Much has been said in the past four weeks on the current conflict occurring on the Gaza Strip between Israel on one side and Palestinian militants on the other. The small majority of the rhetoric involves ‘who shot first’, who has the legitimate claim to wield violence, and the justification of the use of violence. The balance of the discussion in the public sphere is focused on the horrific humanitarian crisis and the appalling loss of civilian life.
Scattered among these articles journalists and scholars alike have sought to answer the question of how it came to this. How have we, once again, returned to another large-scale exchange of violence on the Gaza Strip? David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times argues that the blame lies solely with an intransigent Hamas whose Islamist ideology and belligerence has seen Egypt and Arab states alike line up behind Israel rather than support Hamas. Kirkpatrick notes that the first peace deal proposed by Egypt, which was largely pro-Israel in its terms, was largely slammed by commentators as an attempt to embarrass Hamas, however, was also supported by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Kirkpatrick uses this to paint a picture where Israel has the support of the Middle East in eradicating Hamas while Hamas is largely left out in the cold, a victim of its own making. This argument fails to place Hamas not only within its own historical context but also the broader regional context.
Hamas began its life as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and as such keeps close to its core the writings of Hassan al-Banna, a key figure in the rise of Islamism. This strong relationship with MB which has diminished a little over the years due to Hamas’ success, has also shaped Hamas’ relationship with the broader Middle East. This relationship has been problematic due to changing attitudes towards MB in the Middle East. Within Egypt the fall of MB has not only been swift but also deep in the post-Morsi environment. The Egyptian government under el-Sisi has sought to destroy any support for MB within Egypt which has seen a largely cold attitude towards Hamas as a result. The Egyptian government simply cannot be seen to be mixing its messages over MB in its campaign to stabilise Egypt.
A similar case can be said for Saudi Arabia who earlier this year outlawed MB as a terrorist group. This was largely a result of increased activity of the Islamist organization within Saudi politics agitating for change. This resulted in the Saudi government taking measures to protect its monopoly on Saudi politics. Similar to Egypt, the Saudi government cannot be seen to be mixing its signals on MB and, therefore, has taken a stance similar to United Arab Emirates in denouncing or distancing itself from all Islamist organizations. One could then argue that the Middle East’s problem with Hamas is not its goals but its historical links to MB that both states are struggling to eradicate. Since Kirkpatrick’s piece was published the Saudi King Abdullah has publicly denounced the actions of Israel as constituting war crimes against humanity.
Hugh White of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at Australian National University writing in the Sydney Morning Herald argues that the current conflict itself is a result of both sides using violence for its own sake rather than using it to achieve some strategic goal. For White the use of violence will not win peace for Israel nor will it allow Hamas to further its nationalist goals of a Palestinian state, a problematic argument if one was to look at the nationalist movements that led to the independence of Timor Leste for instance.
In White’s piece one is again confronted with an image of an intransigent Hamas hell bent on perpetuating a conflict simply for the sake of it. Contrary to White’s statement that Hamas does not seem to be content on reaching a settlement under any terms, Hamas has moved to meet Israel halfway on many settlement items.
As recently as April of this year and reported in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Hamas sought to recognise the State of Israel and the two-state solution based on 1967 borders as part of its reconciliation agreement with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. While there is also evidence of statements from Hamas spokespeople declaring Hamas will never accept the two-state solution, a letter sent to George W. Bush in 2006 after Hamas was elected to the Palestinian government also takes this position.
Could it be that Hamas has begun to moderate through its participation in the political system? For a proper discussion on Hamas and the current Gaza conflict it is necessary to critically evaluate Hamas’ as an independent organization, while not divorced from its past as a brutal and horrific organization, at least one seeking to change. If Martin McGuinness can toast the Queen at Windsor Castle there is hope for the Palestinian conflict.
article by Andrew Vandermey
About the author,
Andrew has a BA in Security, Terrorism & Counter-terrorism as Murdoch University. Post-graduate Diploma in International Relations at Deakin University. Currently working on a Masters of International Relations at University of Melbourne.
Areas of Interest include: Human Rights and Humanitarianism. Middle East. Conflict and Violence, particularly the legitimation of violence by both State and Non-state actors. Terrorism and its Root Causes.