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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Is Hamas renouncing terror?

From The National Interest:

Jane’s, an internationally respected British security and defense risk-analysis firm, has recently reported that Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, is on “the brink of renouncing armed resistance and moving to a policy of nonviolent resistance to Israel.” Jane’s, with which I have been a monthly writer to three of its publications since 2007, has several hard-to-ignore quotes in its report of Hamas leaders saying that the move was not “tactical” but “strategic.” Also interviewed are Palestinian Authority intelligence officers who said that Hamas’s strategy was “gradual and nuanced,” with one senior officer telling Jane’s that Hamas “intends to keep its military and security units to control the situation in Gaza, not necessarily to fight the Israelis.” The interviewees’ names were not mentioned for obvious security reasons.

...The report, written by my friend and colleague David Hartwell, Jane’s Middle East and Islamic affairs editor, argues that the springboard for this new strategic approach by Hamas is the Arab uprising. More directly, Egypt, Qatar and Turkey reportedly played a key role in convincing Hamas to reconcile with its historical rival Fatah and end armed resistance against Israel. Hartwell writes that Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, in a meeting on November 24 in Cairo with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, accepted “in writing with a signature” the need to embrace peaceful activism. And if this is not controversial enough, echoing Syrian opposition leader Burhan Ghalioun, Hamas’s leadership also told Jane’s that it will be “downgrading its ties with Syria and Iran and forge new relationships with Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey.”
Jane's is a respected source, and I would love to read the actual article - and not just the spin from this author.

It appears that Hamas is indeed supporting "non-violent resistance" in the sense that Abbas has been pushing it (meaning, stones and boulders and slingshots and even Molotov cocktails are all considered "non-violent.") They are seeing the PR benefits that accrue to their cause when the IDF fires tear gas on protesters that are "merely" throwing stones, and Hamas has no desire to stand in the way of such actions. The usual formulation from Hamas is that it supports "resistance in all its forms."

This is a far cry from saying that Hamas is renouncing armed resistance and terrorism.

It is true that Hamas has been trying to keep things quiet in Gaza since Cast Lead, but that is purely tactical - it was hurt badly during that war and does not want another one.

However, like Hezbollah, Hamas continues to obtain weapons and continues to build its military capability, in ways that have nothing to do with internal security. The Al Qassam Brigades, as far as I can tell, has never been used for any internal Gaza security tasks, although it has been used to fight the PA forces and more recently to terrorize Fatah leaders.

Hamas rhetoric of supporting violence has not abated one bit. Recent statements and actions by Hamas, as well as last week's rallies proved that yet again.

The Financial Post (Canada) adds a crucial quote from Jane's that is missing in the National Interest article:
For the time being, however, Jane's says Hamas "may operate a twin-track policy of not completely renouncing violence, but also embracing non-violent resistance."

"In this scenario, the group would then be able to keep its political and military options open," Mr. Hartwell said.
In my estimation, this is not "for the time being" but a long-term policy. Hamas' very existence is based on terrorism; it cannot abandon it for at least a generation without a revolt from an entire population raised under the banner of violent jihad. Hamas will embrace tactical lulls of terror, but it is not anxious to change its entire philosophy.

I do agree that the Arab Spring has shaken up Hamas to make them want to unify with Fatah - on paper. The protests in Gaza and the West Bank last spring demanding unity scared the hell out of Hamas and Fatah, both of whom feared that they would lose their positions of power. But even with the meetings this week in Cairo, the very basic demands of each side have not been dealt with - both sides still hold political prisoners of the other side, Fatah is still not sending blank PA passports to Gaza, and all that seems to be agreed upon is the formation of committees and promises to meet again and again. No discernible movement has taken place on creating a caretaker unity government. The idea that the PA and Hamas' security forces would be integrated any time soon is laughable.

I suspect that there is another dynamic at work, however. It appears that there is some friction between Hamas leadership in Gaza and Khaled Meshal in Damascus. Already there have been quite a few statements by Gaza's Mahmoud Zahar slamming Fatah and casting doubt on any possible reconciliation. Ismail Haniyeh has been more quiet, but it must rankle him that as the only truly elected Palestinian Arab leader he has been shunted aside in the talks between Abbas and Meshal. Furthermore, the Al Qassam Brigades themselves do not appear to consider Meshal to be their leader.

Hamas is better at hiding internal differences than Fatah is, but the impression I am getting is that Gaza's Hamas leaders are not as on board with this entire unity plan as Meshal is. A change of strategy away from terror would more likely split Hamas - perhaps into a Muslim Brotherhood-style political party on one hand and a pure terrorist group on the other.

Another important factor is that Hamas, while officially acting against rocket fire from Gaza, has a quite chummy relationship with more overt Gaza terror groups like Islamic Jihad and the PFLP. Similarly to how Arafat acted, Hamas knows that they can always quietly encourage terrorism from these other groups while maintaining its own pretense of acting responsibly.

Altogether, while Hamas will not stand in the way of "popular resistance," nor will it stand in the way of a state on the "1967 borders." But it will also never renounce terror nor will it ever renounce its dedication to destroying Israel altogether. The two ideas are not at odds with each other, and analysts must understand that before allowing their own wishful thinking to overwhelm the facts.