Hamas as the New Israel

Imagine, if you will, a lightning Middle East war, over in a matter of days. An armed force that is thought to be outnumbered and outgunned rolls with ease over a long-entrenched enemy.

Stunned, humiliated, utterly defeated, the former rulers melt away. The victors, left to administer the newly conquered territory, feel elation at first. Soon, however, it dawns on them that the world sees them very differently. No longer do their friends abroad uniformly view them as an underdog, brave, uncorrupted. No longer do their admirers see them as supremely competent, pure in their dedication, clear in their goals, innovative and effective in their actions.

In fact, no sooner do they take control, are they denounced as brutal occupiers. Human rights organizations focus on their excesses in trying to establish order, branding their military policies war crimes. The international community - even many nations they once considered to be sympathetic allies - progressively distances itself from them. The brief war and its repercussions split their own people into two irreconcilable political camps.

Is this the Israel that emerged in June 1967, or is it the Hamas which conquered Gaza exactly four decades later? The answer, of course, is Yes.

It is the worst nightmare of any radical Islamist, and it has shown signs of coming true: Hamas is taking on some of the history, and even some of the traits, of Israel.

Perhaps, before it's too late, Hamas can learn something from Israel's errors. But first, back to our story:

The party of conquest - once a well-oiled, Spartan machine, making up in dedication what it lacked in trappings, addressing the world with a clear voice and an unswerving vision, attending to the needs of its people in a comprehensive, if makeshift, welfare state - is now a splintered unit pulling in a number of directions at once, with perhaps the signal discernable common goal at this point being the drive to maintain its rule. Corruption, once a hated common enemy, has already wormed its way in. So has callousness to the plight of ordinary people.

As the new reality begins to hit home within the ruling party, long-established principles, narratives, credos are re-examined. There is new dissension. Hard-liners at home and in the Diaspora demand that the Holy Land never be shared with the other side, and that the other side never be formally recognized. Pragmatists at home and in the Diaspora begin to move toward recognition of and talks with the enemy, and eventual partition into two states, one Israeli, one Palestinian.

Hamas, like Israel after the Six-Day War, is at a terrible crossroads. The temptation, as it was for Israel, is to resist taking any of the difficult paths. There is apparent safety in marching in place, hoping for the best, or at least, hoping for nothing worse, hanging on to a power whose ultimate goal is no longer clear.

Like Israel after the 1967 war, Hamas must come to grips with the price of what passes in the Middle East for victory. Hamas has been left the lord of one of the world's most challenging manors, an economic ruin, a social welfare nightmare, looked down upon even as it is pitied by the brother Palestinians of the West Bank, which has become, effectively, a different state-without-a-state.

Moreover, Hamas is beginning to display some of the same lack of finesse in decision-making, long-term strategy, and even public relations, that has become a hallmark of post-1967 Israel.

So, entirely unbidden, herewith a few suggestions for Hamas, based on what has gone wrong, and right, in the 40 years since conquest took over our lives in Israel.

1. You are no longer an underground movement. Stop acting like one.

Begin speaking and acting with one voice. Begin speaking and acting as you would if you were a full member of the community of nations. Act to heal the rift within your people by recognizing the consensus which favors a permanent solution through compromise, rather than catering to unbending, scripture-distorting militants and their delusions of full victory, the fulfillment of all pipe dreams, the realization of an impossible ideal.

Resist the temptation to put too much stock in the opinions of your military men. In the international legal no man's land of conquered territory, resist the temptation to believe that a state undeclared can remain indefinitely ungoverned. Resist the temptation to believe that human beings can indefinitely accept a permanent state of war and the deprivation, grief, and despondency that are part and parcel of it.

2. Stop reveling in your pariah status

Listen to your critics. They may have a point. Just because the whole world seems to be against you doesn't mean that you're necessarily doing anything right.

Fool your enemy ? approach him. You have offered a cease-fire of 50 years' duration. A positive step. Now try this: Make the same offer, without immediately following it with a renewed commitment to the destruction of Israel.

3. The world owes you. So what?

Of course, the world owes you for your suffering, for your deprivation, for your loss of homeland and livelihood and property.

Here's how it works in practice, though: The world owes a lot of people. Maybe that's why the world does not pay its moral debts.

It's up to you now. Fatah is too corrupt, too decayed, too broken to take the actions needed to create a real Palestine. An independent Palestine will come not through a cataclysmic military defeat of Israel, but through a bitter and intelligent diplomatic accommodation that gives each side the most it can expect under impossible circumstances.

4. The other side is a fact. Relate to it as permanent.

Golda Meir waved away the idea of a Palestinian people, Meir Kahane and Rehavam Ze'evi nursed dreams of expelling the Palestinian people. You're still here.

And so are we. Both sides have their separate readings of thousands of years of history, but the moral is the same. Both sides will do absolutely anything to remain here.

Perhaps one day, we might even go so far as to make peace.


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