Despite mounting international pressure for an end to hostilities between Israel and Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, Hamas declared on Wednesday that it would not accept any permanent cease-fire with Israel.
According to the deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the group would not talk about a permanent cease-fire so long as Israel continued its “occupation,” and would instead continue the “resistance.” He said that Hamas stood by its demand for Israel to immediately halt its offensive, to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and to open all of the border crossings.
What are Hamas’ immediate objectives?
It cannot defeat Israel militarily. Given time, Israel will destroy Hamas as an effective force. Despite their macho posturing, Hamas’ leaders know this.
They have so far been unable to achieve the international legitimacy and control of the Palestinian Authority that they want, because they cannot agree to the necessary conditions: recognition of Israel’s right to exist, acceptance of prior agreements — the Oslo accord — and renunciation of ‘resistance’. All of these are explicitly contradicted by the Hamas charter.
Hamas also has difficulty overcoming the Western antipathy to racism, antisemitism, genocidal intent, misogyny, homophobia, etc.
So its strategy is to obtain legitimacy by attacking Israel’s. The intention is to so demonize Israel in world opinion that Hamas will appear as a relatively acceptable counterpart.
Therefore, the purpose of the thousands of rockets launched into Israel was not so much to hurt Israel — although the actual damage, psychological and economic, has been far greater than the small number of deaths might suggest — as to provoke Israel to respond.
Now Israel has responded, and Hamas will try to turn events to its advantage. Its goal will be to maximize civilian casualties and the appearance thereof, in order to force an end to the conflict before it is hurt beyond repair. We can expect that Hamas will continue to put Palestinian civilians in harm’s way, to exaggerate casualties and even manufacture atrocity stories, and to use its enormous apparatus of Middle Eastern and Western fellow-travelers to broadcast its propaganda worldwide.
Almost any imposed settlement will give Hamas an advantage because
- It will gain huge credibility among Palestinians for having ‘defeated’ Israel.
- No international monitoring or peacekeeping arrangement will be able to prevent it from re-arming.
- An agreement will protect it from Israel.
- Israel will be seen even more as a pariah among nations.
And, most important,
- If Hamas is party to the agreement, it will be seen as a legitimate political entity, not just a terrorist gang.
This puts Hamas in a much better position to regain influence in the Palestinian Authority and ultimately to get control of the West Bank as well as Gaza.
What must Israel do? There are several things:
- It must do its utmost to minimize civilian casualties.
- It must counteract atrocity propaganda swiftly and credibly.
- Nevertheless, Israel must destroy Hamas’ weapon supply and fortifications, eliminate Hamas’ leadership and kill enough of its army (estimated at 20,000) to neutralize its fighting ability.
- It must re-occupy the Philadelphi corridor alongside the Egyptian border to make it impossible for Hamas to rearm.
- It must not allow the conflict to be ended, despite international pressure, before the above are accomplished.
- It must not agree to a settlement which in any way legitimizes Hamas.