A Peace Worth Fighting For

IDF soldiers inspect a missile impact site, Wikimedia Commons

By Mitchel Hochberg, Columnist

Hamas and Israel are not currently at war, but the Gaza Strip is still in shambles and without an effective governor. Israel has let few reconstruction materials into Gaza, stifling rebuilding plans. Fatah is monitoring border crossings as part of a precarious Palestinian unity government with Hamas.[1] Israeli officials rhteotically support economic reconstruction, yet still seem focused on empowering Fatah and punishing Hamas’ violence.[2] Such priorities are misplaced. A policy that focuses on isolating Hamas will leave violence as Hamas’ only way of retaining power and make renewed conflict inevitable.[3] Instead, Israel and the United States should offer to cooperate with Hamas on the condition that Hamas rejects violent resistance against Israel. Offering economic rewards for peace would decrease the chances of future conflict and offer the Gaza Strip a chance at economic growth.

Legitimizing Hamas seems unsavory for many in Israel and the United States. The United States, the European Union, and Israel classify this Islamist group committed to Israel’s destruction as a terrorist organization. Although Hamas has a violent ideology and has employed terrorism, it is still a pragmatic political organization that has demonstrated its willingness to shift away from violent resistance and accommodate Israel’s existence.[4] Its actions do not consistently match its violent rhetoric. Hamas has compromised with Palestinian rivals and Israel alike, cutting deals and sticking to them.[5] Since it won the Gazan elections in 2006, Hamas’ top leaders have repeatedly said that they would accept “a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines”—a stronger endorsement of a two-state solution than members of Benhamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition have given.[6] They are even willing to participate in a Palestinian unity government that recognizes Israel.[7]

Though Hamas capitalizes on conflict to generate legitimacy among its public and abroad, it is not totally disinterested in its public’s welfare.[8] Hamas has created governing institutions in Gaza and is held accountable for governance by its public.[9] A terrible economy makes successful governance difficult, leaving Hamas reliant on violent resistance for popular support. Members of Hamas’ leadership divde over whether to pursue violence or accommodation, but they straddle the line because they do not need to choose between two poor options.[10]

Hamas is also here to stay, or at least that is what those concerned with Israel’s security should hope. This summer’s fighting demonstrated that Hamas’ public support, military and civilian infrastructure, and resilience will make it impossible to displace absent an untenable Israeli occupation.[11] Even if Hamas could be removed, the power vacuum in Gaza—as Defense Intelligence Agency director Lieutenant General Michael Flynn warned—would allow smaller radical groups like Islamic Jihad to launch more rocket and terror attacks against Israel.[12] Those groups would be harder to punish and deter, since they have less to lose. Dealing with Hamas may be undesirable, but if Israel and the United States want to end violence or improve quality of life in Gaza, Hamas is the only potential partner.

Though Israeli officials surely recognize this reality— Israel did not attempt a full invasion of Gaza—they remain obsessed with trying to discredit Hamas while attempting to position Fatah as the alternative. For instance, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon threatened to condition reconstruction on Hamas promising not to use materials to aid its fighters.[13] This tough stance should please Ya’alon’s constituency while theoretically showing Gazans that Hamas’ violence—versus the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s peaceful cooperation—is holding back Gaza’s economy.

Such attempts to fight Hamas through economic arrangments are doomed to fail. Hamas never surrendered to Israel, and attempts to impose ceasefire conditions post facto will only accelerate the time until fighting resumes.[14] Furthermore, Gazans supported Hamas after this summer’s conflict, and they understand that Israel and Egypt—not Hamas—have strangled Gaza’s economy.[15] Aiding the PA at Hamas’ expense would make ruling Gaza a zero-sum contest that Fatah would be likely to lose, and Hamas’ presence would remain much stronger.[16] Violence in Gaza over the last month shows that Hamas has no interest in allowing the PA to distribute construction materials—let alone take over Gaza—without having its needs met.

Instead, Israel and the United States should empower moderates within Hamas and Fatah together.[17] With financial and security assistance from the United States, European Union, and United Nations, Israel could open monitored border crossings, roll back their naval blockade against Gaza, and distribute large amounts of aid and reconstruction materials through the struggling technocratic Palestinian unity government on the condition that Hamas reject violent resistance.[18] A deal would address Israeli security concerns by requiring Hamas to give up its rockets and commit to preventing all attacks on Israel from Gaza. Yet, it would be much more attractive to Hamas than current Israeli policy, since Hamas would receive tangible concessions and an opportunity to govern effectively

For this type of deal to work, Israel and the United States would have to make Hamas’ choice between violence and governance stark.[19] Israel and the United States would have to make clear that Hamas can either forsake military activities against Israel and reap the economic and governance benefits or continue to be subjected to Israeli operations. Straddling the line between violence and accommodation would no longer be an option. If Israel and the United States. can build incentives and rewards for both parties into a deal to guarantee that a peaceful Hamas would not be an Israeli target and make the offer of economic gains credible, Hamas’ moderating impulses would likely win out. The prospect of renewed Israeli punishment destroying economic gains would ensure Hamas’ compliance. Hamas’ reluctance to agree to a ceasefire was a sign of desperation; the group remains resilient but in need of a win.[20] This deal would give Hamas a win, but on conditions that benefit Israeli security and Gazan prosperity.

Whether Israel would accept such a deal is in doubt. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government rejected the Palestinian unity government because of Hamas’ use of terrorism. This deal would address those concerns directly by making Hamas swap terrorism for governance. Netanyahu may actually oppose such a transformation; his commitment to a two-state solution is shallow at best, and he can use Hamas’ violence as an excuse to stall negotiations.[21] If a moderate Hamas ruling a prosperous Gaza is a threat to Netanyahu, he will not attempt this type of deal. Still, if security is his priority, there is a precedent for Palestinian terrorist groups moderating. The Palestinian Liberation Organization recognized Israel and renounced violence in the late 1980s after it obtained the political and economic incentives and security guarantees needed to transform itself.[22]

It will be difficult to create a framework for Fatah-Hamas cooperation that pleases Israel without making Hamas feel marginalized. Yet, if the goal is to go beyond a simple ceasefire and prevent future Israeli-Hamas conflict while improving life in Gaza, engagement with Hamas is necessary. Forcing them to choose between economic gains and violence offers the best way to moderate Hamas while protecting Israel’s security. Only sitting and waiting for the next round of fighting shows disinterest in the welfare of Gaza’s public.

[1] Amos Harel, “Egypt and Israel are tightening the rope around Hamas’ neck,” Haaretz, November 3, 2014, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.624235; Nicholas Casey, “Gaza Explosions Hit Senior Fatah Members’ Homes,” Wall Street Journal, November 7, 2014, http://online.wsj.com/articles/gaza-explosions-hit-senior-fatah-members-homes-1415356232; Economist, “Waiting for the Cement,” October 16, 2014, http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21625802-costly-endeavour.
[2] International Crisis Group, “Update Briefing, October 24, 2014, http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/Middle%20East%20North%20Africa/Israel%20Palestine/b042-toward-a-lasting-ceasefire-in-gaza.pdf.
[3] Colum Lynch, “U.S. Presses Israel to Wind Down Gaza Offensive” Foreign Policy, July 22, 2013, http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/07/22/us_presses_israel_to_wind_down_gaza_offensive.
[4] Moriel Rothman, “Hamas: Political pragmatists or Islamic dogmatics?” +972 Magazine, May 1, 2014, http://972mag.com/hamas-political-pragmatism-or-dogmatism/90187/; Zvika Krieger, “Is Hamas Becoming More Moderate?” The Atlantic, January 19, 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/01/is-hamas-becoming-more-moderate/251596/.
[5] Daniel Byman, “How to Handle Hamas,” Foreign Affairs, October 2010, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/66541/daniel-byman/how-to-handle-hamas.
[6] Ethan Bronner, “Hamas Leader Calls for Two-State Solution, but Refuses to Renounce Violence,” New York Times, May 5, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/06/world/middleeast/06palestinians.html?smid=tw-nytimesglobal&seid=auto&_r=0; Reuters, “Hamas vows to honor Palestinian referendum on peace with Israel,” Haaretz, December 1, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/hamas-vows-to-honor-palestinian-referendum-on-peace-with-israel-1.328234; Tim Butcher, “Hamas offers deal if Israel pulls out,” Telegraph, February 9, 2006, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/1510074/Hamas-offers-deal-if-Israel-pulls-out.html; Paul Pillar, “Dedication, Destruction and Hamas,” National Interest, August 2, 2014, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/paul-pillar/dedication-destruction-hamas-11009
[7] Jack Khoury and Reuters, “Abbas: Palestinian unity government will recognize Israel, condemn terrorism,” Haaretz, April 26, 2014, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.587443
[8] James Carafano, “The Hamas Way of War,” National Interest, July 12, 2014, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-hamas-way-war-10860.
[9] Nathan Brown, “Gaza Five Years On: Hamas Settles In,” Carnegie Endowment, June 11, 2012 http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/06/11/gaza-five-years-on-hamas-settles-in/birb; Byman, “How to Handle Hamas”.
[10] The Atlantic, “The Future of Hamas,” June 1, 2006, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/06/the-future-of-hamas/304847/; Neri Zilber, “Hamas on the Ropes,” Foreign Policy, June 26, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/06/26/hamas_on_the_ropes_israel_kidnapping_qawasmeh.
[11] Aaron David Miller, “Israel and Hamas Need Each Other,” Foreign Policy, July 16, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/07/16/israel_and_hamas_need_each_other_palestine_gaza; Mark Perry, “You Can’t Kill Hamas, You Can Only Make It Stronger,” Foreign Policy, July 14, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/07/14/cant_kill_hamas_make_it_stronger_protective_edge_israel_gaza; Julia Heyer, “Ex-Israeli Security Chief Diskin: ‘All the Conditions Are There for an Explosion,’” Der Spiegel, July 24, 2014, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/interview-with-former-israeli-security-chief-yuval-diskin-a-982094.html.
[12] Yochi Dreazen, “The Cable Top Pentagon Intel Official: No Mideast Peace ‘In My Lifetime,’” Foreign Policy, July 27, 2014, http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/07/27/top_pentagon_intel_official_says_no_mideast_peace_in_my_lifetime_israel_palestinian.
[13] Jerusalem Post, “Ya’alon: Israel won’t allow Gaza reconstruction if Hamas rebuilds infiltration tunnels,” October 21, 2014, http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Defense-minster-Israel-wont-allow-Gaza-reconstruction-if-Hamas-rebuilds-infiltration-tunnels-379365.
[14] International Crisis Group, “Gaza and Israel: New Obstacles, New Solutions,” July 14, 2014, http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa/israel-palestine/b039-gaza-and-israel-new-obstacles-new-solutions.aspx.
[15] Adam Taylor, “Poll: Hamas popularity surges after war with Israel,” Washington Post, September 2, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/09/02/poll-hamas-popularity-surges-after-war-with-israel/.
[16] Steven Erlanger, “Hamas Seizes Broad Control in Gaza Strip,” New York Times, June 14, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/14/world/middleeast/14mideast.html.
[17] International Crisis Group, “Gaza and Israel.”
[18] Amos Harel, “West Bank tensions threaten Israel-PA coordination on Gaza,” Haaretz, November 12, 2014.
[19] Byman, “How to Handle Hamas,”; Daniel Byman, “Israel’s Gamble in Gaza,” Foreign Affairs, November 15, 2012, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/138432/daniel-byman/israels-gamble-in-gaza.
[20] Jodi Rudoren and Ben Hubbard, “Despite Gains, Hamas Sees a Fight for Its Existence and Presses Ahead,” New York Times, July 27, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/28/world/middleeast/despite-gains-hamas-sees-a-fight-for-its-existence-and-presses-ahead.html; Michael Gordon, “To Talk With Hamas, U.S. Needs Help From a Testy Trio of Nations,” New York Times, July 21, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/22/us/politics/to-talk-with-hamas-us-needs-help-from-a-testy-trio-of-nations.html.
[21] Colum Lynch, “U.S. Presses Israel to Wind Down Gaza Offensive”; David Horovitz, “Netanyahu finally speaks his mind,” Times of Israel, July 13, 2014, http://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-finally-speaks-his-mind/#ixzz37MC1rQEL; Paul Pillar, “Benjamin Netanyahu’s Excellent Adventure,” National Interest, July 7, 2014, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/paul-pillar/things-have-been-going-netanyahus-way-10822.
[22] Robert Pear, “U.S. AGREES TO TALKS WITH P.L.O., SAYING ARAFAT ACCEPTS ISRAEL AND RENOUNCES ALL TERRORISM,” New York Times, December 15, 1988, http://www.nytimes.com/1988/12/15/world/us-agrees-talks-with-plo-saying-arafat-accepts-israel-renounces-all-terrorism.html; Jim Zanotti, “U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians,” Congressional Research Service, July 3, 2014, http://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS22967.pdf.



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