As yet another temporary ceasefire went up in the smoke of three Hamas terror rockets launched Tuesday against the Israeli city of Beersheba, the debate inside Israel regarding what lessons can be learned from this ongoing 31-day war will only intensify. While almost everyone agrees that Hamas suffered a devastating battlefield defeat at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces, many fear that, like so many other Arab defeats in their long history of wars against the Jewish state, Hamas’ present “defeat” will only increase its influence in–and control over–its Palestinian subjects.
Certainly, in the case of Hamas, Monday’s announcement that Israeli intelligence and security forces had broken up a massive Hamas terror cell inside the West Bank working to oust, replace, and destroy its main Palestinian rival Fatah by sparking a third Intifada against Israel, testifies to the enhanced stature and operating capabilities that the Gaza-based terror group seems to have inside the PA-controlled West Bank.
Gone from Israeli discourse is any talk about the imminent collapse of Hamas in Gaza or anyplace else. If anything, Hamas’ grip on power in Gaza is stronger than before its current disastrous war against Israel. That something so counterintuitive can be true has much to do with the “peculiar dynamic” of the history of Palestinian politics.
As the Times of Israel noted in a recent feature, genuine support for Hamas expressed by millions of Palestinians, combined with the fear of certain death to any Palestinian who opposes Hamas, not to mention the dispossession of his family, all but ensures that Hamas will continue its diabolical misrule of Gaza and its terrorist wars against Israel.
Hamas, it is wise to remember, did not seize power in Gaza against the will of the Palestinians living there. Hamas was elected by the people of Gaza. The terror group overwhelmingly won Gaza’s first and only free election in 2006 by promising to deliver what most Palestinians said they wanted: unrelenting war against Israel.
There is nothing new in this dynamic. It has defined the history of Palestinian nationalism ever since its birth as a response to the rise of Zionism in the early 1920s. In intra-Palestinian turf battles, the more extreme major groups have almost always emerged victorious–ironically, almost always with the necessary critical support provided by Western forces.
It started with British Arabists in 1920, who, unbeknownst to Whitehall, orchestrated devastating anti-Jewish riots in Palestine to reverse the Jewish National Home policy called for in the League of Nations Mandate granted to Britain just the year before. These officials secretly encouraged a clique of radicals, including the infamous Haj Amin al-Husseini, leader of those anti-Jewish riots, to support Palestine’s incorporation into a greater Syria they hoped would be controlled using the British-created Hashemite family as its ruling puppets.
Rather than punishing Haj Amin al-Husseini for his campaign of violence, the British, instead, encouraged him to seek election for the newly created post of “Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.” When Husseini finished fourth and threatened civil war, the British hoped they could appease the most violent Palestinian elements by deposing the actual winner and installing Husseini in his place. In that single act, the British granted legitimacy to the most violent and radical Palestinian by installing him in the most important available leadership position, thus establishing a pattern that has lasted almost one hundred years.
It was this very dynamic that kept Yasir Arafat at the top of Palestinian politics for so long and inspires today’s savage battle between Hamas and Fatah for Palestinian leadership. Since their identity is so tied up in their war against Israel and Zionism, peacemaking has always proven lethal for any Palestinian who genuinely attempted it. This is the force that prevents even so-called “moderates” like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas from recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
As Jonathan Tobin points out in an excellent Commentary post:
Throughout history, tyrannies have only fallen when they are ready to liberalize, not when they are still prepared to spill the blood of their people. The French revolution happened during the reign of the least tyrannical of the Bourbon kings, not under that of the most bloodthirsty. The Soviet Union fell after glasnost and perestroika, not during the era of Stalin’s bloody purges that took the lives of millions.
So long as Hamas can keep executing its opponents with impunity and firing rockets into Israel without serious international sanction, its power will only make it stronger and its capacity to terrorize greater.