Hamas And Israel: CONFLICTING STRATEGIES

A.V.

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HAMAS AND ISRAEL:
CONFLICTING STRATEGIES OF GROUP-BASED
POLITICS
Sherifa Zuhur

http://www.StrategicStudiesInstitute.army.mil/

FOREWORD
This monograph considers the changing fortunes of the
Palestinian movement, HAMAS, and the recent outcomes
of Israeli strategies aimed against this group and Palestinian
nationalism external to the Fatah faction of the Palestinian
Authority. The example of HAMAS challenges much of the
current wisdom on "insurgencies" and their containment.
As the author, Dr. Sherifa Zuhur, demonstrates, efforts have
been made to separate HAMAS from its popular support and
network of social and charitable organizations. These have not
been effective in destroying the organization, nor in eradicating
the will to resist among a fairly large segment of the Palestinian
population.
It is important to consider this Islamist movement in the
context of a region-wide phenomenon of similar movements
with local goals, which can be persuaded to relinquish violence,
or which could move in the opposite direction, becoming
more violent. Certainly an orientation to HAMAS and its base
must be factored into new and more practical and effective
approaches to peacemaking.
At the same time, HAMAS offers a fascinating instance
of the dynamics of strategic reactions, and the modification
of Israeli impulses towards aggressive deterrence, as well as
evolution in the Islamist movements' planning and operations.
As well, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict bears similarities to
a long-standing civil conflict, even as it has sparked inter-
Palestinian hostilities in its most recent phase.
The need for informed and critical discussion of the
future of Islamism in the region continues today. We offer
this monograph to those who wish to consider this particular
aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli-Arab conflict.
 

A.V.

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SUMMARY
The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has
heightened since 2001, even as any perceived threat
to Israel from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, or even Syria, has
declined. Israel, according to Chaim Herzog, Israel's
sixth President, had been "born in battle" and would
be "obliged to live by the sword."1 Yet, the Israeli
government's conquest and occupation of the West
Bank and Gaza brought about a very difficult challenge,
although resistance on a mass basis was only taken
up years later in the First Intifadha. Israel could not
tolerate Palestinian Arabs' resistance of their authority
on the legal basis of denial of self-determination,2
and eventually preferred to grant some measures of
self-determination while continuing to consolidate
control of the Occupied Territories, the West Bank,
East Jerusalem, and Gaza. However, a comprehensive
peace, shimmering in the distance, has eluded all.
Inter-Israeli and inter-Palestinian divisions deepened
as peace danced closer before retreating.
Israel's stance towards the democratically-elected
Palestinian government headed by HAMAS in 2006,
and towards Palestinian national coherence—legal,
territorial, political, and economic—has been a major
obstacle to substantive peacemaking. The reasons for
recalcitrant Israeli and HAMAS stances illustrate both
continuities and changes in the dynamics of conflict
since the Oslo period (roughly 1994 to the al-Aqsa
Intifadha of 2000). Now, more than ever, a long-term
truce and negotiations are necessary. These could lead
in stages to that mirage-like peace, and a new type of
security regime.
The rise in popularity and strength of the HAMAS
(Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, or Movement of
viii
the Islamic Resistance) Organization and its interaction
with Israel is important to an understanding of Israel's
"Arab" policies and its approach to counterterrorism
and counterinsurgency. The crisis brought about by
the electoral success of HAMAS in 2006 also challenged
Western powers' commitment to democratic change in
the Middle East because Palestinians had supported the
organization in the polls. Thus, the viability of a twostate
solution rested on an Israeli acknowledgement
of the Islamist movement, HAMAS, and on Fatah's
ceding power to it.
Shifts in Israel's stated national security objectives
(and dissent over them) reveal HAMAS' placement at
the nexus of Israel's domestic, Israeli-Palestinian, and
regional objectives. Israel has treated certain enemies
differently than others: Iran, Hizbullah, and Islamist
Palestinians (whether HAMAS, supporters of Islamic
Jihad, or the Islamic Movement inside Israel) all fall
into a particular rubric in which Islamism—the most
salient and enduring socio-religious movement in
the Middle East in the wake of Arab nationalism—is
identified with terrorism and insurgency rather than
with group politics and identity. The antipathy to
religious fervor was somewhat ironic in light of Israel's
own expanding "religious" (haredim) groups. In
Israel's earlier decades, Islamic identity politics were
understood and successfully repressed, as Israelis did
not want to allow any repetition of the Palestinian
Mufti's nationalism or the Qassamiyya (the armed
brigades in the 1936-39 rebellion).
Yet at the same time, identity politics and religious
attitudes were not eradicated, but were inside of Israel,
bringing about great inequality as well as physical
and psychological separation of the Jewish and non-
Jewish populations.3 This represented efforts to
ix
control politically and physically the now 20 percent
Arab minority, and dealt with the demographic
threat constantly spoken of in Israel by warding off
intermarriage, limiting property control and rights,
and physical access. Still today, some Israeli politicians
call for an exodus by Palestinian-Israelis (so-called
Arab-Israelis) in some areas, who they wish to resettle
in the West Bank.
For decades, Muslim religious properties and
institutions were managed under Jewish supervision—
substantial inter-Israeli conflict over that supervision
notwithstanding4—and this allowed for a continuing
stereotype of the recalcitrant, anti-modern Muslims
and Arabs who were punished for any expression of
Palestinian (or Arab) nationalism by replacing them—
imams or qadis, for instance—with more quiescent
Israeli Muslims, and by retaining Jewish control over
endowment (waqf), properties, and income.
Contemporary Islamism took hold in Palestinian
society, as it has throughout the Middle East and has,
to a great degree, supplanted secular nationalism.
This is problematic in terms of the conflict between
Israel and the Palestinians because the official Israeli
position towards key Islamists—Iran, Hizbullah, and
the Palestinian groups like HAMAS, Islamic Jihad, or
Hizb al-Tahrir—characterizes them as Israel-haters
and terrorists. They have become the existential threat
to Israel (along with Iran) since the demise of Saddam
Hussein in Iraq.
Israel steadfastly rejected diplomacy and truce
offers by HAMAS for 8 months in 2008, despite an
earlier truce that held for several years. By the spring
of 2008, continued rejection of a truce was politically
risky as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert teetered on the
edge of indictment by his own party and finally had to
x
announce his resignation in the summer. In fact, on his
way out the door, Olmert announced a peace plan that
ignores HAMAS and many demands of the Palestinian
Authority as a whole ever since Oslo. If the plan was
merely to create a sense of Olmert's legacy, it is not
altogether clear why it offered so little compromise.
On the other hand, Israelis have for over a year5
been discussing the wisdom of reconquering the Gaza
Strip (a prospect that would aid the Fatah side of the
Palestinian Authority) and also engage in "preemptive
deterrence" or attacks on other states in the region. This
could happen at any time if the truce between Israel
and HAMAS breaks down, although the risks of any
of these enterprises would be high. A potential deal
with Syria was also announced by Olmert, similarly,
perhaps, to stave off his own resignation, and Syria
made a counteroffer.6 Turkish-mediated indirect talks
were to continue at the time of this writing, though they
might be rescheduled.7 Support for an Israeli attack on
Iran continues to play well in the Israeli media, despite
the fact that Israelis argue fiercely about the wisdom of
such a course. All of this shows flux in the region, with
Israel in its customary strong, but concerned position.
HAMAS emerged as the chief rival to the secularistnationalist
framework of Fatah, the dominant member
of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). This
occurred as Palestinians rebelled against the worsening
conditions they experienced following the Oslo Peace
Accords. HAMAS' political and strategic development
has been both ignored and misreported in Israeli and
Western sources which villainize the group, much as
the PLO was once characterized as an anti-Semitic
terrorist group.8 Relatively few detailed treatments in
English counter the media blitz that reduces HAMAS
to its early, now defunct, 1988 charter
 

A.V.

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Disagreements within the Israeli military and
political establishments over the national security
objectives of that country reveal HAMAS' placement
at the nexus of Israel's domestic, Palestinian, and
regional objectives. This process can be traced back to
Ariel Sharon's formation of the KADIMA Party and
decision to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza without
engaging in a peace process with Palestinians. This
reflected a new understanding that Arab armies were
unlikely to launch any successful attack against Israel,
but Israel should focus instead on protecting its Jewish
citizens via barrier methods.9
This new thinking coexists alongside the longstanding
policies described by Yitzhak Shamir as
aggressive defense; in other words, offensives aimed
at increasing Israel's strategic depth, or attacking
potential threats in neighboring countries—as in the
raid on the nearly completed nuclear power facility
at Osirak, Iraq, in 1981, or the mysterious Operation
ORCHARD carried out on a weapons cache in Syria
in September 2007, or in the invasions, air, and ground
wars (1978, 1982, 2006) in Lebanon.
Israelis considered occupied Palestinian territories
valuable in land-for-peace negotiations. During the
Oslo process, according to Israelis, Israel was ready to
withdraw entirely to obtain peace.10 Actually, the value
of land to trade for peace and costs of maintaining
security for the settlers there, as well as containing the
uprisings, were complicated equations. Palestinians
and others argue that, in fact, Israel offered no more in
the various proposed exchanges than the less valuable
portion of the western West Bank and Gaza, and
refused to deal with outstanding issues such as the
fate of Palestinian refugees (4,913,993 Palestinians live
outside of Israel11 and the occupied territories; 1,337,388
according to UNRWA12—registered refugees—live in
xii
camps, and 3,166,781 live outside of camps),13 prisoners,
water, and the claim of Jerusalem as a capital.
Many Arabs believe that Israel never intended
the formation of a Palestinian state, and that its landsettlement
policies during the Oslo period provide
proof of its true intentions. Either way, the "Oslo optimism"
faded away between Israelis and Palestinians
with the al-Aqsa (Second) Intifadha in October 2000.
The Israeli Right, and part of its Left, claimed that
the diplomatic collapse, plus Arafat's government's
corruption, showed there was no "partner to peace."
Another segment of the Israeli Left has continued until
this day to argue for land-for-peace and complete
withdrawal from the territories.
According to Barry Rubin, the Israeli military felt
the Palestinian threat would not increase, and that
if settlers could be evacuated and a stronger line
of defense erected, they might better defend their
citizenry. That defense could not be achieved with
suicide attacks ongoing in Israeli population centers.
When earlier Israeli strategies had not achieved an
end to Palestinian Islamist violence, Israelis had
pushed this task onto the Fatah-dominated Palestinian
Authority in the 1990s.14 Pointing to the failures of
the Palestinian Authority, the new Israeli "securitist"
(bitchonist, in Hebrew, or security-focused) strategy
moved away from negotiations, and called for further
separation and segregation of the Israeli population
from Palestinians. Neither a full-blown physical
resistance by Palestinians, including suicide attacks,
or the missiles launched from Gaza could be dealt
with in this manner. The first depended on granting
Palestinians rights to partial self-government, and the
missile attacks were negotiated in Israel's June 2008
truce.
xiii
Israel claimed significant victories in its war against
Palestinians by the use of targeted killings of leadership,
boycotts, power cuts, preemptive attacks and detentions,
and punishments to militant's families, relatives, and
neighborhoods etc., because its counterterrorism logic
is to reduce insurgents' organizational capability. This
particular type of Israeli analysis rejects the idea that
counterterrorist violence can spark more resistance
and violence,15 but one proponent also admitted that
Israel had not "defeated the will to resistance" [of
Palestinians].16 This admission suggests that the tactics
employed might not be indefinitely manageable, and
that Palestinians, despite every possible effort made to
weaken or incriminate them, to discourage or prevent
their Arab non-Palestinian supporters from defending
their interests, and to buy the services of collaborators,
could edge Israelis back toward comprehensive
negotiations, or rise up again against them. Moshe
Sharett, Israel's second Prime Minister, once asked:
"Do people consider that when military reactions
outstrip in their severity the events that caused them,
grave processes are set in motion which widen the
gulf and thrust our neighbors into the extremist camp?
How can this deterioration be halted?"17
HAMAS and its new wave of political thought,
which had supported armed resistance along with the
aim to create an Islamic society, had overtaken Fatah in
popularity. Fatah, with substantial U.S. support edged
closer to Israeli positions over 2006-07, promising to
diminish Palestinian resistance, although President
Mahmud Abbas had no means to do so, and could not
even ensure Fatah's survival in the West Bank without
HAMAS assent, and had been routed from Gaza.
Negotiating solely with the weaker Palestinian
party—Fatah—cannot deliver the security Israel
xiv
requires. This may lead Israel to reconquer the Gaza
Strip or the West Bank and continue engaging in
"preemptive deterrence" or attacks on other states in
the region in the longer term.
The underlying strategies of Israel and HAMAS
appear mutually exclusive and did not, prior to the
summer of 2008, offer much hope of a solution to
the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict. Yet each side
is still capable of revising its desired endstate and of
necessary concessions to establish and preserve a longterm
truce, or even a longer-term peace.
 

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