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PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
COULD BENEFIT FROM HAMAS VICTORY
There’s plenty of public celebrating in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as Hamas
relishes its victory. But I suspect that there’s plenty of quiet, discrete celebrating
going on in Israel,
too. Certainly Bibi Netanyahu and his Likud followers must be delighted. The Hamas
victory will give them fresh grist for their right-wing, hard-line mill and
probably plenty of votes in the upcoming Israeli election.
Even some Israelis who won’t vote for Likud may be taking a quiet “I told you so” satisfaction. A
sizeable portion of Israeli Jews are convinced that “the Palestinians” (as if
several million people were all one person) really want to destroy the state of
That deep-seated fear, more than anything else, keeps the
Israeli public supporting harsh repressive policies in the Occupied Territories.
But as Palestinian leaders have moderated their
stands, Israelis had to deal with a sneaking suspicion that their fear might be
unjustified. Now, across Israel,
there must be a weird sort of sigh of relief, as if to say, “Finally, the
Palestinians have stopped lying to us and shown their true colors. Now we know
our fears are justified.” The same sigh of relief may be heard from Jews around
the world who support Israel’s
occupation of Palestine.
What you won’t hear, outside some left-wing Jewish
circles (which continue to flourish, thankfully), is the story of how Israeli
policies have sustained and promoted Hamas over the
started funding the fledgling Hamas nearly 30 years
ago. Ever since, Israel
has supported Hamas. The funding may have stopped
(though maybe not; who knows?).
But in the past decade the Israelis found a new, sure
way to build up Hamas. They simply kept up the
horrors of the occupation, driving more and more Palestinians to a desperation
that only Hamas could articulate politically. And
whenever Hamas declared a unilateral cessation of
was almost sure to launch some kind of attack upon “suspected Hamas militants.” Israeli leaders knew, of course, that
their violence would provoke a violent Hamas response
and end the truce.
The common wisdom is that Israel wanted to build up Hamas as a counterweight to the all-powerful Yassir Arafat and his Fatah
movement. No doubt it’s true. But it’s just one example of a much broader
Israeli strategy: always keep the opposition divided. Israeli leaders have made
that their number one principle, going back to before
the Jewish state was born. That’s why they demonized Yassir
Arafat and broke his political effectiveness. It’s why most Israeli leaders now
are quite happy to have Hamas running the Palestinian
legislature, while Fatah still dominates the
Anything that makes it harder for Palestinians to
unite politically is all to the good, Israeli leaders generally believe. Because “good,” to them, means blocking the path to
a viable, vibrant, independent Palestinian state.
Of course, that’s a terribly self-destructive notion
of “good.” As long as the Palestinians have no state -- or a weak,
geographically patchwork state under Israel’s thumb -- the conflict will
go on. Israelis will continue to die and bleed. The Israeli economy will
continue to bleed from excessive military spending.
Most importantly, the Israeli national soul will
continue to bleed. When a nation sends its youngsters, day after day, to be
persecutors and executioners in an unjust cause, it creates a spiritual wound that
can take generations to heal. In Israel, this wound is felt and
openly discussed every day. But most Israeli Jews still believe that they are
essentially innocent, that “the Palestinians” force them to keep up the harsh
repression. The Hamas victory will only confirm that
feeling and lock the two sides deeper into their entrenched views.
This is tragic, because the Hamas
rise to political power has actually opened up a new and unexpected path to
Consider what happened when Arafat’s Palestine
Liberation Organization took political power in the Occupied Territories,
back in the 1970s. First, the PLO moderated its stand. From the mid-‘70s on,
there was a rising tide of Palestinian opinion favoring a two-state solution.
By the late ‘80s, Arafat was making it clear that the PLO leadership was open
to a two-state solution, as long as it was just and equitable. Leaders who hold
political power in weak states have to deal with reality, whether they like it
Leaders in stronger states must bend to reality, too.
But they don’t have to bend quite as far. Thus, the Israeli government, which outlawed
contacts with the PLO, was secretly having those illegal contacts. But they
never bore real fruit, because the Israeli government was interested only in
ending Palestinian attacks, not in helping the Palestinians build a flourishing
state. Israeli leaders, like most Jews everywhere, refused to accept the basic
reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Terrorism” is not the root of the
problem. It’s only a symptom. The underlying disease, the real root of the
problem, is that one nation is militarily occupying and ruling (for all
practical purposes) another nation.
Now we can expect the Hamas
leadership to follow the path set by the PLO. It will moderate its rhetoric and
its actions. And it will join secret talks with the Israeli government. But in
those talks, Israel
will be forced to confront the root of the problem -- not “terrorism,” but
occupation. Hamas never wavers on this point. It
insists that all negotiation begin from this basic premise. In other words, it
demands that all parties in the negotiation base the talks on reality rather
than imagination. That’s the only way to create a just and lasting peace.
The Hamas victory could open
the door to peace in another way, too. Israel
and the U.S.
are busy making pompous statements that they simply will not deal with a
government that aims to overthrow another nation and relies on armed violence
to do it. Suppose Hamas feels the normal pressure on
a government in power to moderate its stand. Suppose it adopts the same line.
Then a Hamas-led government would have to refuse to
deal, for example, with China
until its troops leave Tibet.
It would have to refuse to deal with Morocco
until its troops leave Western Sahara.
By the same principle, of course, a Hamas-led government would have to refuse to deal with the U.S. until its troop leave Iraq—and with Israel
until its troops leave Palestine.
If you want to see leaders who rely on violence to overthrow and dominate other
nations, you need look no further than the U.S.
I hope that the Hamas PR
machine can see these self-righteous U.S. and Israeli pronouncements for
what they are -- softballs than an effective Hamas
government can smack right out of the park. I hope they show up the U.S. and
Israeli hypocrisy, early and often. But I hope that they also sincerely
recognize that some day these two peoples must learn to live side by side in
peace. It has to happen eventually. If not now, when?