For many in the UK, the nearest analogy to the Israel-Hamas conflict that comes to mind is Britains’s 80-year struggle against the Irish Republican Army (the IRA) and its offshoots. On and off, the UK endured nearly a century of terrorist activity by people utterly ruthless in pursuit of their political aims but, against all the odds, the conflict was finally brought to an end through the attrition of the IRA’s military capability and a prolonged period of negotiation.
The question that people of some consequence in the UK are now asking repeatedly is, why cannot the same approach be applied to the Israeli-Hamas struggle? Why will Israel not enter into discussion with the political leaders of Hamas, just as the British government instituted direct negotiations with the political leaders behind the IRA, and finally achieved a settlement?
The question is easy to ask – especially from the comparative tranquillity of the UK – and the list of those asking it in the past few weeks is impressive. This, for example, is Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister:
“It is time for the Israeli government to talk to the Hamas political leadership in Gaza. Israel’s refusal to engage with President Mahmoud Abbas’s new unity government, because it includes Hamas, must be reversed.” Then comes the inevitable IRA comparison: “Modern history teaches that you can’t shoot, occupy or besiege your way to lasting security. Peace only ever flows from sustained and stubborn engagement. The Queen shaking hands with Martin McGuinness two years ago reminded us that even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved.” McGuinness was at one time second-in-command of the IRA, and is now deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.
Then there’s Lord Ashdown, once leader of the Liberal Democratic party and subsequently international High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 till 2006. "Neither side can blast their way to victory,” he pronounced, “so there is only one way to get peace now, and that is for the sides to sit down and start talking to each other. Hamas has to be at the table. Who's firing the rockets? It's Hamas, and so you have to talk to them... “ And the inevitable clincher: “We had to talk to the IRA, for goodness' sake."
Or take blunt John Prescott, once deputy prime minister in Tony Blair’s Labour government. “It was the same with the IRA. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness may have been the leading lights of a paramilitary group, but without their co-operation in a final settlement, we wouldn’t have peace today in Northern Ireland. The only way we’ll get a lasting peace in the Middle East is when Hamas and Israel sit down and agree on a two-state solution. Hamas must stop firing rockets and accept Israel’s right to exist. Israel must end the blockade that keeps the Gazans as prisoners. Both must agree to a lasting ceasefire at the earliest opportunity. If not, the West must intervene.”
Prescott’s piece is replete with “musts”, but devoid of any indication of how they might come about. When he says “Hamas must stop firing rockets and accept Israel’s right to exist”, he is clearly unaware that the very raison d’être of the organization, its only purpose, is to destroy Israel and kill Jews, whoever and wherever they may be. Demanding that Hamas “accept Israel’s right to exist,” is tantamount to asking Hamas to disband.
On this, the Hamas Charter is clear and unequivocal. “Israel will…continue to exist until Islam obliterates it.” To do so, Hamas “strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Article 13 declares: “There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.”
As for Hamas’s genocidal purpose, Article 7 states: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: 'O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.”
In short, Hamas is essentially nihilistic.
The IRA arose from a nationalism held so deeply that it seemed to its extreme adherents to justify any action, however ruthless. In pursuit of its objective of an independent Ireland, it was prepared to instigate and countenance acts of bloodthirsty terrorism. Its belief in its cause was so deeply-held that it perverted the morality that lay at the heart of its Catholicism. But, in the final analysis, Irish nationalism was rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. This is why, eventually, the IRA was prepared to lay down its weapons. Indeed it had been defeated, but the principles of compromise and even reconciliation that are inherent in Christianity played a part in achieving the final détente.
Writing in 2010, distinguished journalist Michael Weiss surveyed the long succession of steps leading from the first formal talks back in 1993 between the British government and Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, to the decommissioning of the IRA’s weapons in 2005, leading to the formal ending of the armed campaign in 2007.
“So what,” he asks, “would the Hamas equivalent of this scenario look like? At the very least, another devastating war with Israel would need to occur, leaving the Islamists completely depleted and certainly not in sole administrative control of Gaza. Israeli intelligence operatives would thoroughly penetrate Hamas' command structure, so as to be able to predict and pre-empt almost every rocket fired into Ashkelon or Sderot, or every attack on settlers in the West Bank. Hamas would then have to concede that its strategic long-war doctrine of violent "resistance" and its dream of establishing Greater Palestine was a fantasy." Only then, he surmises, if the analogy with the IRA still held, would realistic dialogue with Hamas be started, leading to a demilitarization of Gaza and a formal end to their “armed struggle” against Israel. But as Michael Weiss himself is the first to assert: “Hamas isn’t the IRA”.
This is the reality behind all those ill-informed calls for Israel to sit down with Hamas and talk peace.
Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 10 August 2014:
Published in the Eurasia Review, 9 August 2014:http://www.eurasiareview.com/09082014-hamas-ira-oped/