Better the devil you know?

August 17, 2009 at 9:37 pm | Posted in International | 2 Comments

When Israel launched its military offensive against Hamas last year, critics of the operation made a number of important points. First, we argued that it was a fantasy to believe these raids would do anything more than briefly reduce its ability to toss rockets into Israel, and that there would be no prospect of either destroying the group, or fatally weakening its grip over the Gaza Strip. But more importantly than that, we also insisted that it was a mistake to think Hamas’ defeat would end Israel’s security problems.

Whilst there’s always a (very slight) possibility that Hamas could implode or that the people of Gaza will eventually turn to the more moderate & cuddly Fatah, given the amount of poverty & raw despair in the territories, it’s far more likely that whatever did replace the militant group would be even more extreme, more reactionary and more likely to render peace between Israel & Palestine as impossible.

We’ve seen some evidence of that in recent days, as a deadly shootout between members of Hamas and a militant splinter group demonstrates that some of the alternatives to Hamas are even uglier. Jund Ansar Allah, the group at the centre of the violence, has become increasingly critical of Hamas in recent months, has demanded the imposition of Sharia law and has even – and somewhat presumptuously – declared Gaza an ‘Islamic emirate’.

Whilst both these groups share the same self-defeating hatred of Israel, their ultimate aims are very different. For Hamas, the primary goal is the creation of an independent Palestinian state. For Jund Ansar Allah, it is the violent imposition of Taliban-style stone age religious subserviance. If there’s one thing the Gaza Strip doesn’t need right now, it’s a group which attacks Hamas for being too liberal.

One of the naive hopes people had about isolating Hamas was that when Palestinians were able to see how little the group was able to achieve, they would soon return their support to a group like Fatah, who Israel and the international community felt they could do business with.

Instead, the dissatisfaction with Hamas seems to be leading some Palestinians towards the more extreme factions. Jund Ansar Allah was only started in November and now claims to have over 500 soldiers. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s enough to give both Israel & Hamas significant security concerns.

I can understand, of course, the reluctance people feel about negotiating with a group which doesn’t recognise the state of Israel, but if it seems that Hamas is currently the best of an extraordinarily bad bunch, it may be better to talk to them than one day confront a much fouler beast. After all, Israel, Hamas and the United States do all have one thing in common: nobody wants to see Gaza become a stomping ground for Al Qaeda-inspired lunatics. As grounds for peace go, it’s not much, but it’s a start.



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