(from The Telegraph)
When you hit 25, it may be high time to start facing certain facts. What you see as staying true to the ideals of your youth, others may view as simply callow and reckless. Now is a good time to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions – to start, in other words, behaving like a grown-up.
There was little sign of newfound maturity at Hamas’s 25th birthday bash in Gaza this weekend – featuring, as if to underline the sense of a kids’ party, plastic guns, toy rockets and a giant model of a long-range Fajr missile. As usual, its leaders vowed from the stage never to recognise Israel and to “free the land of Palestine inch by inch”.
But in spite of the same old rhetoric, Hamas faces tough new choices in the wake of its recent confrontation with Israel. Like any radical group that succeeds in gaining power, it will increasingly be forced to make a painful choice between ideological purity and accommodation to the realities of government.
For some time Hamas has seen a power struggle between its commanders in Gaza, who shun any talk of future compromise with Israel, and its exiled leaders, who are influenced by the outlook of their hosts in countries like Egypt and Qatar, and increasingly see the idea of never-ending “resistance” for the dead end it is.
So far Israel has played its part in enabling the group to avoid choosing between these two ways of thinking. With Gaza under economic blockade and military siege since Hamas came to power in 2006, the organisation has never made the transition from resistance movement to governing party, with all the painful compromises that entails.
There are signs Hamas bosses are already contemplating the possibility of modifying their stance. In 2007 the group’s main leader Khaled Meshal, who addressed crowds at Saturday’s rally, told journalists: “I speak of a Palestinian and Arab demand for a state on 1967 borders. It is true that in reality there will be an entity or a state called Israel on the rest of Palestinian land.” And in 2010 he told a US talk show: “If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, so that will be the end of the Palestinian resistance”, adding that if Palestinians voted in a referendum to recognise Israel, Hamas would respect the results.
Of course, the same leaders put on a different face when addressing their rank-and-file, who reject such talk out of hand and cling to their particular strain of Islamist necromania. And the foul Hamas charter, which is riddled with anti-semitism and promises the destruction of Israel, still stands.
But it’s no longer possible for the world simply to point out the group’s more loathsome qualities and hope that, by shunning it, we can make it crawl back under its stone. As you read this, Israeli representatives are with Hamas counterparts in Cairo, negotiating on a range of issues as part of a ceasefire deal that will see economic restrictions lifted in return for a halt to rocket attacks.
This indicates a new realism on the part of Israel’s elites. Reports suggest IDF top brass increasingly understand the futilty of launching periodic military strikes, which only bolster Hamas hardliners and enhance the group’s popularity.
And even Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly contemplating a strategy in which Hamas is encouraged to act as Israel’s policeman in Gaza, quelling militancy in return for recognition, much as the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority does in the West Bank.
Giving Hamas a chance to exercise real power in Gaza would empower less extreme elements who advocate a rapprochement with the Palestinian Authority and closer ties with moderate regional powers like Egypt, Qatar and Turkey. In this way, Israel could begin a process of nurturing the group’s pragmatic strain, coaxing it towards compromise and legitimacy and eventually leaving its diehard militants on the margins – just as the world did with the PLO in the 1980s and 90s.
Hamas will never resemble the Twickenham branch of the Liberal Democrats. But you make peace with your enemies, not your friends. Forcing it to deal with the complexities of power is the only way of making it grow up. That may be distasteful to some, but the alternative is to give up on a solution altogether and join the extremists in their Neverland of perpetual war.