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John Tinmouth

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Hamas and Palestinian-Israeli Peace Negotiations
« 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:

  • A five-year interim phase (essentially meant to explore and test the competence of the Palestinians to peacefully rule themselves and control ‘illegal’ armed resistance factions) starting in 1994
  • Which, if it proved successful, would be followed by a second phase of negotiations on a ‘final settlement’

Those Palestinians who:
  • Supported it argued that it was the best they could hope to achieve given the unfavourable conditions they faced and the tilted balance of power that remained “unassailably propitious to Israel” (this is Hroub’s more polite way of  saying that the Americans were blatantly pro-Israeli)
  • Opposed it argued that it simply constituted surrender to Israel by officially recognising the Israeli state and officially dropping the armed struggle without any concrete gains:
    • In the five-year interim period, there was to be no addressing any of the major Palestinian issues such as the right of refugees to return, the status of Jerusalem, the control over Palestinian borders, and the dismantling of the Israeli settlements built intensively in the Occupied Territories
    • According to the Agreement, these issues were all to be relegated to the final talks, which, as it turned out, would never take place anyway.

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:
  • It decided to run for the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in January 2006 – this was completely at odds with its refusal to take part in the 1996 elections because it perceived them as an outcome of the Oslo agreement
  • It decided that, along with other Palestinian factions, it would put on hold all military activities, for an unspecified amount of time, and on its own terms
  • It considered joining the PLO

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:
  • Its military attacks on Israel
  • Its educational, social and charitable work as well – its grassroots social work in helping the poor and supporting hundreds and thousands of Palestinians is admired and praised. It is sustained work, marked by competence and dedicated sincerity
  • Its propagation of Islam
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:
  • Long years of devoted work and popularity among Palestinians; the helping hand it gave the poor and needy
  • Its political programme and objectives
  • The failure of the peace process
  • The ever-increasing brutality of the occupation
  • A lack of faith in the option of negotiating a peaceful settlement with the Israelis
  • The frustration of the failed peace talks had taken its toll, and contributed largely to the defeat of the Fatah movement
  • The failure of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in almost all respects:
    • It failed externally, on the peace talks with Israel
    • It also failed internally, in its day-to-day management of services to the Palestinian people:
      • Mismanagement, corruption, and theft were the ‘attributes’ that came to mark Fatah’s top leaders, ministers, and high-ranking staff
      • As unemployment and poverty reached unprecedented levels , the extravagant lifestyle of senior Palestinian officials infuriated the public.
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 land of Palestine is infused with holiness and significance as much for Muslims as for Christians
  • With the creation of Israel in 1948 from the greater part of Palestine, a wide shock of humiliation reverberated across the Muslim world. The defeat was astounding, and the disgrace cut deeply into the psyche of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.
  • Since then, Islam has at times been called upon as an indigenous ideology entrenched throughout Muslim society, which could be used as a rallying point of mobilisation in the battle against the enemy and its state as erected in Palestine.
  • In the 1950’s and 1960’s Arabs and Palestinians were strongly influenced by nationalist and Marxist ideologies in their campaign to fight Israel and liberate Palestine. As a result, Islamist tendencies were sidelined.
  • Another, and even more mortifying defeat, was inflicted on the Palestinians and the Arabs in 1967, when Israel attacked Egypt, Syria and Jordan, occupying even more territory from each of them. With this collapse of the Arab armies, nationalist and Marxist ideologies started to give way to the gradual rise of Islamist movements
  • With the victory of the Iranian revolution in 1979, and the defeat of the PLO in Lebanon in 1982, the Palestinian Islamists were steadily on the rise. Their main nationalist rival, secular Fatah, had started its long decline. Islam was once again being recalled to the heart of Palestinian politics
The Islamic roots of Hamas are described by Hroub:
  • As the major Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood could be considered to be the ‘mother of all movements that comprise ‘political Islam’ in the Middle East (outside Iran). Over the past eight decades, its branches have been established in almost every Arab country, and beyond, blending religion and politics to a considerable degree. The Palestinian branch was set up in Jerusalem in 1946.
  • The main objective of the individual Muslim Brotherhood movements is to establish Islamic states in each of their countries, with the ultimate utopia of uniting individual Islamic states into one single state representing the Ummah, or Muslim nation.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood movements, and similar movements, are presently the most powerful and active political movements in the Middle East. Although they share the same background and sources of teaching, these movements are greatly coloured by their own nationalist concerns and agenda. There is no obligatory hierarchical organisational structure that combines all of them into one single transnational organisation.
  • The Islamic movements differ greatly in their interpretation and understanding of Islam. The two major issues are the differing perceptions of ends - the extent to which politics is ingrained in Islam, and means - the controversy on the use of violence to achieve those ends
    At the one end there is an understanding of Islam that politicises religion and renders it the ultimate judge in all aspects of life, including politics.
    At the other end, there is a different interpretation and an apolitical understanding of Islam, where it is argued that efforts should be focused on morals and religious teachings, away from politics and statemaking, and where the sole accepted ways of conveying the word of Islam are peaceful ones.
  • Hroub states that, along the spectrum of Islamist movements, the Muslim Brotherhood occupies almost the centre of the continuum in terms of ‘ends’ and ‘means’. The Muslim Brotherhood believes in politicised religion and religious politics, hence its strong conviction that Islamic states must be established. It became established that the means to realise this end were undoubtedly peaceful, as had been stressed by the movement’s founders back in the Egypt of the 1930’s. Yet over the following decades, groups within the Muslim Brotherhood adopted violence and clashed with governments (in, for example, Egypt and Syria). Since the mid-1980’s they have overwhelmingly adhered to peaceful means, even when confronted with extreme oppressive measures (as, for example, in Tunisia in the late 1980’s and later).
  • Thus, on one side of the Muslim Brotherhood’s centre position on this ends/means continuum, there are groups like al-Qaeda which embrace violence wholeheartedly in their pursuit of their political aims. Hamas also, says Hroub, is somewhere on this side of the continuum, but closer to the Muslim Brotherhood than to al-Qaeda, by virtue of its unique specificity of using violence only against foreign occupying powers (that is, Israel) [our italics].
  • Hamas represents the internal metamorphosis of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood which took place in the late 1980’s. After the 1967 war, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood amassed strength and established footholds in all major Palestinian cities. Leftist and nationalist ideology had been outpacing and outpowering the Muslim Brotherhood up to the 1980’s. In particular, the Fatah movement and the PLO, which is the wider umbrella of the national Palestinian movements, dominated Palestinian politics over those decades. The 1980’s witnessed the rapid growth in the power of the specifically Muslim Brotherhood against the decline of Fatah. It represented the turning away from a secular leftist/Marxist ideology as a means of supporting the Palestinians in their conflict, and a return to the ancient Islamic fold for their inspiration.
  • In December 1987, the outbreak of the first intifada against the Israeli occupation erupted, first in the West Bank, then in the Gaza Strip. On the eve of that uprising, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood decided to undertake a major transformation within the movement. It established Hamas as an adjunct organisation, with the specific mission of confronting the Israeli occupation.
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:
  • internally, the rank and file of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood were witnessing intense internal debate on its passive approach to the Israeli occupation. There were two opposing views:
    • One pushed for a change in policy towards confrontation with the occupation, thus bypassing old and traditional ways whose focus was on the Islamisation of society first.
    • The other view clung to the classical school of thought within the Muslim Brotherhood movements, which adhered to the concept of ‘preparing the generations for battle’, which had no deadline.
    • When the intifada erupted, the exponents of the confrontational policy gained the upper hand, arguing that Islamists would suffer a great loss if they decided not to take part in the intifada with all the other participating Palestinian factions.
  • Externally, hard living conditions for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which had been created by the Israeli occupation, reached an unprecedented state. Poverty combined with feelings of oppression and humiliation charged the Palestinian atmosphere; conditions were ripe for a revolt against the occupation. The intifada was the flashpoint. The explosion reflected the accumulation of past experiences and suffering more than any specific event that triggered things on the first day of the uprising. Strategically, it was the golden opportunity for the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood to heed (and to be seen to lead) the uprising. It did so by creating Hamas.
  • Externally, there was another factor - the rivalry between the Brotherhood and another, similar organisation, Islamic Jihad, who, like Hamas, were on the rise during the years preceding the intifada (the very incident that triggered the intifada itself involved Islamic Jihad members who freed themselves from an Israeli prison and engaged in a shoot-out with Israeli soldiers). The Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood felt the danger of losing ground to its smaller, yet militarily active, competitor. The presence and activities of Islamic Jihad partly compelled the Muslim Brotherhood to speed up its internal transformation.
The Muslim Brotherhood Approach To Conflict - 'Preparing The Generations'
‘Preparing The Generations’:
  • In the thinking of the Muslim Brothers, both in Palestine prior to the creation of Hamas, and in other countries, the failures of Muslims - their backwardness, weakness, and their defeat by their enemies - were the results of their deviation from the true path of Islam. Therefore, the proper process for redressing all these failures, including the defeat in the wars against Israel, was first to educate Muslims about Islam and make them committed to their religion. Transforming people from ignorant Muslims into adherents would rehabilitate all of Muslim society and prepare it for its fight with its enemies, from the certainty of standing on strong ground. In the rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood this was called 'preparing the generations'.
  • The Palestinian Muslim Brothers had a deep conviction in this principle, which they consistently used to justify their non-confrontation policy against the Israeli occupation during the 1950's, 1960's, 1970's and until 1987, against mounting accusations by other Palestinian nationalist and leftist organisations of cowardice or even of being indirectly in the service of the Israeli occupation. The Brothers argued that it was a fruitless effort to fight Israel with a 'corrupt army'; instead, one should build a devoted and religiously committed army, then engage in war against Israel.
  • This strategy came under continuous attack:
    • For Palestinian nationalists and leftists, such an approach was a mere justification for refraining from joining the nationalist struggle.
    • It was also criticised as naive on two levels.
      • The first being the association of an individual's capacity and genuine intention to fight the occupation with his or her level of religious commitment
      • The second being the contrast between the open-ended abstraction of 'preparing the generations' with the daily imperative of engagement with the enemy.
    • The true preparation of people to fight for their national rights and liberation, critics argued, is to fully engage in the struggle, where people learn and empower themselves. Moreover, Israel was understandably happy with the Islamists' concept of 'delaying the struggle'.

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:
  • The text identifies Hamas with the Palestinian's struggle to liberate their land only
  • There is no implication, either explicit or tacit, of any intention to establish an Islamic state in Palestine in the future. Hroub, possibly with western readers in mind, goes into this in considerable detail, pointing out in particular that this early intention has been mentioned less and less as the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, and then Hamas itself, was forced to face the catastrophic situation on the ground, We might add that, in any case, should the goal of a Palestinian state ever be realised, why should we in the West be particularly concerned if it were Islamic?
  • Hroub states that, based on Hamas's formal declarations, it's goal is the liberation of the whole of the historic land of Palestine - in other words, a 'one-state' solution, that is, the elimination of Israel. He then states that this utopian political goal (like the utopian religious goal) tends to be mentioned less and less: "in fact, the longer Hamas functions, the less interest it shows in adopting or declaring 'ultimate goals' … Hamas has developed, and is still developing, into a movement that is more and more preoccupied with current and immediate, and medium-term, goals."
  • Hroub further points out that, in the (short) period of its pre-election and post-election discourse (short because it was sidelined by the West, at the instance of the Americans under the Bush regime), Hamas had concentrated on the concept of explicitly resisting the Israeli occupation while implicitly if reluctantly accepting the principle of a 'two-state' solution. Neither an Islamic state nor the liberation of the whole of Palestine have been emphasised. The ultimate goals have been replaced with short and medium-term ones, more pressing and more realistic.
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:
  • The movement's literature, he notes, states that "Hamas believes that the ongoing conflict between Arabs and Muslims and Zionists in Palestine is a fateful civilisational struggle incapable of being brought to an end without eliminating its cause, namely the Zionist settlement in Palestine."
  • The West is charged not only with the responsibility of having illegally created Israel, but also with bringing devastation and dismemberment to the region as a whole (this is demonstrably true, and we will be writing about this at length later). It is worth reading the paragraph quoted (page 25 of the book) - the conflict is described as a form of struggle 'between truth and falsehood' (this too, is demonstrably true).
  • There is a considerable amount of dismay, criticism, and attack against the indifference of the West concerning the suffering of the Palestinians. Hamas criticises the West, and accuses it not only of 'transplanting' Israel into Palestine by force, but of continuously supporting the 'usurping and aggressive Zionist state' which has sought even to exceed the borders of the original illegal foundation. All of this too, of course, is demonstrably true - although one should add that (as Hamas and the Arab/Islamic world, and, increasingly, the whole world well know), it is America which has been the crucial, the determining force in all this, with its long, blatant and one-sided support for Israel - though the new administration of President Obama may yet change all this.
Hamas’s view of:
  • The Jews – it is Anti-Zionist but not anti-Jew. There are reasons rooted in Islam which preclude it from being anti-Jew. Hatred is an understandable Palestinian response to Israeli actions.
  • The future of Jews in Palestine. Hroub believes that, at the moment, Hamas does not have an answer to this. He says that they do understand the problem of the Jews who were born in Israel, and who are therefore innocent.
Hamas’s view of Israel:
  • Hamas views Israel as a colonial state established by force and resulting from western colonialism and imperialism. We might add that this view, though controversial in the West, is undeniably true. (It is only controversial in the West because most people have not been given the information to make an informed judgement. For those in the West who have bothered to find out the facts, it is not controversial at all.) The Hamas goal is the liberation of Palestine (or perhaps, see above, just the Occupied territories). We are left a little uncertain as to which of these it is (a ‘one-state’ solution or a ‘two-state’ solution).
  • Hamas, Hroub believes, will never recognise Israel unless it at least gets a two-state' solution as a minimum [our italics]. In that event, Hroub implies, it is not inconceivable that Hamas would recognise Israel. He notes that statements by some Hamas leaders have implied that the issue of recognising Israel should be one of the goals of the negotiations, not the prerequisite to them. Hroub notes that Hamas has suggested resorting to a national referendum on any final settlement to be concluded 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. (Though Hroub does not say it, the implication is that any deal cut with Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas may not get such an assent.) Hamas, Hroub says, has publicly stated that under such conditions, it would have no choice but to respect the will and decision endorsed by the Palestinian people.
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:
  • There is no coherent international structure for the various Islamist movements. There is a loose common ground in that Islam is considered the source of ideological convictions and guidelines.
  • Even within those groups that espouse political Islam (as opposed to purely religious groups), the factors that separate them from each other perhaps override those that unite them
  • Some movements are engaged in fierce and armed conflict against their governments and are confined within their national boundaries. Their Jihad (struggle) aims to bring down these governments, which are seen as un-Islamic. Democratic means are rejected by these groups because they imply recognition of the non-Islamic status quo. Examples are Algeria, Egypt, and Pakistan. They are not the mainstream Islamists.
  • Other movements conduct their protests against the ruling elites in their countries by peaceful means, and in many cases through parliamentary political processes. The main groups in this category are the Muslim Brotherhoods that exist in almost every Arab or Muslim country.  These groups abandon the use of violence altogether. Each group operates within the nation-state boundaries of its country.
  • Another generation of more recent and radical Islamist groups is 'stateless' in terms of the focus of their jihad - they are not confined to the boundaries of any particular country, and consider the very existence of many Muslim states as an abnormality to the 'supposed' one and unified single Muslim country - the Ummah. These groups are the force behind 'global jihad', where fighting is driven by the injustices suffered by Muslims, and against those that inflict these injustices. The West in general and the United States in particular is the number one enemy to this type of Islamist movement. Thus, Western interests in Arab and Muslim countries and elsewhere are their legitimate targets. Instead of fighting puppet leaders and governments installed by the West to maintain its interests in the region, they advocate that the fight be launched directly against the West, the principal culprit. "By attacking the head, the tail falls off", these factions are fond of repeating. Al-Qaeda thus falls into this class.
  • Within this mish-mash of Islamist movements, says Hroub, Hamas is somewhat unique. Its fight is not against any national regime, but against foreign colonial occupation (by the Israelis). Its nationalist liberation substance is no less potent than its religious creed.
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:
  • Ends: Hamas's aims are focused. they began with the 'liberation of Palestine' then narrowed later and refocused on ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Al-Qaeda's ends are almost the reverse in type: vague and without focus, and expanding, with the ultimate goal being to establish Islamic rule over Arab and Muslim lands after ridding them of foreign troops and puppet leaders. They also include intermediate goals such as forcing American troops to leave Arabian land, fighting American forces and their allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bringing down puppet governments in the Gulf countries and elsewhere.
  • Means: Hamas is engaged in a programme of resistance which includes armed struggle and political conduct. Within its armed struggle, it has adopted the controversial tactic of suicide bombing. Al-Qaeda's means include armed struggle in all its forms. it engages in conventional confrontation, but also conducts suicide bombings, targeting civilians without reservation.
  • Battlefield: Hamas has never targeted Westerners, either inside or outside Palestine. This is a strict policy by the movement that has been adhered to over the years without a single exception. Al-Qaeda, by contrast, considers Westerners as legitimate targets anywhere, be they combatants or civilians. Attacking the World trade Centre on 9/11 was the culmination of al-Qaeda thinking and practice, as was the Madrid and London bombings, demonstrating the lengths to which al-Qaeda will go in implementing its indiscriminate strategy.
  • Nature: The nature of Hamas is also completely different from al-Qaeda. Hamas is a multi-faceted social and political organisation thriving within defined borders and parameters. The military provision of the movement is just one of its aspects. It engaged in a political and democratic process like any party, publicly and with very well-known leaders. Al-Qaeda, by contrast, is a completely secretive and underground organisation. It almost confines itself to military activities without any political or social programmes. Democratic practices and peaceful means are ruled out completely.
Hamas and the US (and EU)
Consider the following events related by Hroub:
  • In late 1992 and early 1993 the Americans had official contact and meetings with senior Hamas members in Amman through the US embassy there.
  • In those years, Israel itself was still hoping that the growing power of Hamas would eventually undermine the PLO and its main Fatah movement. Thus, the low-key 'exploring' course of action was indirectly approved of by Israel, insomuch as Israel hoped that the US would influence Hamas to change its views and strategies.
  • But as the US/Hamas contacts themselves caught public attention Israel protested, and the US side abruptly ended them. Hamas denounced the US decision to cut off contact, saying that it clearly proved the deep-rooted influence of the Jewish lobby in Washington.
  • Thereafter, the official US position hardened quickly against Hamas. Weeks after ending contact with Hamas, Washington labelled the movement a 'terrorist' organisation in its April 1993 report on global terrorism. Initial discussions on whether Hamas was a terrorist organisation were prematurely suppressed within circles of policymakers in Washington.
  • Later on, because of Hamas's embracing of the tactics of suicide bombing on a large scale in 1995 and 1996, the official US position grew more hostile, to the extent that Washington exerted tremendous pressure on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority during that time to suppress Hamas and dismantle its armed wing (a demand that fell beyond the Palestinian Authority's capacity). Politically, the US threw its weight behind the Palestinian Authority, and saw no role for Hamas unless it would disarm itself completely, denounce 'terrorism' and recognise Israel (Hamas was not interested).
  • Over the next few years, the US and Israel continued to lobby the EU to also proscribe Hamas. The EU partly yielded (see below).
  • The US declared its 'war on terror' in the aftermath of the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks, and Hamas was further targeted. Pro-Israel neoconservatives in Washington lumped Hamas in with such organisations as al-Qaeda. In doing so the Bush regime fulfilled Israeli demands to sideline Hamas, and relegate the movement to simply being part of 'global terror', although the differences between Hamas and al-Qaeda are  many, as noted above.
  • When Hamas won the PLC elections in January 2006, Hamas formed a government which was promptly attacked by the US for neither recognising Israel nor abandoning violence. Ironically, these Palestinian elections had been part of overdue democratic reforms that the Palestininian Authority had been pressured by the US and Europe to undertake. The democracy that the US had advocated in Palestine had brought Hamas to power. However, when it came down to it, the Bush regime rejected the outcome of Palestinian democracy, mobilised an international political and financial embargo against the newly-formed government, and succeeded in persuading a supine EU to join forces with it. It stopped all financial aid to the Palestinians, bringing a great many Palestinians, already impoverished by Israel's harsh occupation, to the verge of starvation. Since then, the Bush regime has turned to the unpopular and discredited Fatah and Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, and has allowed Israel’s recent murderous and criminal assault on Gaza to happen.
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
« Last Edit: November 24, 2014, 03:57:28 PM by John Tinmouth »