Israel will fail against Hamas
Q. Does the acceptance by Hamas of the text drafted by Palestinian prisoners in Israel definitively or in part settle the question of recognition of Israel by Hamas?
Yes and no. That’s not meant to be ambiguous. This text acknowledged a long-standing position held by Hamas: No to the formal recognition of a Jewish state on Islamic lands, Yes to de facto acceptance of Israel in the form of an unlimited truce. The position of Hamas is clear. Mutual recognition is not really necessary to have peace. Israel is asked to withdraw from the territories conquered in 1967 and to permit the Palestinians to build their state on the “liberated” land.
Q. Some say that Hamas is somewhat a small yet pragmatic political party with a separate armed wing, similar to other terrorist groups such as the IRA or the ETA. So how do you explain the vision of the Olmert Administration, which seems to think of Hamas a terrorist organization, without understanding the difference?
Hamas is not a Jihadist Islamic party like al-Qaeda or others, for whom Jihad is understood as the same thing across the Islamic world. It is a “territorialist” and nationalist party founded on religion. That’s a very different thing. And Hamas is not homogeneous. Its “pragmatism” is due to the fact that it has no confidence in Israeli commitment and wants to “liberate Palestine”, beginning with the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.
Ehoud Olmert’s vision corresponds to a very old inclination in Israel and his government is not the first to act as it has been acting. This position consists of denying the nationalist character of the adversary’s movement. That’s the way it was in the relationship with the PLO. Today, it’s Hamas’ turn.
History shows that Israel, after a long period of denial, always ends up accepting reality. Today the problem is worsened by the regional and international environment and the view that “Islamist terrorism" is monolithic. If Israel continues to deny the reality of Hamas as a nationalist political movement and not a merely religious organization, then it will stumble from failure to failure until it accepts the fact.
Is this fresh outbreak of war just another in a series of episodes? Or are we facing a new situation?
It is too soon to answer to this question with a "yes" or "no". I tend to think that this is "just another episode”. I think the desire of the Israeli government was to put intense pressure on Palestinian society to force them to reject Hamas following its victory in the elections. The hostage affair strongly reinforces this attitude but it does not change it. That being said, we could be seeing the beginning of an offensive to politically and militarily dismantle Hamas or at least an attempt to do so. Seeing what Hamas represents to Palestinians, it is my opinion that this attempt by Israel is doomed to failure.
But based on what you have said, I don’t see how the Israelis could trust a truce invoked by Hamas that it could break when it feels sufficiently strong or sufficiently supported, by Iran, for example. What is your opinion?
I think that the problem is not a question of “trust”. Today, trust between these two populations is dead or in the throes of death. The question is what is the alternative? Continue construction of the Security Wall and to reject self-determination to the inhabitants of the Occupied Territories? That’s not going to work. Even if Israel were to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, the Jewish state would remain politically, militarily, economically, and socially far stronger than the Palestinians and all their neighbors combined. Israelis live in fear, often founded on past memories. But previous historical examples show that all pullouts from occupied territory are followed by peace and not by an increase in violence.
The Occupied Territories and the Palestinian Authority have seen financial assistance from the international community dry up. It doesn’t seem to have stopped the Palestinian militias from forming and multiplying (men, weapons, and ammunition). Do you know where the money allowing them to grow and conduct operations comes from?
I don’t believe the militias are stronger there than they were two or three years ago, when a wave of attacks swept over Israel. In fact, they are weaker. It remains to be said that they are able to obtain weapons but of poor quality. (The famous Qassam rockets, for example, are home-made mortars with little effectiveness, even if noisy). I have no precise information on where these weapons come from. Some have been stolen from “official” Palestinian forces or turned over to the militias by them. The rest, in very small quantities, are stolen from Israeli soldiers. The Israeli press has occasionally suggested arms trafficking by Israeli troops but I have no confirmation of this. Last, weapons in extremely small quantities have been smuggled in to the Occupied Territories from Jordan or over the border from Egypt into Gaza.
Why doesn't the UN force Israel to withdraw?
The UN can only do what the means conferred upon it will allow. Resolutions have been adopted. But the decision-making body of the UN is not the General Assembly; it is the Security Council. There, Israel has enjoyed the protection of a US veto from any forceful decision for the last thirty-nine years.
Does the Hamas Palestinian Prime Minister have any control over the armed wing responsible for the kidnapping of the French-Israeli soldier?
There again, I can only guess. I think that the armed wing is absolutely under the control of political wing of Hamas. The sterling proof is that Hamas is able in impose truces on them in a systematic manner when they are declared and the armed wing accepts them without a hitch. Islamic Jihad, however, is another story. That being said, I have not been in Palestine for several months and I am not sufficiently informed on internal dissent or on who has the upper hand on the armed wing.
The Israeli government is ignoring the document drafted by the prisoners for now. Yet this document could indicate a change in the major ideological and political views of Hamas. Is the Israeli refusal to recognize this document a tactical decision?
To have one or a set of tactic, you first need a strategy. I am not sure that the Israeli government has one. Instead, it has a want: to separate itself with the best possible bargain with the Palestinians and by paying the lowest possible price in terms of politics and a territorial pullout. In Israel, this desire is known as “unilateral withdrawal”. The problem is to withdraw a little here there while keeping all the settlements intact and to tell the Palestinians: It’s now up to you, do what you want, declare your own state But it won’t work. Israel will find no Palestinian partner in dialog who will accept declaring a handful of disconnected cantons that are totally under Israeli control a state.
How do you interpret the kidnapping of the Hamas MPs, democratically elected by the people as well a the international community, which is calling for restraint? Is there some sort exception being made for Israel?
This has to do with “two separate weights, two separate measures”. In one sense, there is Israeli exceptionism in the international community. But in another sense, it's false. How many UN resolutions have there been or statements by Jacques Chirac on events in Chechnya? Almost none. On the one hand, people hesitate to criticize Israel but on the other, the Palestinians get more attention than many other populations.
I just read an article saying that that Israel, by not accepting Hamas in power, planned this invasion long ago and that the kidnapping of this soldier is only a pretext. What do you think?
I think the job of a military is to prepare for all eventualities. So when Israel decided to evacuate Gaza, the general staff had plans already on the table for this kind of situation. The “plan” if all went well (from the Israeli point of view) and the “plan” if all went differently.
It seems obvious to me that the current intervention was “planned” but that’s perfectly normal. There is no Machiavellian conspiracy. They went in because the circumstances indicated it.
On the other hand, I do not believe that the Israelis want to militarily reoccupy the Gaza Strip. What they want to do is to control it from the outside, with the lowest risk, and to intervene when the situation calls for it.
Since it’s been suggested that I make a parting remark, I’ll tell you a joke that’s been making the rounds in Palestine:
One Palestinian says, “What a terrible mess we’re in. If we hadn’t crossed paths with the Jews, who are the very figure of the worst of human suffering, "then the international community would have given us our state and our independence long ago and would have forced Israel to withdraw from our territories."
“Idiot”, says the other, "We’re lucky we got entangled with the Jews. If we were Tibetans, Chechens, or Kurdish Turks, who would give a damn?"
The end of the story is that they are both right.