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The Roots of Hamas’ Intransigence

To understand why Hamas targets Israeli civilians, hospitals, and schools, go back some 70 years, to Israel’s founding and the collective Arab response.

Ever since Hamas gained control of Gaza following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in 2005, it has been stockpiling rockets and, more recently, spending vast sums on a sophisticated labyrinth of tunnels into Israel. The purpose of the tunnels, according to one Palestinian source, is “to surprise the enemy and strike it a deadly blow that doesn’t allow a chance for survival or escape or allow him a chance to confront and defend itself.”

Since the conflict between Israel and Hamas began in early July, Hamas has staged at least four attacks from these tunnels, and in one case fired an anti-tank missile that killed five Israeli soldiers. Last week, Israel learned that Hamas was planning to use more than 30 such tunnels for a massive terrorist attack against six Israeli communities during Rosh Hashanah in September.

Meanwhile, Hamas continues to reject calls for a cease-fire even as Palestinian casualties mount—in Gaza, 1,191 dead and more than 7,000 wounded as of this writing—in no small part because Hamas leaders are using the civilian population as human shields, storing weapons in schools and hospitals. It is all horrifying.

History Helps Explain the Madness

To understand why Hamas would pursue such a strategy, one has to go back nearly 70 years, to the founding of Israel in 1947-48 and the collective Arab response. In the late summer of 1947, Abba Eban, who would later become Israel’s first representative to the United Nations and serve as foreign minister during the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, met with Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha, secretary general of the Arab League. Eban hoped to secure Azzam’s support for a partition of Palestine and a two-state solution. He reasoned with Azzam that, “if there is a war, there will have to be a negotiation after it. Why not negotiate before and instead of the war?”

Eban records Azzam’s telling response in his memoirs. The speech, Eban wrote, “has never been canonized as one of the major signposts in Jewish and Zionist history.” It should be. Azzam said:

If you win the war, you will get your state. If you do not win the war, then you will not get it. We Arabs once ruled Iran and once ruled Spain. We no longer have Iran or Spain. If you establish your state the Arabs might one day have to accept it, although even that is not certain. But do you really think that we have the option of not trying to prevent you from achieving something that violates our emotion and our interest? It is a question of historic pride. There is no shame in being compelled by force to accept an unjust and unwanted situation. What would be shameful would be to accept this without attempting to prevent it. No, there will have to be a decision, and the decision will have to be by force.

Eban knew that Azzam was being realistic, that Jews would only win their state in the crucible of war, regardless of whether they secured U.N. recognition. During U.N. deliberations in 1947, the Arab states refused to consider either of the two options put forth by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. The majority UNSCOP report urged partition, which the Arabs flatly rejected. (After the General Assembly voted in favor of partition, Azzam stormed out of the Assembly hall and declared to the press that “any line of partition drawn in Palestine will be a line of fire and blood.”)

But the minority UNSCOP report called for a federal state in which the Arab province would have veto over immigration to the Jewish province, essentially allowing the Arabs to secure permanent domination over a Jewish minority. The Arabs rejected this option, too. Eban understood the Arabs’ intransigence for what it was: “The only solution they would consider would be the establishment of an Arab state in which the existence of a separate Jewish minority would be ignored.”

Jihad Is the Only Solution

Fast-forward to the current crisis in Gaza: Hamas’ leaders are stuck in 1947. For them, nothing has changed since Azzam proclaimed a line of “fire and blood.” The intransigence of Arab leaders nearly 70 years ago is the present-day inheritance of Hamas. This week, over at Commentary, Peter Wehner posted an excerpt of a Sunday interview between Charlie Rose and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal that was notable for the brief breakdown of communication between Rose and Meshaal. When the Hamas leader said he could not “coexist with occupation,” Rose asked point-blank whether he could ever recognize the State of Israel. Meshaal said, “No. I said I do not want to live with a state of occupiers.”

ROSE: I’m assuming they’re no longer occupiers. At that point, do you want to coexist and recognize their right to exist, as they would recognize your right to exist?

MESHAAL (through translator): When we have a Palestinian state, then the Palestinian state will decide on its policies. But you cannot actually ask me about the future. I answered you. But Palestinian people can have their say when they have their own state without occupation. In natural situations, they can decide policy vis-a-vis others.

It’s important to understand what Meshaal means by a “Palestinian state” that will “decide on its policies”—he means a single Palestinian, Islamic state, as Eban wrote, “in which the existence of a separate Jewish minority would be ignored.” This is also what is generally meant by the slogan, “Palestine from the river to the sea,” and by the so-called “right of return” of Palestinian refugees. The refugees in question are not those from the Six-Day War of 1967, but those from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, in which the fledging State of Israel was simultaneously attacked by Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

Since then, many Arab states have of course accepted Israel’s right to exist. Hamas, however, remains true to Article Eight of its founding charter of 1988, which is the official Hamas slogan: “Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.”

As if to set this slogan in a policy context, Article Thirteen of Hamas’ charter declares: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time, an exercise in futility.”

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