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3 Takes on the Hamas Endgame

From the “If You’ve Only Got Time To Read One Thing” Dept. Actually, I’ve got three items to recommend, each of which casts invaluable light on what’s going on right now in Gaza. In a moment I’ll rank them in order of importance, but first, a comment on what they have in common. The three are from — in no particular order (I’ll get to that later) — reporter Patrick Kingsley in the left-wing British daily The Guardian; conservative-leaning Israeli political reporter Haviv Rettig-Gur in the right-of-center Israeli news site Times of Israel (he’s formerly of the Jerusalem Post); and liberal-leaning Middle East affairs analyst Zvi Barel in Haaretz.

Interestingly, they all end up in pretty much the same place: Hamas is increasingly isolated, refusing to accept the Egyptian call for an unconditional cease-fire; it keeps on bombarding Israel because it’s desperate for something, anything, that can be presented as a win for all the trouble it’s caused; and consequently, Hamas is receiving (and deserving) most of the blame — from Europe and even the Arab League — for the current suffering of the Palestinians under its rule in Gaza. Its only remaining friends are Turkey and Qatar.

Now to the individual items on my list. First up, Haviv Rettig-Gur’s piece in Times of Israel, a must-read. It’s really two analyses woven together, presented in an unemotional, straightforward and quite convincing argument.

In the first place he looks at the way that both Israel and Hamas use contradictory claims of their own strength and their own weakness — strength in order to deter the enemy, weakness in order to win sympathy abroad. It’s not the most original argument in the world, but he presents it extremely well, and it’s important coming from him.

He proceeds from there to expand on Hamas’s victimhood mentality in order explore its mistaken use of post-colonial theory in service of the Palestinian cause. In Hamas thinking, he writes, the Palestinian fight against Israel is like the Algerian fight against the French in the 1950s. Therefore the enormous suffering that Hamas’s “resistance” causes to the Palestinian people is worth it, as was the unspeakable suffering of the Algerians, because it ends in victory. The weakness of the post-colonialism approach as an anti-Israel strategy, Haviv writes, is that Hamas fails to grasp Israel’s self-understanding as a nation on its own soil rather than a colonial invader.

Ultimately the French could be expelled from Algeria because they could be convinced that the cost of staying wasn’t worth it and it was better to go home to France. Israelis have nowhere to go back to. They can’t go home because they are home.

The second piece, Patrick Kingsley’s report from Cairo in The Guardian, sketches out the maneuvering among the neighboring countries in the Middle East to show how isolated Hamas is and what a bad job it’s doing at trying to negotiate some sort of achievement for itself. Kingsley boils Hamas’s 10 conditions for a cease-fire to two core conditions, releasing the prisoners freed in the Shalit deal and re-arrested after the yeshiva boys’ kidnap, and opening up the border crossings into Gaza. A cynic might argue that their demands boil down to “let us reestablish our military network in the West Bank” and “open the gates so we can restock our missile supply.” Otherwise the people of Gaza are gonna get it. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Third, Zvi Barel’s column in Haaretz today. It begins, like Kingsley’s, with a description of Hamas’s isolation, its useless alliances with Qatar and Turkey and the hostility it faces from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League. His conclusion:

Over the past three years, old alliances have dissolved, and the smaller ones that have succeeded them are incapable of delivering a unified Arab position. And so, whereas in the past any military operation in the Gaza Strip was the glue that brought Arabs together, this time the war has widened the cracks. Hamas is stuck in these cracks, virtually helpless. Ostensibly, that is an achievement for Egypt, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and even for Israel.

The next two days will show how much stronger Abbas’ position has become. No matter how much Abbas detests Hamas or wants it to fall, he must keep it from challenging his government again and imitating Hezbollah in Lebanon, where it is both part of the government and a military threat to it.

Abbas’ chance of success is better than that of Lebanon, mainly because Hamas is surrounded on all sides, its supply lines are blocked, its funding has dried up and it sees reconciliation with Fatah as its only lifeline.

For Israel, this is an extraordinary opportunity to strengthen Abbas in the domestic Palestinian arena without having to pay a political price. Israeli recognition of the reconciliation government, its release of the prisoners it had pledged to release, cooperation in the rehabilitation of Gaza, permitting Palestinian banks to pay Hamas’ officials’ salaries, are not only some of Hamas’ demands that Israel is rejecting. They are also the political leverage by which Israel can empower Abbas. The condition is, of course, that Israel view the conflict in Gaza not only as a war between it and an organization, but also as an opportunity to use diplomacy to prevent the next round.

The bottom line: use the current crisis as a lever to strengthen Abbas, give him control over Gaza and return to the negotiating table with a partner who’s willing and, thanks to the humbling of Hamas, able to reach a viable peace deal.

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