What Hamas and Netanyahu Have in Common

Netanyahu's analogy between Hamas and ISIS is demagoguery to justify his 'no' to direct negotiations. But Hamas and Netanyahu share a critical understanding: The limits of military power to defeat one another

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Palestinian members of the al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, wait for the arrival of then-Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. December 7, 2012
Palestinian members of the al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, wait for the arrival of then-Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. December 7, 2012Credit: REUTERS
Nimrod Hurvitz
Nimrod Hurvitz

The residents of the "Gaza envelope" (Otef Aza), the Israeli towns and agricultural settlements bordering Gaza, have been demonstrating  against  Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu – and they have good reason to do so.

His "crisis management" approach has failed to deliver the basic prerequisite that every citizen is due – a peaceful existence. For Netanyahu, crisis management means dodging both war and peace negotiations.

His efforts to maneuver between outright war and long-term peace negotiations have led to cycles of violence between Israel and Hamas, pushing the lives of the inhabitants of the Gaza envelope into a constantly deteriorating nightmare.

An Israeli man inspects the damage in a building caused a day earlier by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon. November 13, 2018Credit: AFP

To his credit, Netanyahu has come to understand what many opportunistic right-wing politicians are not willing to admit: War is not the solution to the confrontation with Hamas.

This is abundantly clear in light of the fact that Israeli forces controlled the Gaza Strip for decades (1967-2005) and were not able to eradicate terror. In fact, prior to the evacuation of Gaza in 2005, around 25 Israelis were killed there every single year.

Once we realize, like Netanyahu, that the gains from military confrontations are limited, we have to choose between one of two options: The first, mass deportation of Palestinians; the second, a diplomatic solution. After the first option is disqualified, we are left with the second, diplomacy.  

However, Netanyahu refuses to negotiate with Hamas, arguing that it is as extreme as ISIS, when in fact it is innately different from ISIS, al-Qaeda and other Islamist militants.

The differences between the Hamas and ISIS are manifested in their worldview and actions. There is a profound ideological chasm between them, which leads to mutual denigration, and in some instances, to violence

Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh gestures as he arrives to meet an Egyptian security delegation in Gaza City October 18, 2018Credit: \ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

What is more, their relations with Israel are distinctly different. For example, Hamas held indirect negotiations with Israel several times, be it the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange, or after every round of violence in Gaza. ISIS, which threatens Israel from the Sinai, is nowhere near even indirect speaking terms with Israel.

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A quick comparison between the ideologies of Hamas and Islamist militants, such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, demonstrates that Netanyahu’s comparison is completely unfounded.

They profoundly disagree over a whole host of matters.

Whereas Hamas grudgingly and indirectly accepted Israel’s existence in its new charter of 2017, ISIS and al-Qaeda consider such a compromise to be betrayal

Whereas Hamas recognizes the international political order based on states, ISIS and al-Qaeda reject the notion of states and aspires to substitute them with a Caliphate; whereas Hamas participated in the democratic elections of 2006, ISIS and al-Qaeda view democracy as apostasy; whereas Hamas is closely attuned to Gazans' wishes and views, ISIS ignores the opinions of the people over which they rule and even justifies mass killings of ordinary Muslims.

Israelis from the south bring their protest against a recent cease fire with Hamas to Tel Aviv. The banner in Hebrew reads: "Gaza border: let us grow up in security and quiet." November 15, 2018Credit: AFP

Due to these differences, and primarily Hamas’s tacit acquiescing to the existence of the State of Israel, Hamas is indeed a potential partner for diplomatic negotiations. 

In order to move beyond Netanyahu’s "no war and no negotiations" gridlock for Gaza and the Israelis living next door, we need to think critically about the underlying assumptions of Israel’s ruling right-wing parties, which reject peace negotiations, yet fail to eliminate terror.

The first assumption to dispute is that it is impossible to negotiate with Hamas because it is as extreme as ISIS.  It is not. Rather, it is a tough and lethal enemy that has come to understand, like Netanyahu, the limits of its own power.

It's time to talk to all Palestinians about all topics – and include Hamas in the conversation.

Professor Nimrod Hurvitz is a co-founder of the Forum for Regional Thinking and teaches at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

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