Hamas: The Last Chance for Peace?

1.

The rising tide of Muslim anger at the US and the West—as recorded by the Pew Poll and other opinion surveys—and the recent successes of political Islam have given many Israelis a newly urgent sense that they are under siege. Sever Plotzker, a well-known Israeli columnist, recently wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely circulated newspaper, that

the Palestinian vote connects with the chilling phenomena taking place in the Arab world, whose resonant echoes penetrate every household in Israel…. Israel finds itself an inch away from an erupting volcano, on the frontlines of the “clash of civilization.”1

In Iraq, the Shiite parties defeated not only the Sunnis but also secular political parties; in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s representation in the parliament increased fivefold; and in Palestine, legislative elections were swept by Hamas. The anti-Semitic rantings of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government’s determination to develop nuclear weapons have only further exacerbated Israeli fears.

Israel is facing not only the threats of Hamas, an organization that has affirmed the right to violently resist Israel’s occupation and has denied Israel’s right to exist, but also the more general anger from the larger Muslim world toward the West. The two are often conflated, but it is a dangerously misleading conflation, for it gives a confused view of both the dangers and the opportunities created by Hamas’s election victory, however meager the latter may appear to be.

The anger of the Muslim world toward the West is fueled by the humiliations of their Palestinian fellow Muslims who live under Israeli occupation; by what Muslims consider the theft of Palestine, land that is part of Dar al-Islam, the eternal domain of Muslims, in which the West has been complicit; by the war in Iraq and its aftermath; by the horrors that have occurred, and continue to occur, in US military prisons; and by the hypocrisies of America’s plans to install democracy in various parts of the world. This hostility is seen as evidence of the religious and cultural confrontation between Islam and the Christian West that Samuel Huntington has famously argued has become the new global fault line that has replaced the cold war. Paradoxically, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is the lesser of the two threats, because it is political rather than religious in character, and Palestinian society is among the most secular in the Arab world.

Even for Hamas, the national component of its struggle (ironically at odds with the “globalism” of traditional Islam that recognizes no national borders within the Domain of Islam) generally takes precedence over its religious imperatives when the two conflict. This is so not only because most Palestinians oppose Hamas’s religious goals, particularly efforts to regulate their personal religious behavior, but more importantly because Hamas itself is as much a Palestinian national movement as it is a religious one.

In response to a call by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second in command, to Hamas to continue a violent jihad to recover…


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