Haaretz’s Burston on Hamas’s resilience, smarts

Here is a must-read from Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston.
He writes about Hamas:

    Never has Israel had an enemy so perfectly attuned to the Jewish state’s weaknesses, so impervious to its strengths. For more than 20 years – ever since Israel inadvertently midwifed the founding of Hamas at the outset of the first intifada – the organization has leveraged Israel’s every tactic into tangible, stepwise political gain.

Burston argues in the piece tht the Israeli government should do what it has to to secure the release of four-year POW Gilad Shalit. In other recent articles, Burston has argued that the government should negotiate with Hamas on a far broader range of issues.
His espousal of these positions is noteworthy because until about six months ago, his writing seemed on the hawkish side on nearly every issue.
Today, he writes,

    Why is it that time after time, Israel sets a trap for Hamas and is shocked to find itself falling straight into it? Beyond everything else, our inability to successfully confront Hamas has to do with that most tragic and deep-seated of our misconceptions regarding the Palestinians: the unshakable, eternal faith among Israelis that “we know the Arabs.” Yet the actual equation is simple: It is Hamas that knows Israelis like no one else. Indeed, Israelis, at this point in time, don’t even know themselves.
    The long war with Hamas has changed Israel, and for the worse. It has in many ways robbed the country of the ability to make decisions courageously and independently. From suicide bombings to rocket attacks to its demands for Gilad Shalit – Hamas has made many Israelis grow callous to the plight of Palestinians, as a whole, and to lose faith both in the efficacy of their own government and in the very possibility of peace.
    Hamas remembers and exploits what we have forgotten: the underlying dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas understands that the basic motivating force of post-Holocaust Jews is fear, and that the basic motivating force of post-Nakba Palestinians is humiliation. Hamas understands that Israel’s attempts to address its fears often cause Palestinians additional humiliation. And Hamas knows even better that Palestinians’ attempts to redress their humiliation often deepen Israelis’ fears.

Within the U.S. political system, of course, the whole idea of talking to Hamas remains a complete (AIPAC-enforced) anathema. Personally, I’ve thought for a long time that– just as with the PLO in the 1980s/90s– the authoritative players in the U.S. political system will not be prepared to deal in any way with Hamas until after the Israeli government does so.
In September 1993, it was quite hilarious to see the entire U.S. political establishment turn on a dime and give Yasser Arafat and the PLO a warm embrace, when just days earlier these politicians and officials had all still been unanimous in excorating and accusing the PLO of the worst possible things.
What changed, of course, was the revelation that the Israeli government had been secretly talking to the PLO in Oslo for many months and had indeed reached an agreement with it. (Which turned out, over the years that followed, to signal the political death of Fateh and to a great extent also the PLO. But that’s a slightly different story.)
However, even in those “dark” days of the mid-1980s in the U.S. when no-one with any authority was allowed to even hint at talking with the PLO, there were people deep in the bowels of the Pentagon who understood that, from a military planning point of view, they did need to understand the organization’s political dynamics and explore the possibilities of the U.S. dealing with it in the future.
Amd the descendants of those military intel/planning officers are still in the bowels of the Pentagon today, it seems, ‘war-gaming’ and doing contingency planning regarding the possibility of the U.S. dealing with Hamas. Mark Perry had this important piece on the Foreign Policy website on Wednesday, describing some of their efforts…
Perry, who has proven the quality of his Pentagon sources in his earlier writings, writes this time:

    “There is a lot of thinking going on in the military and particularly among intelligence officers in Tampa [the site of CENTCOM headquarters] about these groups,” acknowledged a senior CENTCOM officer familiar with the report. However, he denied that senior military leaders are actively lobbying Barack Obama’s administration to forge an opening to the two organizations. “That’s probably not in the cards just yet,” he said.
    In the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said that those on board the Mavi Marmara, the scene of the May 31 showdown between Israeli commandos and largely Turkish activists, had ties to “agents of international terror, international Islam, Hamas, al Qaeda and others.” The same senior officer wasn’t impressed. “Putting Hizballah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda in the same sentence, as if they are all the same, is just stupid,” he said. “I don’t know any intelligence officer at CENTCOM who buys that.” Another mid-level SOCOM [Special Operations Command] officer echoed these views: “As the U.S. strategy in the war on terrorism evolves, military planners have come to realize that they are all motivated by different factors, and we need to address this if we are going to effectively prosecute a successful campaign in the Middle East.”
    The most interesting aspects of the report deal with Hizbollah. The Red Team downplays the argument that the Lebanese Shiite group acts as a proxy for Iran…

You need to go read the whole article if you don’t understand the role a ‘Red Team’ plays in Pentagon planning exercises.
But my bottom line remains that a ‘breakthrough’ in U.S. policy towards Hamas is much more likely to stem from an antecedent ‘breakthrough’ in Israeli policy (and hence in the arm-twistings of AIPAC). As of now, it looks as if there may indeed be some imminent change in the Israeli policy– at least regarding the prisoner exchange issue. And if there is a breakthrough on that issue, its effects may well cascade fast through the whole of the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic…

3 thoughts on “Haaretz’s Burston on Hamas’s resilience, smarts”

  1. It’s sad that the U.S. can’t do anythng constructive regarding our policy toward Israel/Palestine because it is so tied to AIPAC. It really is tragic.
    When I think if the U.S. had any independence on this issue, it could talk directly to Hamas and Fatah, encourage a detente and new elections, promise to honor whoever wins the election providing the winner promises to recognize Israel when Israel recognizes the existence of a Palestinian state.
    The fact that the U.S. is hung up on “Hamas, a terrorist organization which promises never to recognize Israel” just encourages more of the same behavior.

  2. Yes, Lorrie Hall it’s all the U.S. and Israels fault that Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel, fires rockets into Israel and fought a civil war with Fatah where they each threw each others members off of rooftops.
    Hamas is blameless.

  3. Israel’s Islamic Movement proves somewhat that Israeli Islamists wield effective municipal power and are willing to postpone their confrontation with the State, but that is because they are Israelis and their optic is the 1949-50 land transfer at *Jordan’s* expense while they stayed put. They are willing to hide de facto peace as hudna. Hamas view Israel as Islamic Waqf in perpetuity and see no reason to offer permanent peace. It’s not the Islamic nature of the movement or the control of land & govt, which are the issue (Israel does not control Umm al-Fahm, has not since ’76 or ’87), rather it’s the war and the promise of continuing war. But yes, it would be interesting for Fateh-WB’s arsenal to pass in toto to Hamas and a Lebanon-style war to break out along the Green Line. Spring 2001 all over again. What does Israel have that Hamas wants, besides Israel and the Pact of Omar?

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