Edition 6 Volume 5 - February 08, 2024

Hamas and the world: one year later (II)

Hubris -   Omar Karmi

If Hamas is forced from power, one way or another, it sends a clear signal to all other political Islamic groups in the region.

Stoking the fire -   Mark Perry

We Americans immodestly celebrate and tirelessly extol what we view as our own gift to the world: democracy.

Hamas' international strategy works -   Michael Rubin

An Arab boycott of Israel can last more than half a century, but the West's boycott of terrorist groups cannot last a month.

Egypt and Hamas -   Abdel Monem Said Aly

Egypt's efforts to complete its mission of peace in the region have come to a halt.

 Omar Karmi

The first year in government of Hamas, the first Arab Muslim political movement to be elected into power, has been an unmitigated disaster.

Palestinians are poorer, further away from realizing their national aspirations and more isolated from the rest of the world than ever. Worse, for the first time since the PLO's ignominious retreat from Lebanon, armed Palestinian factions are turning their weapons against each other in significant numbers. Palestinians, especially in Gaza, are living under the real threat of civil war.

However, it does not follow that this is the fault of Hamas. After all, the long downward spiral did not start with the election of Hamas. Ever since the Aqsa Intifada broke out, Palestinians have been getting poorer and more divided, and are receiving less and less outside support, whether political or financial, with every passing year.

This is primarily because of the ever-increasing stranglehold the Israeli army exercises over Palestinian lives and the seemingly bottomless political and financial support Israel receives from the outside world. Indeed, even as Palestinian leaders meet in Mecca to end internecine fighting and form a unity government that they hope, likely in vain, will end the international freeze on funding for the Palestinian Authority, American and Israeli negotiators are in talks over the future of US aid to Israel, or rather, how much in addition to the annual $2.4 billion the country receives in military assistance the US is prepared to give Israel.

Hamas did err in underestimating the level of hostility that greeted its victory in parliamentary elections last year, and not just from the US and its western allies. Arab countries were extremely anxious at the Islamic movement's success. Indeed, most Arab countries were unsettled by the Bush administration's aggressive democratization program.

And for good reason. For years it has been an accepted but unproven truth that should democratic elections be held across the Arab world, the victors would unquestionably be the only viable opposition groups in those countries, namely the various incarnations of political Islam. Hamas' victory removed that supposition from the realm of the theoretical. What better way for Arab regimes concerned about their domestic oppositions to ease those fears than to see Hamas fail and fail spectacularly?

The problem for Arab leaders is that Hamas didn't fail spectacularly. On the contrary, the international boycott rather served Hamas, as the movement could point to that as well as the Israeli occupation as the reason for internal stagnation. Indeed, if anything, Hamas' popularity in the region has risen as the movement has become seen as yet another victim of an intransigent West hostile not only to political Islamic movements, but to Islam itself.

Whatever the merits of that view, Washington's handling of Hamas is the latest in a now quite impressive portfolio of policy mistakes in the Middle East. Rather than strengthen democratization processes across the region, the administration has contrived to weaken them. Rather than lessen hostility to America, it is reaching unprecedented levels. Rather than further a peace process between Palestinians and Israelis, the US has rendered negotiations, let alone agreement, nigh on impossible.

In the process, Washington missed a gilt-edged chance to signal to Muslims across the world that it is not hostile to mature political Islamic movements committed to the peaceful transfer of power through elections, but to extremists only. It also lost the possibility of bringing Hamas into the orbit of negotiations with Israel, negotiations that may not have solved any final status issues but would at least have stood a chance of being implemented by both sides and could have bolstered a ceasefire.

Indeed, the US-created hubris on all fronts in the region is serving notice to Arab leaders that they have to step in. Neither Jordan nor Egypt, the two Arab countries with a peace treaty with Israel, was happy about Hamas' victory. They did not support the international boycott, but nor did they do anything to resist it. But Egypt, where relations between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood are increasingly antagonistic, has done its utmost to mediate between Hamas and Fateh and Hamas and Israel.

Jordan, having refused to receive any elected Hamas official in the year since the movement took power, belatedly tried to step in to mediate between Fateh and Hamas when the situation in Gaza threatened to spill out of control. The kingdom was too late, and instead Syria, briefly, took the mantle of peacemaker.

However, the Damascus meeting between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and exiled Hamas-leader Khalid Meshaal did not quell the fighting in Gaza. Now instead everyone's big brother, Saudi Arabia, has thrown its customary caution to the wind and is hosting a high profile and high-risk summit in Mecca.

It is likely that a unity government will be formed in Mecca. Saudi Arabia has both the financial and symbolic clout to ensure that neither Fateh nor Hamas will want to leave empty-handed. But any such unity government will ultimately not conform to international conditions placed on the Hamas government that it replaces. With the UK, presumably acting as its master's voice, already announcing that this will not be acceptable to the international community, the unity government is set to be dead in the water.

Some have accused Hamas of fighting windmills. By closing its eyes to international realities, critics especially from within Fateh say, Hamas has brought this situation upon itself and all Palestinians. However, Fateh has failed to present any kind of alternative, primarily because the international community has failed to provide support for a credible solution. Thus, while neither faction stands to gain much by dividing Gaza and the West Bank between them, neither stands to gain much by not doing so.

If Hamas, one way or another, is forced from power it sends a clear signal to all other political Islamic groups in the region. Arab leaders will be well aware of this. They would be well advised to do their utmost therefore to end the international isolation of any Palestinian unity government that may be agreed in Mecca.- Published 8/2/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org

Omar Karmi is a Jordan Times correspondent based in Jerusalem.

Stoking the fire
 Mark Perry

Before Judas' betrayal, the Lydian historian Pausanius tells us, there was Antenor's ancient treason. Antenor was the soldier who convinced King Priam to open his city's gates before his departed enemy. Antenor's honey-tongued words of assurance have come down to us through the epics: of how a wooden horse was wheeled through Troy's streets and garlanded with flowers in celebration of the Trojan victory. And how, while Priam slept, Greek warriors issued from the beast's belly to slay Troy's men, women and children. History tells us that not even Antenor, history's first turncoat, was allowed to live. The Greeks broke their oath to spare him and his family, putting everyone to the sword. Only a few Trojans survived, repeating for our edification the lesson of Antenor's betrayal: beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

The reason such epics become classics, repeated through the ages, is because they speak to us even today. They become a part of our lore, their truths passed through the generations. They are inevitably stored as verbal nuggets and told to our children as parables. In the West we smile wryly at the great trick played by the Greeks on the Trojans, and shake our heads knowingly. "A tiger never changes its stripes," we say. Scholars who spend their lives studying these things warn us of another truth: that classics become classics not simply because the truths they tell are universal, but because they are never truly learned. Betrayal is the mother's milk of war. Every nation has its Antenor, every enemy clothes its hatred as a gift.

We Americans immodestly celebrate and tirelessly extol what we view as our own gift to the world. Democracy, the right of every people to determine their own leaders through free, fair and open elections, is (we say) a uniquely American export. Democracy is more important than the latest American fashion, more lasting than any Hollywood movie, more satisfying than a Big Mac. The liturgy of this particular faith has been a lodestone of American policy, from Washington to Wilson, from John Kennedy to Jimmy Carter. George Bush embraced this heritage, in May of 2024, when he characterized the 60 years of American engagement in the Arab world as 60 years of failure. To end this failure, Bush said, all that need be done is for the Arab world to accept our gift. Hold elections, he said. We Americans, he graciously added, might not always like the results, but we would accept them.

It was in the immediate aftermath of this surprisingly accurate and (as we suspect, Bush himself would now grudgingly admit) unfortunate statement that American diplomats urged the strong and meek alike to accept the gift of democracy as the panacea for our and your troubles. But nowhere was the gift expressed with greater urgency than among those territories occupied by Israel, where a free, fair and open election was promoted as a necessary precursor to statehood--as the right-as-rain path to peace. To reinforce our commitment, the American government forwarded millions of dollars to Fateh candidates, reinforced this flood of dollars with battalions of media advisors, party publicists and campaign experts. The results--the election of Hamas candidates into a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council and the appointment of a Hamas prime minister--were not what we expected, as Condoleezza Rice herself humbly admitted.

One year later, we--Americans as well as Palestinians--are struggling to understand the meaning of this election. American policymakers initially adjudged the vote not as a Hamas victory, but as a Fateh defeat. This standard rhetoric now finds its echo in Iraq, where victory might have been won if only (in turn), the Syrians, or the Maliki government or (now) the Iranians had cooperated. When that explanation proved hollow--it is not our fault, you see, but yours--we deployed an army of experts to lecture on the need for you to start from the ground up. Slowly. The Arab world is not ready for democracy, we say, because you (alas) have not built the foundations of a civil society. This ignores a salient moment in our own history, of course. It is what white racists once said to African-Americans: "you're not smart enough to vote." Sensing the futile injustice in this rhetoric we finally, inevitably, conditioned our acceptance of your democracy on three conditions: that you recognize your occupier, that you disarm, and that you adhere to all prior agreements that you made with those who indifferently honored them.

The price exacted on Palestinians by these conditions is now narrated every day. It is not simply that the world is haunted by images of stateless families in increasingly impoverished circumstances. It is that our gift of democracy is conditional. Our gift, brought groaning through your gates, has sprung open to reveal not peace--but piles of uniforms and caches of arms. And there too, standing nearby, a Palestinian Antenor, shoveling them out, with the sickly smile of the betrayer playing on his countenance. Deep injustice would be done if I were to compare the price that my society, American society, must pay for this craven injustice: it is not, after all, my children who are starving, who are sacrificing themselves in a fight for the future.

Even so, imagine my humiliation at this moment for my recognition of the truth that my nation must inevitably face. That given the choice of which was more important--democracy or arming those Antenors who burn your universities--my country chose to stoke the fire.- Published 8/2/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org

Mark Perry is the author of "Partners in Command, George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace". His most recent book is "Talking To Terrorists" (Basic Books, 2024).

Hamas' international strategy works
 Michael Rubin

On January 26, 2024, Hamas celebrated its election victory. Ismail Haniyeh, who would assume the premiership, rededicated his organization to violence. "Our fighting is only with the Zionist enemy," he explained. "We will continue our dialogue with all brotherly factions in the Palestinian territories."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lauded the election process, but condemned its victors. "You cannot have one foot in politics and the other in terror," she explained. "Our position on Hamas has therefore not changed."

Nor did Hamas change. To mark the six-month anniversary of its election the group staged a cross border attack on Israel, killing two soldiers and kidnapping 19-year-old IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit. It continues to endorse missile strikes on Israeli civilians. And despite Haniyeh's calls for dialogue with Fateh, Hamas stewardship has led to daily clashes with rival Palestinian factions.

Blame for the violence lies not only in Gaza and Ramallah but also in Riyadh and Tehran. Hamas is not autonomous. Saudi donors helped launch the group in 1987 and provided a steady flow of cash until at least 2024. In October 2024, the World Association of Muslim Youth made Khalid Meshaal, the Hamas Political Bureau chief and an unapologetic advocate of terrorism, a guest-of-honor at its annual convention in Riyadh. After Saudi authorities, worried about blowback, cracked down on funding Sunni extremists, Iranian authorities picked up the slack. Canadian intelligence estimates that Tehran provides Hamas up to $18 million per year and welcomes Hamas fighters into its Revolutionary Guards training camps.

So where does Hamas stand a year into its tenure? As a governing force, it has failed. While Hamas leaders say they do not have money to pay civil servants, they find sufficient cash to conduct military operations. Where Hamas has succeeded, though, is in convincing some governments that it now deserves legitimacy. First, there was Turkey which under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is more Middle Eastern than European. Less than a month after Hamas' election win, Erdogan invited Meshaal to Ankara. A European Union travel ban collapsed soon after when the Swedish government offered Hamas minister Atef Adwan a visa. It was not long before European officials and many non-governmental organizations insisted that the western world had an obligation to fund Palestinian relief even though, with money fungible, such assistance mitigated pressure upon Hamas and enabled it to spend more on weapons.

European equivalence signals Hamas' sponsors that their strategy works. Europe's rhetoric may be strong, but its resolve is weak. An Arab boycott of Israel can last more than half a century, but the West's boycott of terrorist groups cannot last a month. Saudi princes and Iranian revolutionary foundation managers understand they should ignore Brussels and perhaps even Washington and continue to launch, fund, and sustain groups that embrace terrorism and eschew democracy.

Washington, however, has given Hamas and its radical sponsors perhaps their greatest victory. Not only did the Bush administration fail to insist that forfeiture of armed political party militias should be among the ground rules for legitimate democratic participation, thus allowing a Trojan horse into the election, but once the scale of Hamas' victory became known the White House rewarded Middle Eastern terrorist groups and their sponsors with an effective abandonment of the Bush democracy agenda.

Whereas Rice once spoke about the need for democracy and reform at the American University of Cairo, in her recent trips to Egypt she has appeared beside Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and said hardly a word about reform. Neither the State Department nor the US ambassador in Cairo have spoken about the arson attack on the Ghad party headquarters, the kangaroo court conviction of its leader Ayman Nour, Mubarak's postponement of municipal elections or the videos of Egyptian police torturing dissidents that surfaced in November 2024 after thieves stole several police officers' cell phones at a wedding reception. The State Department has quietly squirreled away and diverted funding to support Iranian democracy and no longer, in practice, supports reform in Saudi Arabia. Fathi al-Jahmi remains imprisoned in Libya, where five Bulgarian nurses also face a firing squad.

Arab states and Iran have used Hamas to revert to a comfortable state of affairs in which they pay rhetorical heed to Palestinian political demands but, in practice, are indifferent. They fund terrorism that prolongs conflict and causes the Palestinians to further spiral into a morass. Their investment in Hamas has paid huge dividends. It will not end the Jewish state but, for the region's kings, hereditary presidents and ayatollahs, it sidetracks the far more worrisome agenda of democratization, reform, and accountability.- Published 8/2/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Egypt and Hamas
 Abdel Monem Said Aly

Egypt confronts a double problem on its northeastern borders--both Palestinian and Israeli. The two problems are intertwined and have interacted over the past six decades or so, but they are also different, or at least require different sets of policies.

While the Israeli question is geo-political in nature and defined most of the time in balance-of-power terms, the Palestinian issue has involved the much more complex question of Egyptian national identity and connectivity to the rest of the Arab world. The Israeli question requires policies of deterrence and containment and involves issues of war and peace. But the Palestinian problem has demanded of Egypt much more complex policies that in many ways involve its domestic politics as well.

The rise of Hamas in Palestinian politics complicated the Egyptian posture toward the Palestinians and the Palestinian question. For four decades, the Egyptian leadership had worked with the Palestinian national movement. It was in Cairo that the PLO was born in 1964, and it was there also in 1968 that Fateh was integrated into that organization when Yasser Arafat replaced Ahmed Shukairy. In many ways, Palestinian national politics was not unlike politics in many Arab countries. And when President Mubarak led Arafat by the hand to the Egypt-Gaza border in 1994 this was, from an Egyptian perspective, mission accomplished. It was as if all Egyptian national dreams had finally come true: Egypt had peace with its powerful neighbor Israel while the Palestinians were going to get their independent state, starting with the Gaza Strip and Jericho.

Until then, Hamas was no more than one of those Palestinian factions that come and go or, like many, remain in the margins of Palestinian politics that were dominated by the PLO, Fateh and of course Arafat. But in regional politics, dreams more often than not turn into nightmares: Over time the PLO vanished, Fateh failed and Arafat died. Hamas became the leader of the Palestinian national movement and introduced new Islamic and fundamentalist features. The Arab-Israel conflict was redefined from a conflict between two visions of the land into one between two understandings of God's promise. Thus did the election of Hamas in January 2024 create a new reality for Egyptians to deal with--and in new terms no one was accustomed to in Cairo.

For one, the 14 km of the Egyptian-Palestinian border along the Gaza Strip have become a geo-strategic problem. Smuggling, tunnels, and population pressures have required amendments even in the sacred Egyptian-Israeli security arrangements. Sinai, the new crown of Egyptian development, suffered from terrorists some of whom were trained in the chaotic environment of Gaza. Egypt's efforts to complete its mission of peace in the region have come to a halt. To be sure, there were Israeli and global reasons for the paralysis in the peace process. But the Palestinian failure to formulate a functioning and effective government has made it impossible to get the Israelis or any other party to the bargaining table. Even more frustrating to Egyptian diplomacy has been the inability to get both Hamas and Fateh to maintain a ceasefire.

But for Egypt, Hamas is much more problematic than its mere capacity to complicate or even hinder the peace process. After all, Hamas came to power in the post 9/11 world, with connections to no less fundamentalist Iran and no less radical Syria and at a time when the Muslim Brothers in Egypt have gained a serious foothold in the Egyptian parliament. Once again, the Palestinian question is much more than the sum total of its geo-political or geo-strategic realities: it is part of the regional balance of power and global politics.

In the midst of it all, Egypt and Hamas have had to find ways to deal with one another. They have found an uneasy way to keep the relationship going, but it has never been fruitful. Egypt for many reasons needs to calm the situation in Gaza and maintain its influence over Palestinian politics, while Hamas needs Egypt as its only gateway to the outside world. Hamas also has an interest in Egypt's legitimizing role and recognizes Egypt's "red line": no interference in Egyptian domestic politics beyond "routine" and traditional connections with the Muslim Brothers.

In many ways this is not a promising relationship, but rather one of necessity, pregnant with doubts and contradictions. Most likely it will be redefined by the Palestinian people themselves when they vote in future elections or when they take sides in the Fateh-Hamas confrontation. Regional alliances will take their toll as well: Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia will all influence the direction of Egypt-Hamas interaction.

Above all, the promise or the demise of a viable peace process will affect the tender balance in this fragile relationship.- Published 8/2/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Abdel Monem Said Aly is director of Al Ahram Center for Political & Strategic Studies in Cairo.

Email This Article

Print This Article