By Gordon Clubb
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
It’s easy to portray Hamas as the sole obstacle to progression in Israel-Palestine peace talks. However, the policy of boycotting the elected government has inevitably led to the movements’ hardliners solely aiming to function as spoilers. Further, this simplistic view also ignores the difficulties within the Israeli politic of accepting requisite compromises.
A Washington Post article (Jan. 24) stated that recent events involving Hamas in regards to the Gaza-Egypt border demonstrated its ability to ‘disrupt any movement towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians’. It concluded that the international community should pay more attention to the ‘relentlessly terrorized’ Israeli civilians instead of condemning ‘a partial three-day disruption’ of power. It should also increase pressure on Hamas so the peace process can move forward.
Firstly, it was inevitable that an isolated Hamas would aim to derail the peace process. Since Hamas were elected they have been blockaded until they met certain conditions. Many pragmatists within the international community accepted that this was unachievable.
The International Crisis Group and the British Foreign Committee suggested that the Mecca Accords were the most realistic outcome of a compromise between Hamas and Fatah. However, the international community failed to back this agreement with as much vigour as was needed to help ensure its survival. The inability to accept that Hamas are as much a part of the political system as Likud or Yisrael Beiteinu partly led to the territorial schism.
Essentially, Hamas need to be eventually included to ensure peace negotiations can succeed. Hamas did allow Abbas to negotiate previously and a comprehensive cease-fire could have prevented rocket attacks. Although there are caveats within including Hamas, the outcome of continued exclusion is clear; Hamas can use its power to try escalating the conflict/disrupt negotiations. Ultimately the strategy of exclusion is a failure. Nobody can say that the blockade has made Hamas weaker; it has made them more radical and militarily stronger.
Therefore, ‘being tough’ with Hamas over the Gaza-Egypt border will not change much. It certainly won’t ‘go a long way towards stopping the rockets.’ Smuggling is mostly done through tunnels that even Israel had difficulty uncovering when it controlled the border; besides, Israel previously agreed to border crossings. Furthermore, the strategy of increasing the costs of rocket fire on the Gazan population will also not work. Firstly, Hamas are firmly in control of Gaza and this makes any overthrow unlikely. Secondly, as could be seen in Catholic communities in Northern Ireland and Shiite communities in Lebanon, the local population don’t tend to blame the militants for the retaliatory strikes but the ‘other’.
Hamas have to be eventually included in the process, as Hamas and Gaza won’t go away. Moreover, the issue isn’t just whether Hamas can prevent movement towards peace. As compromises become inevitable, the spoilers will get louder on both sides. The important thing is that these are minimised and the Oslo process shows that it is better to have Hamas in than out, even if they only have one leg in the peace camp.