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Barry Rubin
Barry Rubin

AN ISRAELI'S VIEW

Shunning Hamas not just about Israel Add to ...

What do you have to do to be recognized as a revolutionary Islamist group using terrorism, backed by Iran, to seek to wipe Israel off the map and kill the Jews? It isn't easy. People keep trying to make you into something else - incipient moderate, multifaceted debating society - insisting that you just don't really mean it.

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Such is the case with Hamas. Every day - in speeches, articles, violence, mosque sermons and the media - Hamas makes its positions absolutely clear. And every day, someone in the West just doesn't want to believe it.

Now Hamas has formed an alliance (of convenience?) with the Palestinian Authority, run by Fatah. It's a remarkable situation, or would be anywhere outside of the Middle East.

After all, Hamas won an election, made a deal with the PA, and then staged a coup to take over the Gaza Strip that included shooting wounded Fatah fighters dead in hospitals. Fatah and the PA regularly repress Hamas on the West Bank. So why are they "working together?" The PA wants to show unity to the world; Hamas hopes that it can take over the PA.

Is it true that "as older leaders of Hamas claim some degree of moderation, younger radicals refuse to give up violence?" Not exactly. First, there is no real division along age lines. Nor is it all, but merely some, leaders of Hamas who "claim" some moderation.

But what's important is that word "claim." They do not claim it when talking to their people and they do not claim it on their television stations or their debates with the PA and Fatah. They only claim it when they are talking to Westerners, usually reporters or sometimes diplomats. In other words, it is just a public-relations exercise.

What about the "Salafi-jihadist" groups? Clearly, there are some differences, often relating to external alliances. Hamas is a Muslim Brotherhood group; the dissidents sympathize with al-Qaeda. Yet they don't pose any serious challenge since Hamas is far stronger. Hamas also uses them as deniable purveyors of attacks on Israel, assaults that Hamas can allow but also deny. The most important non-Hamas group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, very much plays that role.

There has been some effort to set up a distinction between Hamas, as the relative moderates, and the new small groups as the radicals. This would legitimize Hamas as protecting everyone from the real extremists. But the problem with these other groups - and that includes al-Qaeda - is that they are too tactically inflexible. They only use violence rather than base-building, reject elections and never pretend to be moderate.

Thus, while these groups can stage terrorist attacks or violence, they are not the real threat. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hamas, or Hezbollah, they cannot take over whole countries. And if in the Gaza Strip they ever do challenge what Hamas wants to do, they will be slapped down without mercy. That's not because Hamas is moderate but because it will accept no rival.

Indeed, one reason why Salafi-jihadist groups have not been successful among the Palestinians is that there is already a strong Islamist organization - Hamas - that can combine the nationalist and religious cards. Among the Palestinians, Hamas are the Salafists and jihadists. Who needs any alternative?

The article states that "a generation of Hamas leaders, now mostly in their 60s, that wants to deal, that's willing to agree to establishing a Palestinian state within Gaza and the West Bank as defined by the Green Line, the ceasefire line that separated Israelis from Jordanian and Egyptian forces until June, 1967."

But, as the article goes on to explain, whenever these Hamas leaders discuss such an idea, they make clear that this is a temporary measure. It's designed to get a state that can be used as a platform for destroying Israel. The PLO accepted such a "two-stage strategy" more than 35 years ago but no one thought that was moderate at the time.

Who needs "radicals" when you have Hamas. Incidentally, the same arguments can be applied to the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or any number of other militant groups. There is always someone even more radical. But the most extreme of the extreme simply are not good at building a mass organization, in part because they are so much on the edge.

Another dangerous assumption in dealing with Hamas is that the PA will moderate Hamas. Yet it is more likely that Hamas would radicalize or take over the PA. Many times before, it has been seen around the world that highly disciplined groups with a clear ideology have the advantage over looser, corrupt and ill-defined rivals.

But Hamas is also more dangerous precisely because it is more flexibly clever. The naive super-radicals want to convert the Gaza Strip into an imitation of Taliban Afghanistan overnight. Hamas leaders understand, however, that they must go step by step so as not to antagonize the population so much as to lose power or to show the West their true intentions that it might do something about the danger Hamas poses.

Thus, Ghazi Hamad, Hamas's deputy foreign minister, explains the situation in the article: "No one is more experienced in resistance than Hamas. No one has more martyrs. … Resistance has cost Gaza a lot of lives and a lot of damage. We need to evaluate each situation" before waging resistance.

What he's saying here is that Hamas isn't moderate, it just isn't stupid. Compare Iran and Afghanistan, for example. The Islamic Republic of Iran has known - even while sponsoring terrorism and subverting neighbours - how to be cautious and when to be brutal. The regime is still in power after more than three decades. The Taliban was foolhardy and adventurous, getting involved in the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States. Its leaders are now living in caves.

At the end, the question is asked: "Which side of Hamas will prevail?" But aside from interviews given for an English-speaking audience for the express purpose of fooling people, there is no evidence that there are two sides of Hamas.

The Globe and Mail should be praised for seriously studying this issue at a time when many newspapers in other countries increasingly dumb-down their coverage. But the world should continue to shun Hamas for reasons having nothing to do with Israel. The Middle East today faces a huge internal conflict. That is the region's main feature. The battle is between Islamists - be they Afghan, Iranian, Arab or Turkish - and a much-varied set of nationalists, liberal reformers and traditionalists. The mix is different in every country.

This battle is similar to the great struggles in Europe once caused by Communists and fascists. It is not merely a matter of Islam or Muslims because most of the people on the anti-Islamist side are also Muslims who think they are just as properly Islamic as the revolutionaries.

Giving international recognition or help or legitimacy to Hamas helps the radical Islamist side. It entrenches the Gaza Strip as a revolutionary mini state on the Mediterranean Sea, backed by Iran, using terrorism, dedicated to genocide against Israel and to subverting all of the relatively moderate Arab states.

It indoctrinates children to be future terrorists, to hate and kill Jews, expels Christians, subjugates women and supports the murder of gays. In addition, it advocates the expulsion of Western influence from the region and opposes virtually all Western interests. A Hamas regime is bound to return to war again in the not-distant future. The group's radicalism will kill any hope for a peace process between Israel and the PA. Hamas in power means a totalitarian state using torture and ferocious repression.

And it also furthers the revolutionary Islamist movements' efforts to dominate the Middle East and spread their doctrine and power to Western countries.

A handful of carefully tailored English-language interviews by some Hamas leaders (while they and others speak very frankly and in a totally opposite way in Arabic) changes nothing. The group's actions speak louder than such words.



Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal . His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (7th edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East , and The Truth About Syria

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