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Analysis: How Israel taught Hamas that violence is effective

The Islamic group has good reason to believe that violence will work for it, and maybe even set the stage for diplomatic engagement with Israel: it has in the past, both for itself and the PLO.

A Palestinian youth holds a mock rocket as thousands of Palestinians celebrate Hamas' 25th anniversary in the West Bank city of Hebron, December 14, 2012. This is the first time since 2007 that the Palestinian Authority has allowed Hamas to celebrate its anniversary in the West Bank. (photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

A Palestinian youth holds a mock rocket as thousands of Palestinians celebrate Hamas’ 25th anniversary in the West Bank city of Hebron, December 14, 2012. (Photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

It is ironic that Israel rushed to point to the kidnapping of three Israeli teens as the reason it cannot negotiate with a Palestinian leadership affiliated with Hamas.

Indeed, in the wake of the kidnapping — regardless of the outcome — Israel will very likely use the event as an excuse to stay away from the already comatose peace talks with the Mahmoud Abbas’s moderate, Fatah-dominated PA and PLO.

However, if Hamas is indeed behind the kidnapping, and it carries it out with the professionalism, patience and successful strategy that it used with Gilad Schalit, it will in all likelihood lead to direct talks between Hamas and Israel. (Hamas has not explicitly denied being behind the kidnapping, but it did describe accusations that it is responsible as “stupid.”)

Israel actually has a long track record of contact and negotiations with Hamas, a group whom it lobbies the entire world to boycott. Those negotiations and contacts have taken place in the context of a prisoner swap, but are far more regular regarding cease fires and understandings about security protocols.

Following nearly every escalation, military operation and round of violence involving Israel and the Gaza Strip since 2007 when Hamas took full control of that territory, Israel has, through Egyptian and other intermediaries, negotiated explicit and implicit agreements with the Islamic political and militant movement. Those agreements have covered ceasefires and general arrangements under which Hamas would prevent other armed groups from attacking Israel, as well as very specific and technical ones regarding the size and depth of Israel’s “buffer zone” along the land border and access to Gaza’s territorial waters.

The fact of the matter is that Israel, like it loves to claim about its neighbors and cohabitants of this land, also understands force when push comes to shove. Israel has a long history of negotiating with terrorist organizations in order to release its own captured soldiers and civilians. Such negotiations take place when its own superior but conventional force is not, or is no longer a viable option.

Whereas Mahmoud Abbas’s commitment to non-violence for the most part allows him and his government to take the higher ground and increase international support and empathy, that very same non-violent engagement in the international diplomatic and political arena has given Israel a domestic excuse to cut off direct ties with him. Hamas’s adherence to armed resistance and terrorism, on the other hand, is a surefire and proven way to guarantee Israel’s attention and to bring it to the negotiating table.

It must be mentioned that Abbas was only given the opportunity and platform for a non-violent approach in large part due to the violent acts of his predecessors, which put the PLO and cause of Palestinian national self-determination on the world agenda and consciousness. The world’s recognition and acceptance of the PLO followed a wave of violent terror attacks and hijackings in Europe. It is easy to forget that the Oslo peace process — and ultimately, the widespread acceptance of the two-state solution — came at the heels of, and as a direct result of the First Intifada.

This is of course not an endorsement of violence in any way, shape or form. It is, however, important to understand how violence has worked for Palestinians in the past. It has not fully achieved their goals, to which the 47-year-old occupation attests, but it has certainly advanced them. As a marginalized movement in Palestinian politics and internationally, it is no wonder that Hamas keeps violent tools in its pocket. They give it legitimacy — vis-a-vis official Israel.

Let there be no mistake. Palestinians will suffer as a result of the kidnapping of these three Israeli teenagers, who have done nothing to deserve the suffering they are enduring. And if whatever violent group is responsible ever wants to fully participate in a diplomatic process with international acceptance it will need to eventually abandon those violent tools. However, from Hamas’s strategic standpoint, there is no reason to believe that time is now.

Israel’s disengagement from the peace process with a non-violent partner certainly doesn’t help.

Post script from the author:

If Hamas is behind this kidnapping and if it achieves tangible results, it will almost certainly strengthen its position in yet-to-be-scheduled Palestinian elections. Like its violence that played a huge part in pushing Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and like the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap, violent or armed actions that bring about tangible results are easily transferable to political capital, which Hamas desperately needs at the moment.

More on the kidnapping:
The kidnapping is indefensible – but Israel helped provoke it
Israelis aren’t the only ones facing national tragedy
The Palestinian unity government’s first real test

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bar

      “However, if Hamas is indeed behind the kidnapping, and it carries it out with the professionalism, patience and successful strategy that it used with Gilad Schalit, it will in all likelihood lead to direct talks between Hamas and Israel.”

      Um, they didn’t allow a prisoner access to the Red Cross or any other body for years. Your praise is misplaced.

      Since you are a fan of the use of force to send messages, are you in support of Israel using force against the families of the kidnappers to deter future kidnappings? Or do you just approve of force when it’s used against Israelis illegally?

      Reply to Comment
      • Carlo

        “Your praise is misplaced.” There’s no praise. the writer is simply stating facts.
        “Since you are a fan of the use of force to send messages . . .” Again, the writer expresses no approval of force at all, he just draws logical conclusions from events.
        However, take a look at the statistics for Israel’s use of force. Since Operation Cast Lead in 2009, Israeli Security forces have killed 563 Palestinian civilians, of whom 82 were minors and 19 were women. In the same period Palestinians killed 18 Israelis, including 5 minors and 3 women. (Source: B’Tselem.)
        So Bar, do you really believe that the message Israel has been sending has been a peaceful one?

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          Carlo, please provide context when you provide any figures. B’tzelem points out that over two thirds of the “civilians” you list are actually Palestinian fighters and terrorists.

          http://www.btselem.org/statistics/fatalities/after-cast-lead/by-date-of-event/gaza/palestinians-killed-by-israeli-security-forces

          What that means is that Israel’s accidental killing of civilians is happening at a ratio of about 2:1 fighters/terrorists to civilians killed, a ratio far superior to any other army engaged in war, particularly war that has an urban feature to it.

          My guess is that if the Palestinians stopped with their attacks on Israel, that these numbers would drop dramatically.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Chr

      Bar, once again you have taken the author’s words and spun them for your benefit.

      You said “Since you are a fan of the use of force to send messages, are you in support of Israel using force against the families of the kidnappers to deter future kidnappings? Or do you just approve of force when it’s used against Israelis illegally?

      did you miss this from the author’s text?

      “This is of course not an endorsement of violence in any way, shape or form.”

      please pay attention and stop seeking to further divide. being a sectarian only means you get to share part of the blame.. not that you’re right.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bar

        CHR, you didn’t make your point last time and you don’t this time, so this isn’t “once again.”

        The author’s hedging at the end is like a man holding up a photo of a naked woman for all to see but then claiming he does not condone nudity.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Tzutzik

      Obviously turning the other cheek to Hamas is not the answer. Remember the unilateral Gaza withdrawal? We got rockets as thanks …

      We are the ones who have been taught by Hamas that the next best answer is force, separation wall and blockades. Is that the solution? Of course not! But it is better than turning the other cheek till they wisen up and choose peace over war, maybe 500 years from now. Till then, they get as good as they give and then some. They think that they are the only ones who can be in this for the long haul. They will be disappointed. We too are a very patient people.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Vadim

      “How Israel taught Hamas that violence is effective”

      I remember how Hamas was all about happiness and laughter. Then came Israel with its harsh lessons. One lesson after another, we taught the hippie Hamasniks what really works. They took time to break, but Israel was persistent and the innocent flower children turned in hardened Islamic fundamentalist Terrorists.

      Excellent analysis, what’s next? How banks learn from the public that loans are profitable? How cows teach butchers how to butcher? How Syrians had taught Assad the need to use chemical weapons?

      Reply to Comment