Digesting Hamas VI -
'It's Really That Simple'

By Terrell E. Arnold
There is no process more important to the future welfare of societies in revolt than the transition from insurgency to civil governance. That being said, there is no historic example where the process has been short, simple, without contention, and successful, all in a tidy sequence. Sometimes, as in the French Revolution, the insurgents end up being successful, but they fall into conflict about how to proceed, and the interregnum can be long, unstable and bloody. That is partly because revolutionaries tend to be poor governors. In the French case, even so, the end product--several years later--was a republic. The lesson of history on this is that moving on from rebellion is at best dicey and complicated.  As demonstrated too often in the French case, a corollary lesson is that outside interference generally makes matters worse, especially for the society in revolt.  
 No two cases appear exactly alike, because no two human situations ever quite mirror image each other. In some respects, the pattern resembles the way someone has said penguins feed the seals: They stand around on the ice, jostling each other, until somebody falls off.  That often works. However, in a century increasingly saturated with people who are, in turn, increasingly saturated with weapons, relying on the outcome of an accident appears inordinately high risk.
A more deliberate procedure is urgently called for. The United States has advertised for decades that the "more deliberate procedure", one that is widely approved throughout the world, is regime change by democratic election. Speaking strictly of what the people in the affected country or group may want, that procedure is frequently reliable. The hangup is that protracted insurgencies tend to delay any trip to the voting booth, either because the powers that be are reluctant to hold an election because they might lose, or the insurgents are reluctant to get involved in an election because they do not trust the outcome, or interested outsiders do not think the timing or players or agenda are right, or all three. This system actually works best when all significant contending parties are committed to the process and the outcome. It is most likely to fail when any of the major contenders or significant outside interests try to jigger either the rules or the results.
Palestine's date with this process was long in coming. For more than three quarters of a century, beginning immediately after World War I, the Palestinian people have been subjected to assault, confiscation of their homes and properties, and expulsion from their native land. Only in the late 1960s did Palestinian advocates begin to spell out the rights of the Palestinian people and seek voices for them in their future, especially respecting how and where they lived. But from the beginning, the usurper of those rights and interests had one or more big brother protectors who regularly shielded it from the consequences of excess, including mounting crimes against humanity.
With no external political sponsor or direct defender of their rights, the Palestinians began to fight back.  Their first major vehicle was the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), founded by Yassir Arafat and led also by the current President Mahmoud Abbas (PLO name: Abu Mazen). The PLO was closely paced by formation of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine--a very active terrorist group in its early years that eventually merged with the PLO and stopped exporting terrorism. Beginning with the earliest Camp David meetings during the Carter Administration, the PLO moved toward a governing body of the Palestinian people and largely foreswore terrorism.
Even so, the Palestinian people continued to lose ground.  More lands were confiscated, villages were eradicated.  The refugee population of the West Bank and Gaza grew, while surrounding countries and the outside world became home to thousands of Palestinian refugees.
Reacting to this continuing pattern of abuse and repression, Hamas was created by its founder, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin in 1987.  Hamas is said to be an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic fundamentalist group active in Egypt and other Arab countries. It is also said to have been promoted by the Israelis as a foil to Fatah and the PLO. That may have been so, but Yassin was assassinated by the Israelis in 2004. His successor was assassinated shortly thereafter.
Hamas means zeal in Arabic, but it is also an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement.  Under Yassin the group established itself fairly quickly as an insurgency, but even more so as a provider of human services to many truly downtrodden people in the refugee camps.  Most of the Hamas budget, estimated at $70 million yearly, has gone for human services.
Since 1993, Hamas is said to have carried out more than 350 attacks causing more than 500 deaths. That means however, that Hamas has conducted small harassment attacks--mortars, short range rockets, small arms, and suicide bombings--involving usually few casualties per attack, and sometimes none. 
That compares with Israel Defense Force operations in the same period that caused thousands of Palestinian casualties and destroyed much of the Palestinian infrastructure, including the entire town of Jenin. A particularly bad example was destruction of an entire apartment building in an effort to eliminate one militant.
A defacto force in local politics from its beginning, because of its human services activities, Hamas entered the political arena slowly, capturing a number of municipal seats in 2004, but it boycotted the presidential election of 2005 that brought Mahmoud Abbas to power. Deciding to enter the 2006 parliamentary elections in January 2006, Hamas was predicted to have a good showing, but its win of a solid majority of seats was a surprise.
As largely uncontested head of the PLO and later the Palestinian Authority, Yassir Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas have been looked to by outsiders, notably the Israelis and the United States, but also the UN and European governments, to moderate the behavior of all Palestinians and to shut down the insurgent organizations. 
The Israelis tried to shut them down by arrests and assassinations--killing at least five leaders of Hamas and subjecting such leading insurgent figures as Marwan Barghouti, the founder of the al Aksa Brigades, to long prison sentences. Arafat brought the PFLP into alliance with the PLO, and over time PFLP terrorist operations ceased outside the land area of Palestine and Israel.
Threats, cajolery, arrests and torture did not serve to shut down Palestinian insurgent activities, because the Israelis never stopped their programs of confiscation, expulsion, and harassment--efforts that in other hands have been labeled ethnic cleansing. .  Far from being reduced, the land grab and the repressive treatment of Palestinians have grown in the past five years. Even so, under mounting pressure from the Palestinian Authority, Fatah (the PLO translated into a political party) and outsiders of the Quartet charged with pursuing the Roadmap peace negotiations (the US, UN, European Community, and Russia), Hamas declared a truce more than a year ago as part of its preparation to enter the political process.  This truce was the first significant step since reform of the PLO toward transition of a Palestinian insurgent group toward political participation. This truce is still in place.
It is remarkable that the truce has held despite continuing Israeli targeted assassinations of Palestinian "militants", continued imprisonment and torture of Hamas, al Aksa Brigade, PIJ and other Palestinian insurgents, and harassment of Palestinians throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and increasingly in and around the Jordan River Valley.
Meanwhile, it is clear that Hamas has grown in real political terms due to the needs of its members and their families, as well as other Palestinians.  Not only did it have an insurgency related network, it had a well-developed social services and welfare network.  In effect, Hamas had already transited a great distance toward non-insurgent and political participation in Palestinian life.  Preparation for and participation in the January 2006 parliamentary elections were its first concrete public steps toward taking a leading role in governance.
In public statements in the past few weeks, notably an interview with a Washington Post reporter, the new Hamas chosen Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh made it clear that Hamas is thinking in terms of some combination of the Geneva Accords and the Arab League's Beirut Declaration of March 2002 as a framework for future negotiations.  Those two together would provide for a two state system following the 1967 truce lines between Israel and Palestine save for some possible trades of territory in the north for settlements around Jerusalem. That proposal, as reported, essentially avoided recognition of Israel until the Israelis declared themselves on the terms of a final settlement.
It is obvious to close observers of the situation that the Israeli hardliners do not want to face that solution. If Hamas sticks to its guns, and is able to bring the majority of the Palestinians along, the only way out of the situation would be to negotiate.  With an Israeli election a mere three weeks away, no such Israeli commitment is likely to be forthcoming.  The preferred Israeli hardliner remedy in the meantime is to arrange an accident, something that will discredit Hamas, and cause the Palestinians to cluster around Fatah and the present leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, with whom the process can be bent back toward protracted negotiations under the so-called Roadmap that are intended by the Israeli hardliners to go nowhere. 
To be brutally frank, given the Israeli history of hardliner behavior in such circumstances, an "accident" could be anything from a false flag terrorist event blamed on Hamas, to further assassinations of Hamas leaders ( Israeli hardliners have now declared intent to do so), or to a contrived rejection of Hamas by the Palestinian people.  That could be most readily undertaken by trying to starve the Palestinians, while getting that blamed on Hamas.  Israeli resort to usual dirty tricks could arouse predictable international outrage, but starving the Palestinians into line appears to have some resonance, especially with US leadership, the UN and some European governments.
This choice is remarkably but not unpredictably dim witted. Getting it done has every Israeli lobby in every capital of importance working overtime. Trying to bring Arab governments into line on her trip through the Middle East last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried unsuccessfully to get them to go along.  Her view, expressed enroute, was the US will not do business with Hamas because it is a terrorist group.  "It's really that simple" she said.  The fact that the US in the past has done a great deal of business with terrorist groups such as the Contras in Nicaragua, or the UNITAS group in Angola (whose leader Jonas Savimbi met with White House officials per arrangements by Oliver North in the mid 1980s), all in a Republican administration at that, appears to have escaped her.
Perhaps the key would be to get the Congress to starve the Palestinians.  Before the House of Representatives at the moment is House Bill 4681 which, if passed, would deny any US assistance to a Hamas led government in Palestine.  That bill, thanks to the forceful arm-twisting and lobbying by Israeli supporters, has nearly 90 sponsors, having slowly added new ones over the past few weeks who are looking anxiously to their upcoming contests in November and want to pocket the Jewish vote in advance. While the bill is not in the US interest, has no supporters other than Israeli interest groups, and would further alienate Islamic societies if enacted, it may well come to pass.
Yet another solution would be to expel all Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza and, of course, Israel itself, to the east bank of the Jordan River.  That means literally to take the remaining properties, lands and orchards of the Palestinians without compensation, and force the people on the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  As a number of hardline Zionists, including Ariel Sharon, have put it, Jordan would be Palestine.  Already a significant share of the population of Jordan is Palestinian, many of whom have lived in that region for generations, but many refugees are from Israel or Palestine west of the Jordan. With the enormous investment of time and money that Israeli supporters have made in capturing the American political system, as well as significant parts of European systems, the hope is that Israel could do this without rebellion from those countries.
There is an ironic historical twist in the pressure on Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist.  It is well worth reciting here the founding document, the Declaration of November 1917 by Lord Balfour of Great Britain that simply reads: "His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,(emphasis added) or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." Providing land in Palestine for a Palestinian state (about equal to land for Israel) was a central part of the 1947 UN partition plan.  By expelling Palestinians from their homes and repressing those who stay in Palestine, Israel is violating the terms of its foundation, in effect violating its right to exist. The very terms of its existence become thereby a proper subject for negotiation.
All gambits to avoid facing the Palestinians fairly and squarely require that the Hamas victory in Palestine somehow be frustrated. The deepest Israeli hardliner fear, barely buried under present argument and squirming, is that, if allowed to prosper, Hamas will stick to its guns, force final settlement negotiations on terms that are actually consistent with the overall thrust of Oslo, Geneva and related peace initiatives, as well as the intent of the Balfour Declaration and UN decisions, and effectively put an end to the conflict. If Hamas proposes negotiations along the lines of the Geneva Accords and the Arab League proposal mentioned earlier, everybody but the Israeli hardliners are likely to be prepared to go along.  That would indeed be awkward.
The immediate victims of any of the Israeli gambits to frustrate Hamas will be the Palestinian people, but a particularly disturbing victim would be the effort of Hamas to become a political force and renounce violence.  How serious it is about this transition can only be tested by giving Hamas room.  If given room, Hamas political leadership, which now has considerable sway over the movement, could prevail and the truce now in effect would hold for the indefinite future while negotiations progress. If Fatah and the PLO are encouraged by the US and Israel or others to undercut or bypass Hamas and go back to a negotiative process that predictably will lead nowhere, then Hamas political leadership will lose ground.  Along with other terrorist groups, who have been fairly quiet for some time, the insurgent arm of Hamas will be revived.  The flow of resources from Arab and Palestinian donors around the world will continue. 
A few organizations are actively working to avert this catastrophe, and a large number of Jews in the United States, European countries and in Israel oppose what Israeli hardliners are doing to the Palestinians. In Washington, the Council for the National Interest Foundation, a group of retired diplomats and other former officials, is seeking to avert passage of HR 4681 while working to avoid cuts in assistance to Palestine. In Israel, the peace group Gush Shalom is trying to muster Israeli public opinion around a solution that favors at least a wait and see Israeli posture. Offering some hope, it appears that European governments and the UN are reviewing their earlier gut reactions to the Hamas victory. Washington official reactions are actually more mixed than the knee-jerk White House early reactions indicated. Arab governments are simply not signing on to efforts to undercut Hamas, even though they may have their own worries about the Muslim Brotherhood in their countries.  Hamas itself is proceeding cautiously, avoiding provocation, while not giving away anything important to future negotiations. 
In Moscow, Putin is said to be exerting heavy pressure on Hamas visitors to recognize Israel's right to exist.  So far the Hamas visitors have held their ground, because as they and many outside observers see it, to go back to business as usual means the end of Palestine.  
If efforts to give Hamas some room fail, the Israeli hardliners and dreamers of a greater Israel will have their way.  Continuing conflict will permit them to do what they have been doing for virtually half a century: (1) relying on the US to defend their right to "defend themselves" while (2) arming themselves to the teeth largely at US expense, (3) by force and intimidation taking the whole of Palestine away from the Palestinian people, (4) increasing the pressures of poverty and repression to get Palestinians to leave, and (5) avoiding any compensation to the four million people or more who will be dispossessed.  Palestine will become a "free country" for the Israelis who occupy it. As Secretary Rice said in trying to undercut Hamas, "It's really that simple."
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on  He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counterterrorism, and as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College.  He will welcome comment at



This Site Served by TheHostPros