By Stephen Pollard, a senior fellow at the Centre for the New Europe in Brussel
September 14, 2003.
Whatever the merits of the Israeli Cabinet’s decision to expel Yasser Arafat, the
immediate cause is obvious. He is to blame, in large part, for the murder of 15
Israelis last week by Hamas. His consistent refusal to consider any action
against the terrorists has given them carte blanche to attack at will, and has
denied the Israelis even a modicum of confidence in him as a trustworthy
Indeed he has become a permanent obstacle to any fruitful negotiation.
That is now clear to any objective observer – including, of course, Mahmoud
Abbas, the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, who was blocked
by Arafat at every turn.
To understand the dynamics of the situation, however, one needs to look
beyond Arafat. No one – certainly not the Israelis – believes that Arafat, even if
he wanted to, could now fully remove Hamas from the picture. Hamas is, for
the foreseeable future, a permanent presence. And it is Hamas, not Arafat, that
is the root of the problem.
Most coverage of Hamas in the Western media betrays a quite astonishing
misunderstanding of its role and its aims. The received wisdom is that, although
its tactics may be repellent, Hamas is a group of freedom fighters battling
against the Israelis for their rights – something akin to nationalist terrorist
groups such as the IRA or ETA, which, however foul their methods, have an
aim – national self-determination – that can be shared by perfectly decent,
It follows logically that any Israeli response to Hamas is reported as merely tit
for tat and, in its own way, equally destructive to the chances of a negotiated
settlement. Both sides are as bad as each other.
Typical of this view was a piece in Wednesday’s Guardian by Kevin
Toolis, an acknowledged expert on the IRA: “The deaths of 3,500 people during
Ireland’s Troubles never changed the underlying conflict; they were just a crude
calculus of conflict.
The Troubles stopped only when the political leadership on both sides
negotiated a solution. In the coming months, the same worthless mortal
calculus will be enacted again among the innocent in the Middle East; on buses
in Jerusalem and on Palestinian streets. The blood will never stop until it is
accepted that there can be no military solution to the conflict.”
That view, however widely it may be propagated, is so warped that it can only
raise suspicions about the agenda of those who peddle it. The comparison with
the IRA is entirely specious. If the IRA had espoused not merely the separation
of Northern Ireland from the UK but also the murder of every Unionist and every
Anglican in Great Britain, the abolition of the United Kingdom and its
replacement with a Catholic state, run by the IRA and dedicated to converting
the rest of the world to Catholicism by force, then there might be some merit in
Hamas is explicit about its aims. In August 1988 it published the Islamic
Covenant, which makes clear its opposition to Israel’s existence in any form. It
states that “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through
jihad (holy war)”.
Any Muslim who leaves “the circle of struggle with Zionism” is guilty of
It calls for the creation of an Islamic republic in Palestine to replace
Israel. Muslims should “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine”.
In a statement released on May 19, after a wave of suicide murders in previous
days, Hamas said: “These attacks will continue in all the territories of 1948 and
1967, and we will not stop attacking the Zionist Jewish people as long as any
of them remain in our land.”
A Hamas member explained to an interviewer last month that: “The
Jews have destroyed your Christianity just like they are trying to destroy our
Islam. You should read the words of the Prophet. Join us. We do not just want
to liberate Palestine. We want all countries to live under the Caliphate. The
Islamic army once reached the walls of Vienna. It will happen again.”
Talk of “negotiation” with Hamas is meaningless – as meaningless as the idea
that you can negotiate with Osama bin Laden. You cannot negotiate with the
man who intends only your murder and the destruction of your country and
who is prepared to die – and kill you in the process – rather than settle for less.
As bin Laden put it in an interview in 1999: “If the instigation of jihad
against the Jews and the Americans … is considered a crime, then let history
be a witness that I am a criminal.”
The only possible response to both Hamas and al-Qa’eda is military – which, to
be blunt, involves targeted assassinations. Bin Laden has only started to
espouse the Palestinians’ cause recently, as a useful further means of support.
To the likes of bin Laden, they are an infidel rabble, and a putative Palestinian
state is not fit to be considered alongside Islamic states such as Afghanistan
under the Taliban and the Wahhabi Saudi Arabia.
Hamas is a very different type of organisation to al-Qa’eda. Much of its
strength comes from its deep tentacles in Palestinian society. It spends much of
its estimated GBP 44 million annual budget on an extensive social services
network, which includes schools, orphanages, mosques, health care clinics,
soup kitchens and sports leagues.
Since Arafat’s corrupt Palestinian Authority fails to provide such basic
services, Hamas’s efforts in this area explain much of its popularity.
What both really have in common, however, is that there are still people who
refuse to recognise the nature of their threat and who make fatuous – and
dangerous – comments about a “negotiated settlement” with them. The real
tragedy about Arafat is that the longer he has been in control, the less he has
delivered for the Palestinians, and the more their support has transferred to
There was, as the Oslo Accords show, a possibility of negotiation with
the PLO. Israel’s response to the suicide bombers is, though, based on a simple
truth: there can be no negotiation with Hamas.