Hamas’s rocket attacks furnish a ready excuse for Israel to maintain the Gaza blockade, persist with its occupation of the Palestinian territory, and continue pleading “right to self-defence” while Israeli bombings allow Hamas to play the saviour.
- Both sides stand to gain more from the conflict than its resolution, which keeps the motivation to have a serious and meaningful engagement for a mutually acceptable solution minimal.
- Israel, as well as the Western nations, won’t engage with Hamas politically unless it eschewed violence, recognized Israel, and agreed to adhere to past agreements, including Oslo Accords.
- Since 2006, Gaza has seen no elections, so the Palestinians have not had a chance to reverse the electoral mandate they had handed down to Hamas.
- Israel also does not want the Palestinian refugees to return because their large number poses an existential threat to the Israeli Jews.
After the exchange of heavy fire for over 10 days, killing hundreds and displacing thousands, Israel and Hamas agreed to an Egypt-mediated ceasefire on May 20, 2021. The truce is holding for now, but nobody familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict thinks of it as a harbinger of lasting peace because the underlying causes of the conflict have not been addressed, and neither of the two sides has seriously tried to end the conflict. The reasons are varied and many.
The plain fact is, both sides stand to gain more from the conflict than its resolution, which keeps the motivation to have a serious and meaningful engagement for a mutually acceptable solution minimal. Hamas’ continual rocket attacks furnish a ready excuse for Israel to maintain the Gaza blockade, persist with consolidating its occupation of the Palestinian territory, and continue pleading “right to self-defense” to justify its crushing military responses against Hamas.
On the other hand, Hamas gets to play the saviour of the Palestinian people against a massacring opponent every time Israel hammers Hamas positions in Gaza, inevitably resulting in the deaths of Palestinian civilians, which is, in no small part, because Hamas stations its weapons and munitions close to the civilian population so that Israeli hits work better for them than for the Israelis. They get to cry foul. So Israel continues to be an occupying force, and Hamas the protector of defenseless Palestinians.
Hamas’s Election Redefined The Conflict
Born of the First Intifada in 1987 against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Hamas gained political prominence in 2006, when it won elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) unexpectedly. The elections were held under the watchful eyes of the international observers, who found that the “Palestinian voters turned out in large numbers in a strong expression of their desire to choose representatives through open and competitive elections”, and the “performance of elections officials” was “professional and impartial”.
However, neither a voter turnout as high as 78% nor the fairness and impartiality of the elections could make Israel and the Western nations engage with Hamas politically unless it eschewed violence, recognized Israel, and agreed to adhere to the past agreements, including Oslo Accords. In short, Hamas was being asked to cease being a resistance movement and become a governing body that the world could engage with to engineer a permanent solution and end the conflict for good. Hamas flatly refused, and renewed its vow to “never recognize the usurper Zionist government” and to continue its “jihad-like movement until the liberation of Jerusalem.”
Hamas was an underground militant outfit engaged in guerilla warfare with Israel, and suddenly it was at the political center of the conflict and was unexpectedly saddled with the daunting task of governance, which it had no experience of, and probably no heart in. Its electoral victory was as much a surprise to Hamas as to everybody else. The task of governance was made even more difficult for Hamas by Hamas’s commitment to its own avowed raison d’etre, which was to annihilate Israel and secure the whole of undivided Palestine for the Palestinians.
Even today, Hamas sees itself as a militant outfit engaged in holy warfare with a usurper of the Islamic land of Palestine. And Hamas is in no hurry with an indefinite timeline. Hamas’s Charter says that it is “looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take”, and purportedly quotes the Prophet as saying that “the time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: 0 Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!” (Article Seven).
The Palestinians did not elect Hamas because they agreed with Hamas’s militant Islamist views, or wished total destruction of Israel and the Jews, but because they were tired of the corruption, mismanagement, and incompetence of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. But It was more like jumping from the frying pan straight into the fire from sheer desperation. The Palestinians had voted against Fatah and the PA rather than for Hamas. Even so, it was unwise.
Hamas And The Palestinians
The Palestinians were misled by Hamas’s campaign for the 2006 elections, in which they kept a clean distance from their Islamist ideology, and instead of talking about establishing an Islamic state, as one might expect of Hamas, they talked good governance and slammed Palestinian factions for being corrupt and apathetic to the plight of common Palestinians. Many Palestinians also thought that since Hamas was a religious party, it was above corruption, or at least was not as prone to corruption as Fatah. But Hamas was never just a religious party; it was always a militant fundamentalist group with a rigid worldview and the uncompromising goal of an undivided Palestine with no Jewish Israel anywhere.
Not surprisingly then, Israel refused to engage with Hamas and blockaded Gaza to prevent Hamas militants from entering Israel to carry out terror missions. The supplies of everyday consumer items to Gaza have also been squeezed by the blockade because Israel wants to starve Hamas’s military apparatus to keep its strike capabilities to a minimum because ordinary items like sugar and fertilizers are also used by Hamas to make crude explosives, which are indiscriminately hurled at Israel. But despite the blockade, Hamas has managed to grow its arsenal with the active support of Syria and Iran in addition to its own innovations in the area.
The intermittent attacks Hamas has launched against Israel since it came to power in Gaza (and later added additional territory militarily in 2007), have achieved nothing and have only invited reprisals from Israel, making life progressively difficult for the Palestinians. The Palestinians, by some accounts at least, have come to regret their 2006 electoral decision, which is natural, given that the critics of the government get beaten up frequently, and the Palestinians have little in terms of political rights and civil liberties. But since 2006, Gaza has seen no elections, so the Palestinians have not had a chance to reverse the electoral mandate they had handed down to a designated militant organization in the fond hope of better governance only to be disappointed.
Hamas has softened its anti-Israel stand a bit in the past, like in 2017, when it expressed its willingness to establish “a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of 4 June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes”, but it was “without recognising Israel or ceding any rights”. Unsurprisingly, Israel rejected the idea right out of hand.
For Israel, quite understandably, any talk of compromise has to include its recognition as a sovereign state, which is precisely where Hamas draws an uncompromising hard line.
Consequences Of The Deadlock
Apart from the fact that the ongoing conflict benefits both sides, Israel also does not want the Palestinian refugees to return because their large number poses an existential threat to the Israeli Jews. That’s another issue the two sides are likely to keep disagreeing upon.
Hamas cannot wipe Israel out, and it is well aware of that but keeps sending its crude rockets into Israel, most of which are easily neutralized by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system. Israel sees periodic military action against Hamas as “mowing the grass” — a regular maintenance activity. So in each round, Israel damages Hamas’s military capability only as much as to keep it incapable of causing serious damage but not so much as to take Hamas out completely. And the deadlock remains in place.You will find more infographics at Statista
For a lasting solution, Hamas has to be completely out of the picture, and that is a near-impossible goal to achieve. Besides, it is hard to say if even Israel wants that. Hamas is definitely part of the problem, but it’s only a part. The real problem is Israel’s unwillingness to allow Palestinian Arabs in Palestine, and the denial of Israel’s right to exist by Hamas and Arab nations complicates the problem further. So the conflict is not ending anytime soon.