Hamas. Is there something to talk about or not?

Despite the prompt and predictable failure of the UN ceasefire resolution to impact on the ground, a rare note of optimism for the medium term was struck at a high powered panel discussion on the Gaza-Israel crisis at the Royal Society of the Arts. The debate centred on whether Hamas was being strengthened or weakened by the Israeli assaults. To the eminent strategic thinker Sir Lawrence Freedman, it seemed clear from the “only rhetorical support ” of most Arab governments that Hamas is being weakened. Interestingly this was a view endorsed on Newsnight last night by Alan Johnson the former BBC correspondent in Gaza who was held hostage in the territory for four months in 2007..

The London –based editor of the paper Al-Quds Al-Arabi Abdel Bari Atwan unsurprisingly took the expected different but not quite contradictory line.
“I have just been speaking to my brother and other members of my family on the West Bank and they are Fatah no more, all Hamas.” Add anger and conviction and you get a different result. “How can you expect a people who are suffering so much not to retaliate ?” asked an impassioned Abdel Bari. “The outcome may have a salutary effect rather than create more anger” replied Freedman. But Freedman, a critic of Israeli strategy since the Yom Kippur war ( “ it has been disastrous”) still stuck to his optimistic view, though with the proviso that it was possible to make the opposite case.

Freedman had two further reasons for optimism. One, that Obama’s substantive silence on the issue is right as it gives him room for manoeuvre when he takes office. And two, that action now – probably taken reluctantly at least as far as the tanks are concerned – by Labour leader and Defence minister Ehud Barak will strengthen the hand of Labour and Kadima against Likud and the harder line Netanyahu in the February 10 general election.

MP Martin Linton, chair of a new group Labour Friends of Palestine, claimed to detect “ a sea change” in Labour’s traditional support for Israel and declared: “ Israel will have to decide what are the limits of its State “ and reverse the ongoing “colonisation” of the West Bank which is “ completely undermining” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Freedman however dismissed the settlements as the crucial obstacle: “ the problem is not about the colonisation of the West Bank – that’s over – it’s how to convince Israelis that withdrawal won’t be used against them.”

There was general agreement with Abdel Bari’s plea: “ Why not talk to Hamas – they’re elected”, with Freedman calling for the first US top-level diplomatic initiative in 8 years from Hillary Clinton, as soon as Obama take office. According to a Guardian scoop, this may be what he and Hillary have in mind. According to the stately pace of the US constitutional calendar, we won’t have much longer to wait. Meanwhile in Gaza…

  • 6cp

    An article today in the WSJ covers similar ground and comes up with some interesting conclusions.

  • Driftwood
  • joeCanuck

    Yes, of course. They will talk eventually, at the least through intermediaries.

  • Just came across this video of the bombing in Rafa filmed by members of the International Solidarity Movement:

    http://daithimckay.blogspot.com/2009/01/footage-of-israeli-bombing-of-rafah.html

    All eyes will certainly be on Obama and how he comes to grip with this issue when he comes to office. It requires leadership and it also requires a great deal of pressure being exerted on Israel to curb the behaviour of the IDF and the Settlers. If Obama decides to stick to the same line as Bush many here will lose the ‘hope’ they had in him when he won the election. Israel will not move without international pressure and its been lacking for far too long.

  • Gregory Carlin

    The Warszawski Korpus Armii Krajowej was defeated by the German counter-offensive 1 August 1944 – 2 October 1944.

    I would not go so far as to say the PHA lost the enduring support of the people.

    That should make some sense to students of 1916, which though minor in military had a damaging impact on the British Empire.

    If one kills enough people, one will win at the point of killing, and losing against the phenomena, is often viewed as not losing at all, in the ‘human spirit’ sense.

  • I find this discussion just incredible baloney.

    How can Lawrence Freedman find support for the idea that Hamas is being weakened since Arab governments – which have never supported it – are only giving it rhetorical support now while Fatah supporters are turning to it as their only protectors?

    How can anyone find any consolation that Labor’s Ehud Barak and Kamida’s Tzipi Livni are outdoing Bibbi’s right-wingers in securing voters by its aggression in Gaza in the upcoming election – whose policies the Israelis will be stuck with if they win?

    And how can anyone believe any pie-in-the sky stuff about Obama’s vague, apparently dishonest claims when he is just making appointments and advocating tax policies at the expense of Social Security and Medicare to make America’s warmongers more effective?

    Let’s please stop this destructive fantasizing!

  • William

    Was Rasharkin’s leading blogger working in Gaza as an adviser in the same way as Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and Jim Monaghan, the famous eco-tourists were advising in Colombia?

  • William

    David McKay should move up a couple of posts from his own to Driftwood’s #2, click the link and read the article and then tell us what in unfactual about it. To me it sums up the situation at present with David’s friends in Hamas winning the propaganda war, whilst their human-shields died in the defensive actions being taken by Israel.

    To save you the bother scrolling to #2 David, here is a repost of the link:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/4209138/Gaza-why-a-ceasefire-wont-work.html