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Delegitimizing Hamas Could Backfire

By: Meir Javedanfar


The current conflict in Gaza was caused primarily by Israel’s security concerns. Since its evacuation of the Gaza strip in 2005, 6500 mortars and rockets were fired towards Israel. 2008 was the worst year. Over 3200 rockets and mortars were fired in that year alone. Israel which is considered as a super power in the region was seen as being unable to stop a threat which was making life very difficult for hundreds of thousands of its citizens.

However the political reasons behind Israel’s current assault can not be over looked. Operation “Cast Lead” is a war by the left and moderates wing of Israeli politics, headed by Labor and Kadima, against leaders of Palestinian right, headed by Hamas.

To Israeli moderates, the land for peace idea is the most viable long term solution for peace between their country and the Palestinians. This is why they backed Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. Although it was a painful move, former right wing hawks such as Ariel Sharon decided to face reality. This was despite fierce criticism from right wing movements such as Likud, and their leader Benyamin Netanyahu, who showed his disagreement by resigning shortly before the initiation of the withdrawal.

Although many Palestinian moderates support the idea that Israel must withdraw to the 1967 borders, Palestinian extremist movements such as Hamas are opposed to it.

This is why Hamas has tried to its level best to dissuade Israelis from further withdrawals, and what better way to this than by attacking Israel’s southern cities from Gaza. Hamas knows that by turning Gaza into a launching pad for attacks, Israeli moderates will no longer have any justification to call for further withdrawal. Why should the Israeli voter back them, when instead of peace and security, withdrawals seem to bring instability and conflict?

This is why it is imperative not just for Israel, but also for prospects for peace in this region that Israel emerges from the current fighting with a guaranteed ceasefire by Hamas. It must be proved to the Israeli voter that the land for peace idea is still a viable one, and that it is worth defending. Otherwise the future of this region will be determined by those who stand for extremism and elimination in Gaza, and their right wing allies such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The international community must realize this and ensure that maximum pressure is applied against Hamas so that it applies and respects a permanent ceasefire.

At the same time, Israel should ensure that it doesn’t give Hamas extra leeway by making demands which in the long run could strengthen the organization. One of them are current suggestion by Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak that Hamas is excluded from any diplomatic agreement to end the military operation in Gaza. The main reason is because Israel does not want to legitimize Hamas.

This could backfire, and push Palestinian in the arms of Hamas again because delegitimization of Hamas could be viewed as a direct attack against Palestinian democracy. In a bid to restore their battered pride after the Gaza invasion, Palestinians may vote Hamas again in the Parliamentary elections of 2010. This is not an unrealistic scenario, especially since Israel, apart from warm words, photo ops and hand shakes with Mahmoud Abbas, has not done anything meaningful to help Fatah.

There are also security implications as well. Hamas needs to have something to lose, so that it will be worth while for it to maintain the ceasefire. Otherwise it may take up arms again.

After the end of the current conflict, Israel must also try and lure Hamas away from the arms of Ayatollah Khamenei. Despite an eight year war, initiated by the West’s former stooge in Baghdad Saddam Hussein, the Iranian government has managed to survive 29 years in power. Therefore it will have plenty to teach Hamas about how to use isolation as an opportunity to strengthen its position. Having on other option, Hamas could willingly accept it.

Political organizations are not destroyed. They are transformed. The diplomatic push to implement a ceasefire can be used an opportunity to offer carrots to Hamas. Sticks and isolation alone will not be enough to help the moderates in Hamas who have just seen the organizations military capability severely damaged and are most probably looking for a way out.

A weak Hamas should be used as an opportunity to weaken Iran’s influence, not to strengthen it.

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