Every State Needs a Hamas

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A spokesman of the armed wing of Hamas gives a press conference in Gaza City. Credit: AFP

For eight days, Israel had a wonderful enemy – Hamas. Weak enough to be hammered, but strong enough to justify killing 200 civilians. A symbol of evil, after kidnapping the three teens – though it’s still not clear whether the leadership initiated or even knew about the abduction – but at the same time responsible enough to police a truce. So unworthy of recognition that anyone associated with it must be shunned, but a perfect partner for a cease-fire agreement. This is an enemy that doesn’t demand the dismantling of settlements in exchange for quiet; it doesn’t recognize the Jewish state, so there’s no need to conduct painful diplomatic negotiations with it. In short, it’s the ultimate enemy. Few countries have enemies this perfect.

But despite Israel’s and its own desire, Hamas falls short in carrying the coveted title of “enemy.” The organization is reviled by the majority of Arab states and by Palestinians. On the brink of bankruptcy, it governs an economically shattered territory with no regular sources of revenue. The organization was forced to make many concessions, including ideological ones, in signing the reconciliation agreement with Fatah, and it was practically scared of its own shadow when Israel blamed it for the kidnapping. Israel might want to send a “message” to all its enemies in its conduct toward Hamas, but it’s like using a steamroller to trample an ant: The lions, if there are any, won’t be all that impressed.

It’s true that Israel has never made do with just one enemy. It has established at least three sets of enemies – Islam, Arabs and anti-Semites – each of which contains subsets of more tangible threats. Thus, for instance, Al-Qaida and the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, represent the broader threat of Islam; Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs represent the Arab threat; and radical right-wing groups in Europe symbolize anti-Semitism. All have the same goal: to destroy the State of Israel. Israel even classifies its friends according to their degree of closeness with its enemies.

Now, it is Hamas’ turn to represent the existential threat. It’s an enemy that’s easy to understand. It ostensibly represents the Arab, Islamic and Palestinian threat, and it’s also anti-Jewish – three enemies for the price of one. In the blink of an eye, Iran has been forgotten, while Al-Qaida and the Islamic State no longer interest the Israeli public. But their day will come, don’t worry. Once an agreement is reached with Hamas, there will be room for others.

But even for a regional power that has reaped diplomatic and national capital from these threats, it’s sometimes worth doing an accounting of the real enmity it faces. Among what is commonly termed the “22 Arab states,” only one, Egypt, could actually constitute a strategic threat toward Israel in military terms, but it has signed a peace agreement, and its president has no intention of violating it. All the Arab states have signed the Arab Peace Initiative, which promises normalization and security to Israel if it withdraws from the territories. Of all the Islamic states (including the Arab countries), only Iran has made concrete threats against Israel, and even those were in response to Israeli threats. Hundreds of radical Islamist organizations, from Al-Qaida to the Islamic State to Nigeria’s Boko Haram, may dream about destroying Israel but their contribution to realizing that dream is negligible. These organizations are primarily busy fighting their local governments. Even Hezbollah has already grasped that its tens of thousands of missiles won’t wipe Israel off the map, and it’s hard to remember the last time it fired a missile at Israel.

But someone who lives by magnifying threats cannot allow himself to perform such an accounting. That’s why even an organization like Hamas has become the main glue of Israel’s national solidarity. This is a debt that every Israeli owes to Hamas, which has succeeded in doing what the Israeli government could not. So long live Hamas.

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