Is Hamas Really to Blame for the Conflict in Gaza?

Is Hamas Really to Blame for the Conflict in Gaza?

"Israel has never been a reliable partner for peace."

Throughout the current crisis, Israeli commentators and spokespeople have attempted to blame the Palestinians, particularly Hamas, for the wanton carnage and destruction unfolding in Gaza. One of their consistent talking points has been that, following Israel’s 2005 retreat from the Gaza strip in the wake of the Second Intifada and Hamas’ 2006 electoral landslide victories, the organization could have built a “Palestinian paradise” in Gaza—but they instead chose to squander their efforts and resources on terrorism, at the expense of the Palestinian people, “forcing” Israel to kill thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians, for the sake of its own continued existence.

Of course, all of this is nonsense.

For starters, the overwhelming majority of Hamas’ budget is spent on social-welfare programs, education, and infrastructure—which is how they attempt to maintain legitimacy among the beleaguered Gazan population. Moreover, Israel’s charge of skewed priorities is hypocritical considering that the Israeli government spends roughly a fifth of its annual budget on defense, more than 6 percent of the entire country’s GDP (almost three times the worldwide average of 2.5 percent).

They spend all this, despite the rather marginal threat that Palestine poses to Israel’s security (given their “Iron Dome” and “apartheid wall”), the increase in missile-defense partnerships with regional powers protecting them from Iran, the implosion of Hamas-friendly neighboring governments in Egypt and Syria, their unwavering support from the United States and their possession of one of the most sophisticated military and intelligence apparatuses in the world. Israel is arguably safer now than it has ever been, but despite its own deep-seated economic problems, the country has continued its unsustainable military spending by selling a false existential crisis.

Hamas has not been helpful for these warmongers, of late. Until the most recent round of extreme provocations designed to draw the group into open conflict, Hamas had not fired any rockets into Israel since 2012. In fact, they have worked tirelessly to prevent others from firing rockets in order to preserve the peace (establishing a police force for just this purpose), and have been so effective in these efforts that the attacks fell to their lowest level since 2001. But unfortunately, Israel has never been a reliable partner for peace.

Sowing Fitna in the Palestinian Territories

The biggest obstacle to Gaza becoming a “Palestinian paradise” is and always has been Israel’s incessant attempts to keep Palestinians divided and, therefore, weak and de facto subordinate to Israel. One of the main ironies of the current crisis is that Israel played a pivotal role in allowing Hamas to take hold and flourish in Gaza in the first place. The idea was to undermine Fatah and the PLO, fracturing the Palestinian opposition; part of this strategy was to have Hamas’ religious conservatism undermine Fatah’s secular leftism—Israel liked Hamas because they were Islamists.

But their attempt proved more successful than they intended—rather than merely weakening Fatah’s position, Hamas swept the 2006 elections, in part because of the role they played during the Second Intifada, and because Fatah was increasingly seen as being compromised, ineffective and corrupt. But worse still, rather than trying to marginalize their political rivals, Hamas reached out to form a unity government with Fatah.

Terrified at the prospect of a unified Palestinian opposition with broad-based popular support, Israel and the United States co-opted Fatah into attempting a coup against Hamas in Gaza—it failed, and instead, Fatah and the PLO were routed. Following this debacle, Israel, its Western patrons, and their regional allies orchestrated the land, sky and sea blockades, turning Gaza into an “open-air prison;” it has remained that way ever since.

Israel resorted to this same treachery when Hamas reached out again to form a unity government with Fatah earlier this year. Despite the fact that Hamas’ participation in this government, which recognized Israel, would be tantamount to their own tacit acknowledgment—and in spite of the United Nations, the IMF, and most of the international community endorsing the measure—Israel responded by ending their peace talks with the Palestinians and vowing reprisals. Israel’s latest round of collective punishment seems to be Netanyahu following through on that pledge.

The conflict is not about demilitarizing Gaza. When Israel speaks of demilitarization, they are referring only to Hamas, as they intend to keep the blockades in place and hordes of troops along the border; the IDF wants a monopoly on militarization in Gaza. This double-standard was underscored by their recent “cease-fire” proposals, which would have required Hamas to cease all military activities while reserving for Israel the right to continue finding and destroying arms caches and tunnels, killing any who stand in its way. What Israel meant by a “cease-fire” is that it would stop punishing the civilian populace and focus particularly on dismantling Hamas—if and only if Hamas agreed to let Israel do this without contest.

Of course, Hamas could not agree to this. And when they had the audacity to resist, not by firing rockets, but managing instead to capture and kill a few Israeli soldiers sweeping through their territory seeking to disarm them, Israel resumed its blanket bombardment of Gaza.

Shortly thereafter, Netanyahu declared that Israel had completed its objective (with these supposedly realized goals opaque even to the Prime Minister’s own party), announcing the IDFs unilateral withdrawal. If Israel has indeed accomplished what it set out to do, it is difficult to resist the conclusion they desired nothing more than the widespread destruction of Gaza, as this seems to be the only feat achieved over the course of the campaign—the cycle of violence no closer to resolution.

The West Bank as a Cautionary Tale

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine what Gaza would be like if Hamas had somehow managed to reconcile with Israel in 2006, perhaps by capitulating full-stop, which seems to be the only outcome the Israeli hardliners will tolerate. An instructive example may be the West Bank:

The Palestinian Authority recognizes Israel’s right to exist, buys virtually all of its goods from Israel, and collaborates with the IDF on security and intelligence to tamp down indigenous resistance—with President Mahmoud Abbas insisting he will personally prevent the eruption of a third intifada. And rather than bordering a hostile Egypt, the West Bank is sandwiched between the PA’s Israeli “partner” and a sympathetic Jordan. Surely, it must be a paradise, right? Not quite.

61 percent of the West Bank remains under control of Israel, including many key resources; the settlements have expanded further in retaliation for the unity government, despite the role these settlements already played in derailing the recent peace talks. The economy in the West Bank, while marginally better than blockaded Gaza’s, is in horrible shape—largely as a result of Israeli policies and restrictions. In fact, the economy in the West Bank actually shrank in 2013 and the economic trends have been downward since.

And despite the PA’s cooperation with Israeli security forces following the disappearance of the three Israelis from West Bank settlements, which allowed for the IDF to quickly identify the culprits and ascertain the fate of the victims—Israel rewarded this assistance by launching their farcical “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” the most invasive ground operation in the West bank in years, in which scores of Palestinians were killed, hundreds more arrested without cause, and a good deal of property was pillaged and destroyed. In fact, regardless of the cooperation of Hamas or the Palestinian Authority, Israel has flagrantly and unapologetically infracted upon their 2009 agreement with the Palestinians, which affirmed the so-called “two-state solution.”

The lesson: there was never any hope for a Palestinian paradise in Gaza, the West Bank, or anywhere else. One can cooperate with Israel ad infinitum, but this will not transform them into a good-faith interlocutor. Whenever Israel has conceded anything to the Palestinians, it has been under duress. Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that Israel could never countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state, and he has worked tirelessly, and up to now rather successfully, at preventing this eventuality. In fact, for all the talk about Hamas’ charter not recognizing an Israeli state, the charter of Israeli PM Netanyahu’s Likud party “flatly rejects” the notion of an independent Palestine. Until such a time as this dynamic changes, Hamas is right not to recognize Israel either.

The One-State Solution

Alternatively, perhaps the notion of a two-state solution is, itself, the problem. If Israel will not recognize Palestinian sovereignty, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank should instead demand full integration into Israel—with equal rights, protections, opportunities and participation. The resultant state would be overwhelmingly Arab and majority Muslim, effectively eradicating Israel’s identity as a Jewish state (even the name could be changed through referendum). One of the only ways for Israelis to prevent this would be to irrefutably crystalize Israel’s reality as an apartheid state (and likely at that point, a pariah state). Either way, it would be triumph for the resistance.

But it probably wouldn’t come to this. If the majority of the Palestinian opposition started moving in earnest for integration, the problems related to the “two-state solution” would likely resolve themselves unbelievably fast, as if by magic—because if the “one-state solution” described above were the primary alternative, Israel would suddenly find a fully-sovereign Palestine much more palatable by contrast. In fact, they would probably become the biggest champions for the cause.