israelis, military and civilian, were killed by Palestinian factions, compared with 5,050 Palestinians killed by Israel during those years. Of those casualties, there were 137 Israeli children (under 18) killed, against 998 Palestinian children of the same age group. We might add that there were similar disproportionate kill ratios (to put it in, admittedly, callous terms, but these things must be measured) in the second Lebanon war: around 10 Lebanese to 1 Israeli, and in the recent horrendous assault on Gaza: about 100 Palestinians to 1 Israeli.

Hroub notes that Hamas is resisting a brutal Israeli military occupation which has lasted 40 years. We might in addition refer the reader to Michael Neumann’s book The Case Against Israel. In it, Neumann argues that the Palestinians have no other option but a violent response, because they have no alternative courses of action. Furthermore, Neumann gives detailed and persuasive arguments to the effect that Hamas violence, including suicide attacks, is no worse than deaths inflicted by the Israeli military occupiers. We agree. Neumann has also argued convincingly that the Israelis in fact have no excuse for their violence, since they have other options, and have had so since 1967 - they can unilaterally withdraw from the Occupied Territories. Again, we agree.

Hroub states that Hamas has been vigorously strict in avoiding any direct or indirect engagement in armed activities in the West, or encouraging or approving any action in that direction undertaken by its supporters. He notes that, since it was established in 1987, there has not been a single incident where Hamas was proved to have operated any illegal action within or against any Western country or citizens. Hamas military action is against Israel only.

International Islamist Movements
Hroub states that:
The Difference Between Hamas And Al-Qaeda
As if he has not spelt this out sufficiently in the section above on international Islamism, Hroub obviously feels the need to spell out in detail the differences between Hamas and al-Qaeda. He states that Hamas is indeed very anxious to keep itself well-distanced from al-Qaeda, and certainly does not engage in any cooperation with it [our italics]. There are big differences, he says, in terms of the ends, the means, the battlefield, and the nature of each movement:
Hamas and the US (and EU)
Consider the following events related by Hroub:
Hroub states that the goal of Israel and the US under the blatantly pro-Israeli Bush regime has been to bring Hamas’s government to complete collapse. We can only agree.

The Role Of Hamas In Peace Negotiations

Mr. Hroub has shown in great detail in his book Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide that Hamas currently occupies a central position in Palestinian life, and fairly won the most recent Palestinian elections in January 206. On the other hand, it’s main rival in the Palestinian national movement, Fatah, lost them decisively for multiple reasons which Mr. Hroub has fully set out.

Furthermore, Hamas has suggested resorting to a national referendum on any final settlement to be concluded after peace negotiations with Israel. Not only would this be entirely democratic, if there were a 'yes' vote, then the Israelis would be assured that the proposed solution had been genuinely agreed to by the Palestinian people as a whole. Hamas has publicly stated that under such conditions, it would have no choice but to respect the will and decision endorsed by the Palestinian people.

When the Bush regime ignored the Hamas election win, they continued talking to Fatah via Mr. Mahmoud Abbas. It is significant that, despite losing the election, and being propped up by the Bush regime, Mr. Abbas was nevertheless willing to assume power with Fatah in the West Bank with their help, ignoring the properly elected Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.

Negotiations with Fatah and Mr. Abbas only are futile, since they may lead to an agreement which would not be accepted by the Palestinian people, and which would therefore be pointless, since it would not lead to peace.

It is obvious that there cannot be a sustainable and final peace deal without a real Palestinian consensus, to which Hamas’s contribution is vital. It is vital, therefore, that Hamas be included in any peace negotiations.

Mr. Hroub’s book should be compulsory reading for all those involved in any Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, whether they be US officials, officials of the ‘Quartet’, or UN officials.

John Tinmouth
South Tyneside Stop The War Coalition
February 5, 2009