Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hamas after the Gaza war

A Palestinian boy gestures as he holds a toy gun during a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah against Israel's offensive in Gaza January 9, 2009.
REUTERS/Eliana Aponte

By Khaled Hroub

The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people", said Moshe Yaalon, the then Israel Defence Forces (IDF) chief-of-staff in 2002. The war launched by Israel in the Gaza strip at the end of 2008 is designed in part to force the Hamas movement too to internalise this belief. It will not and cannot work; indeed, it is my argument that the war will have the opposite effect.

After three weeks of intense and round-the-clock attacks by air, land and sea, Israel is far from achieving either its immediate aim of halting rocket-attacks from Gaza or the larger "psychological" aim enunciated by Moshe Yaalon. It has become apparent that the war itself will instead convince many more Palestinians that their ability again to withstand an assault by the fourth most powerful army in the world is a source of their power rather than their weakness.
In this, the 1.5 million Palestinians under siege in Gaza are writing a new chapter in their own uncompleted modern history. They are also demonstrating a more general lesson of warfare: that wars and armed conflicts have unexpected consequences, including often the creation of a new reality quite different from what it was launched to achieve.

The political reality
In this case, the outcome of the Gaza war of 2008-09 is likely to leave Hamas stronger and with an enhanced legitimacy among the Palestinians and within the region. Israel has pursued its official goal of "achieving a new security situation" in southern Israel with ferocity: its use of massive military force has in (at the time of writing) twenty days of war killed over 1,033 Palestinians, around 600 of them women and children. Yet it has failed either to silence Hamas's primitive rockets or to destroy its ability to function as a coherent entity.

True, in operational terms Hamas's capability has been reduced (though this may prove only temporary). Israeli intelligence estimates that Hamas has around 15,000 strong fighters, and it has killed in the current operation no more than 400. The movement's leadership remains intact, and its popular support and regional standing have risen. It is clear that in the aftermath of the war Hamas will have to be included in international dialogue about the Palestinian future.
This in itself would be sufficient evidence of Israel's failure. But even as things stand, the reduction in its capacity to subdue its enemies is exposed. The army that in the six-day war in 1967 defeated the armies of four Arab states and seized parts of Egypt, Syria and Jordan that far exceeded Israel's then area has followed the embarrassment of the war against Hizbollah in 2006 with another inconclusive campaign against a non-state militia.

This has an important political as well as a military dimension. The heart of Israel's strategy since Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections of January 2006 has been the imposition of an economic blockade against Gaza that would create such misery as to press people there to turn against the Hamas administration.
The flaw in this project is Israel's self-defeating understanding of the basis of Hamas's evolution since its formation in 1987-88 (see "Hamas's path to reinvention", 9 October 2006). The growth of the movement in these two decades was never exclusively based on its armed activities alone. The bedrock of its strength was a broad-based social network that permeated Palestinian society (in much of the West Bank as well as in the Gaza strip). The 2006 elections were in part the reward for Hamas's long-term effort to create this network, which is a continuing political reality that cannot be eliminated by military means.

Khaled Hroub is director of the Cambridge Arab Media Project in association with the Centre of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of Hamas: Political Thought and Practice (Institute for Palestine Studies, 2000), and Hamas: a Beginner's Guide

The full article is here

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