Monday, 12 January 2009



By Alastair Crooke
Conflicts Forum
January 11, 2009

Many have asked in the wake of Israel’s attack on Gaza, how Hamas, if
it saw the consequences of ending the ceasefire — and Hamas did
foresee the likelihood of disproportionate Israeli military action —
nonetheless could have acquiesced to the inevitable bloodshed —
bloodshed that an Israeli army, fixated on restoring its deterrence
after its failed 2006 war with Hesballah, would visit on the citizens
of Gaza. Some may read into this decision the cynicism of a movement
that prioritises resistance; but to do so would be to misread how
Hamas analyses their situation and understands the nature of

At one level, the six month ceasefire simply had failed to satisfy
two key litmus tests: The circumstances of life of the Gazan people
continually had deteriorated, and the ceasefire was not seen to be
taking the Palestinian people any closer to a political solution. On
the contrary, Hamas saw a settlement receding further into the

In short, Israel — abetted by the US and Europe — had used the six
month ‘ceasefire’ not as a building-block towards doing serious
politics and real negotiation, but to squeeze the pips out of the
people of Gaza in the hope that a desperate people would turn on
their own representatives, leaving Hamas discredited and
marginalised. No Israeli had died during this ceasefire, but instead
of alleviating the conditions in Gaza, as agreed at the outset,
Israel incrementally aggravated them. Not surprisingly, the calm
eroded — and finally unravelled — following Israel’s military
incursion and breach of the ceasefire with its armed incursion into
Gaza on 5 November, in which six Hamas members were killed.

The Israeli objective to dismantle the movement that overwhelmingly
won the 2006 Parliamentary elections in Palestine stands naked in the
face of the explicit admission from Israeli officials that that
Israel had begun preparing the current attacks on Gaza (cited in
Haaretz 28 Dec 08)– even as the last ceasefire was being agreed.
Hamas was to be either to be eviscerated by a ‘ceasefire slow-death’;
or alternatively, be eliminated by massive military action.

European leaders bought into this strategy, hoping to pull-off a
quickie, under-the-table deal with western protégé President Abbas
that could be imposed on the Palestinians through a multi-national
‘peacekeeping’ force. This was to be achieved with the collaboration
of Egypt and Saudi Arabia governments who were becoming increasingly
fearful of the growing challenge to their own legitimacy in the
region, and who were not adverse to seeing Hamas cornered in Gaza and
‘punished’ by the Israelis.

Any psychologist however might have advised the European and US
policy-makers that putting one-and-a-half million Palestinians ‘on a
diet’, as an earlier chief-of-staff to the Israeli Prime Minister
described it, and shredding any plans or hopes that they may have had
for their futures, does not make humans more docile or more moderate.
After a while in the Gaza pressure-cooker, anger and despair boil-up:
Gaza ultimately was set to explode — one way or another.

If this was not discerned by western policy-makers, it was well
understood by Hamas. In other words, what is happening in Gaza was
all too foreseeable. A few Israelis saw this too, but their ‘grand
narrative’ of the global struggle between ‘moderates’ and
‘extremists’ overrode their instincts in respect to the local
Palestinian conflict.

The thesis that literally ‘everything’ must be done either to lever
‘moderates’ into power or prevent them from losing power —
euphemistically called ‘supporting moderation’ — lies at the heart of
the Gaza crisis.

It is a narrative that has served Israeli wider interests in
garnering legitimacy for their policies toward Iran, and in
dichotomising the region into ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists’. Quartet
Envoy Tony Blair’s proselytising around the world on this theme has
been a huge asset; but his, and other Quartet members’ espousal of
this doctrine, in practice has only pushed the prospect of a
political solution to the Israeli – Palestine conflict beyond reach —
by branding a mainstream Palestinian national liberation movement
such as Hamas ‘extreme’ — despite it having won national and local

Britain and the US have instead busied themselves in training a
Palestinian ‘special forces’ militia around Mahmoud Abbas, which has
been used to suppress political activity by Hamas, and to close-down
welfare and social organisations that are not aligned directly with
Abbas. A policy of political ‘cleansing’ of the West Bank, cloaked in
the rhetoric of ‘building security institutions’, predictably has
been met with an equivalent counter-reaction in Gaza. The paradoxical
consequence of this has been to create such a schism within the
Palestinian body politic that no Palestinian leader now enjoys the
legitimacy to bring a political solution before the people: The West
has sacrificed its wish for a political solution to its ideology of
‘moderation’ versus ‘extremism’.

Security officials have made clear that Israel will not permit fresh
elections in Palestine — for fear that Hamas will win; and whereas
the West probably will continue to bestow Mahmoud Abbas with the
trappings of legitimacy after his term in office expires on 9 January
2009, he will enjoy no such legitimacy amongst Palestinians. Indeed
the very effort to leverage such spurious legitimacy will discredit
him further.

This then is the backdrop against which Hamas elected to decline a
renewed ceasefire: To stand passive and cornered whilst Palestinians
in Gaza were made destitute and hopeless in an extended ceasefire and
to watch — acquiescent — as the Anglo-American political cleansing in
the West Bank proceeded, simply was not feasible. An explosion at
some point was inevitable.

The only option was to break the mould of a Gaza left ‘stewing’ in
its isolated misery, and a West Bank frozen in a pattern of Israeli
total control, but providing the all-important illusion of a
‘political process’ that western leaders could extol back home. This
represented a formula that Israel could happily sustain for years to
come, in Hamas’ view. The Israeli election campaign seemed to confirm
an electorate relapsing back into ‘security’ mode — having
interpreted the Annapolis ‘process’ to have demonstrated a hardening
of Palestinian negotiating positions: again there was an Israeli
consensus forming that there was ‘no partner for peace’.

In making such a decision, Hamas knew it could not defeat Israel’s
military strength; but the ‘war’ already is shuffling the cards of
both Palestinian and regional politics. If it extends, and if the
resistance is perceived by Palestinians and Muslims to acquit itself
well, then the structure of Palestinian leadership may fall ripe to
major re-structuring. Equally the regional anger being generated by
graphic scenes of death in Gaza possesses a potential for the
conflict to widen geographically and is coalescing Arab and Islamic
resistance against certain Arab leaderships. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah
of Hesballah has pointed to this prospect in two recent key speeches:
Were such a broadening-out of the conflict to occur, it will carry
important consequences. These are all big and significant ‘ifs’. But
Hamas’ decision should be placed against this backdrop — rather than
be painted as the callous disregard of Palestinian lives.

Alastair Crooke is a former European Union mediator with Hamas and is
currently director of Conflicts Forum, based in Beirut.

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