Hamas: Full steam ahead to nowhere
When the "Islamic Resistance Movement" – the full name of Hamas – took over Gaza in 2007, some pundits expressed the opinion, or more accurately the hope, that once Hamas has a state and is responsible for its drinking water, gasoline, electricity, employment and food, it will have no choice but to become more moderate. These commentators predicted Hamas would soon prefer governing to continued jihad, exchange terror for running a state, develop political tools instead of war, adopting a political stance instead of armed conflict. Every one of those pundits and observers were could not have been more wrong, because no Islamic terror organization abandons terror without being seen as an organization that has abandoned Islam as well.
In actual fact, what has happened is a peculiar process that could only occur in Islamic societies. It is a self-destructing or self-immolating process that can be traced to a specific trait of Islamic organizations. This process is a function of the collective belief shared by Islamic leaders that it is a religious obligation to stick to their political principles – and that any deviation from total allegiance to those principles will result in their falling victim to skewed, subjective criticism aimed at them personally by others whose religious image is more vivid, more faith-based and therefore more trustworthy.
On the other hand, Hamas also wants to seem like a political organization, so it ran in the legislative elections in 2006, winning a majority of the seats. Now it is getting ready for presidential elections where it hopes to conquer the seat of the PA President. Hamas's problem is the inherent contradiction between two roles: Being a political organization that takes part in political life in the PA and which therefore must adopt suitable patterns of behavior, headed by pragmatic flexibility and the ability to talk to Israel about basic issues – and at the same time continuing to act according to the principle that forbids moving off the path dictated by Allah, who only allows his earthly representatives to talk to the Zionists about technical issues such as transferring food, water, gasoline, electricity, and medical services.
From the standpoint of Hamas, it is not so bad if the Gaza Muslims suffer, because that is considered "bla'a", one of the tests Allah presents to believers in order to decide whether or not they deserve a passport to Paradise when the time comes. That explains why Hamas is so ready to sacrifice hundreds and even thousands of victims in every military encounter with us, and why the Arab world media present the situation as a victory for Hamas and a defeat for Israel, convincing the world that they are telling the truth, when actually, just the opposite is the case. The price for this delusionary "victory" is paid by the man in the Gaza street, whose family members are dead or wounded, and who has to live with a destroyed infrastructure. The man in the street is not in the Hamas camp on this issue, because he is much more pragmatic that those who have taken over his life – and death.
The religious conceptual framework prevents Hamas from giving in to the Jews or from doing anything that might be interpreted as giving in to them, including freeing prisoners or the bodies of fallen soldiers who have fallen into Hamas hands, and even from giving out information about them. Anyone with a connection to the issue knows full well that Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul are, to our great sorrow, not among the living, but Hamas spokesmen continue to throw sand in the eyes of the Palestinian Arabs, saying that they will not divulge any details about the two, not even whether they are alive or dead, as if there could be any chance they are still alive.
From a religious standpoint, Hamas is mired in a dark and dismal swamp. During the 1400 years since the dawn of Islamic history, there were Muslim regimes that treated strangers with respect, refrained from attacking countries more powerful than they, and cared about the economic conditions of those living under their rule. Hamas is light years away from this type of behavior, and is not only uninterested in improving the health, education and living standards of the people of Gaza, it takes step after step to create a picture of suffering and want in order to squeeze donations from the rest of the world.
Another detail that might prevent Gaza from undergoing another violent bout of conflict with Israel – at the expense of the ordinary citizens' lives, of course, not those of the Hamas leaders whose underground bunkers will protect them – is Hamas readiness to carry out a prisoner exchange with Israel. Yihye Sinwar, the current Hamas leader freed in the Shalit deal, knows that Israel will not free over 1000 prisoners in exchange for corpses, but is pressured by the Hamas prisoners and their families and finds it almost impossible to reach a deal with the Israelis that results in less prisoners being freed than were when he was part of an exchange.
Do you get it? Sinwar got himself freed from an Israeli prison, but would he do the same for others? Come on - that's too much to expect from him. Hamas, instead, is making use of all kinds of mantras to justify its obstinate policy: "We will not cowtow to the Zionist entity on anything!" "We will not give the Zionists any free information!" "We will continue to struggle for a Palestine from the river to the sea." No one on the Gaza street believes these mantras anymore, nor do they put their faith in those who post them on the internet or satellite stations.
Hamas does everything it can to publicize the "humanitarian catastrophe" in Gaza, but forgets to tell listeners that the situation there is primarily a result of the way Hamas has governed the region in the last decade. The organization was given billions of dollars by Qatar and international organizations which do not follow up on what happens to their donations, are recipients of taxes taken off salaries – and what did they do with the money? Did they build schools? Hospitals? Factories? Infrastructure? None of the above.
Some of the money found its way into Hamas leaders' private, hidden bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, the Virgin Islands or other tax havens, some was used to purchase homes and apartments for those leaders – but the majority of the funds, by far, went to build underground tunnels, rockets and other weapons of destruction intended for use in the war to liberate Palestine. So far they have managed to liberate residents of Gaza from any chance they might lead a semblance of normal lives.
And since the Arab world has turned its back on Hamas, the organization is close to bankruptcy, a reason for its new, warm relationship with Iran. Hamas leaders are hoping to obtain money, arms and rockets from Iran – to break the stalemate with Israel. That is the reason they reconnected with Hezbollah and fell victim to its endless war. Now that this war is slowly dying, Hamas is ready to renew its ties to Iran.
Iran does not hide its leadership's joy at renewing ties with Hamas. The ayatollahs see Hamas as the long arm of the Iranian octopus extended towards southern Israel, intending to grasp it in a pincer between Hezbollah on the north and Hamas in the south. Will this move improve life in Gaza? Will Hamas succeed in convincing unemployed Gazans – 60% of the Strip's employable breadwinners – that it is doing this for their benefit?
And then there is the old-new fiasco of the relations with the PLO/PA and the reconciliation, unachievable since Hamas burst on to the Israeli and international scene in 1988 with the outbreak of the First Intifada. The rivalry, hostility, hatred and jealousy running rampant between the two organizations and the insults each hurls at the other express much more than a political divide. They are the living proof of the collective cultural differences between Judea and Samaria Arabs and those of Gaza. Even the Arabic spoken in Judea and Samaria is not the same as that of Gaza, and language – as every fledgling Middle East scholar knows – is the microcosm of culture. Gaza's culture is that of desert dwelling Bedouin, while the Arabic spoken by Judea and Samaria Arabs is that used by city and town dwellers. The conflict between the PLO and Hamas is all-embracing: it is over leadership positions, the treasury (the secure place for the corrupt and the breeding ground of corruption), the police and most important: the armed forces. Notwithstanding all the joint papers both sides signed while smiling at international media photographers, the inspired speeches made by spokesmen on both sides lauding the concept of sacred reconciliation – and despite the public demand to see both the PLO and Hamas working together for their shared goal of establishing a Palestinian Arab state on the ruins of Israel, the two organizations have failed to rise above their conflicts and keep the promises that lie at the basis of these agreements. They continue to castigate, humiliate and mock one another while the public looks on.
On the other side of the cultural and political equation are the Salafist organizations on the lines of al Qaeda and ISIS . They have active delegations in Gaza, although most of their activists have moved to Sinai. Hamas is engaged in a fight to the death with the organizations engaged in doing to Hamas exactly what that terror organization did to the PLO: Jihad in the name of Islam, all the while accusing Hamas of abandoning the real jihad and becoming Israel's 'Border Patrol'. Hamas has killed scores of Salafist activists, including over 30 of them cut down by machine gun fire on a street in Rafiah after gas grenades succeeded in making them leave the Ibn Timia mosque.
Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, was supposed to create an alternative religious nationalist ethos in contrast to the secular nationalism led by various Arab organizations. It failed in its attempt to present an Arab nationalist model of a democratic, modern state that protects its citizens and provides for their welfare, health and employment – an ordinary, functioning state that earns the loyalty of its citizens and their identification with it, taking over from the previous focus on the Middle East's traditional tribal, ethnic, religious and group identities.
The Arab nationalist movements have sunk into the deep morass of despotism. Not one of them has managed to establish and maintain a democratic nation-state on the lines of Israel. The Zionist movement succeeded exactly where the Arab nationalist movements failed, and the Hamas movement was supposed to offer an alternative religious ethos that could unfurl its flag over all the tribal and religious groups living in "Falestin": Muslims, Christians, Cherkassim, Achmadim. The religious movement failed dismally, one of the reasons being its inability to abandon the principle of Jihad long enough to join up with the PLO and establish a Palestinian Arab state alongside Israel until the time is ripe to destroy the Jewish State. Hamas does not see a way to accept the Jewish states' existence, even on a temporary basis, and is obligated to maintain a constant state of war with Israel. Let me emphasize: not an active war but a state of war. Waging a war would lead to the destruction of Gaza and topple the heads of the Hamas leaders, while a state of war gives them justification for the sad state the movement and the Gaza Strip have reached. The residents of Gaza are the albatross hanging on the neck of Hamas, weighing it down as it tries in vain to navigate a stormy sea.
The situation in Gaza provides another proof, for anyone who is still in need of one, of the inability of an Islamic movement to establish and maintain a modern state that can live in peace with its neighbors and tolerate ideologies that differ from its own.
The schism dividing the PLO and Hamas is a cultural divide expressed by means of political conflict. There is no way to create unity or a true, long-lasting reconciliation between the two groups, so that anyone counting on one unified Palestinian Arab state had better align his expectations with bitter Middle East reality, widely different from what we have become accustomed to in Europe, America and Australia.
The PLO failed because the secular nationalist ideology that does so well in Europe, cannot make a go of it in the Middle East. It has failed in every country that tried to base its existence on that kind of ideology – Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan are the exemplars. The Hamas movement is a failure because fundamentalist Islam cannot maintain a modern state with European democratic standards based on human laws. Turkey, while returning to Islam since the nineties, is also distancing itself more and more from the accepted Western model of a constitutional democracy.
The conclusion all this leads to is completely clear: There is neither a religious or secular basis for establishing a Palestinian Arab state. The only solution is the natural base of Middle Eastern society: The tribe. Only emirates in Judea and Samaria based on local families, - like those in the Gulf emirates – can operate legitimately in this region.
Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky, Senior Consultant and Op-ed editor of Arutz Sheva's English site.