Photo Credit: IDF
Map of Hamas terrorist locations in Gaza hit by the IDF Feb 18, 2018

{Originally posted to the Pressure Point blog of the CFR website}

This is a painful week to be a leader of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas–and a much worse week to be living under its rule.


Israel left Gaza in 2005, and in 2007 Hamas seized control by overwhelming the (much larger) Fatah forces. Eleven years of Hamas rule have brought nothing but violence and repression to the Palestinians who live there.

Hamas might have decided to improve the economy and offer Palestinians tired of Fatah’s corruption and inefficiency an decent alternative. Instead it has focused only on attacking Israel and maintaining its fantasy of “return” and the destruction of the Jewish state.

Constant rocket fire from Gaza—thousands of attacks—into Israel led to “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014. In that nearly two-month conflict over two thousand Palestinians died, ten thousand were wounded, and thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed. From this Hamas may have learned that escalation of its attacks on Israel will lead only to misery. But it had several tricks to try.

The first was unpredictable, occasional, and damaging rocket fire. Hamas could make life miserable and even unlivable for Israelis anywhere near the Gaza border or in larger areas of southern Israel. This the Israelis defeated with the high-tech layered defenses against rockets and missiles that they developed.

Then Hamas tried tunnels. Tunnels to Egypt brought consumer goods and fuel (which Hamas taxed) and of course weaponry; tunnels into Israel brought opportunities to kidnap or kill Israelis and lay waste to Israeli communities. But the Egyptians started closing the tunnels and moving citizens back away from the border. And Israel is again employing high-tech means of discovering the tunnels, which it then bombs, and blocking new construction.

Now Hamas has tried pushing masses of Gazans to the border fences, mixing its own armed men among them carrying grenades, guns, and other weapons. The goal was obviously to overrun the border, get into Israel, and (we know from testimony in the past few days) kill and destroy as much as possible. And now this tactic has failed as well. Israel defended its border: no one got through and all the loss was on the Palestinian side. Injuries to those trying to break through the border overwhelmed Gaza’s medical facilities, there were perhaps 60 deaths, and Hamas pulled back. On “Nakba Day” itself, Tuesday May 15, there was relative quiet. In the West Bank, there was little solidarity shown to Hamas: a couple of hundred demonstrators here and there, totaling under two thousand. There were no major demonstrations in Arab capitals.

So every one of Hamas’s tactics has failed, and has produced only more misery in Gaza. Now what? The answer is at one level obvious: Hamas should stop throwing the people of Gaza into combat and stop attacking Israel. It should concentrate on economic recovery for Gaza, negotiating for more open borders that permit imports of needed goods and export of people and products. Israel and Egypt should agree to such arrangements, so long as Hamas stops trying to import more weapons to prepare for future rounds of combat with Israel. Hamas should break its ties with Iran. It should permit the Palestinian Authority to resume its presence in Gaza.

Both Israel and Egypt would in fact accept such a deal. Misery in Gaza is not in Israel’s interest. The problem is that Hamas has thus far shown no interest in such a transformation from Islamist terrorist group into responsible government of Gaza.

This should be no surprise. Yasser Arafat could never make that transformation either, from terrorist into head of government. His rejection of Israel’s offer at Camp David was in part a rejection of changing himself from a “resistance” leader in military uniform into an administrator responsible for schools, hospitals, roads. And Arafat was secular; Hamas is Islamist. Its Covenant is a bizarre anti-Semitic document filled not only with Koranic references and calls to expel the Jews from the Middle East, but also explanations that the French Revolution, First World War,  and the League of Nations, as well as the Freemasons and Rotary and Lions clubs, were the product of the Jews.

No one rises to leadership in Hamas because he thinks the unemployment rate in Gaza must be reduced or the water supply improved. Asking the Hamas leadership to abandon the battle against the Jews is asking them to abandon their raison d’etre and their life’s work. I suppose it is possible that a tactical retreat can be negotiated by the Egyptians, and they appear to have done something of that sort this week—agreeing to open the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt and getting Israel to open the Kerem Shalom crossing where trucks go through into Gaza) in exchange for an end to the mass border assaults. But how long can that last? Hamas is an Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the eliminating Israel, and will never agree to transform itself into a “normal” government.

This leaves Israel and Egypt, and anyone else who is serious about avoiding more violence, with few good options. How can Israel and Egypt pursue a policy of improving economic conditions in Gaza—more electricity, water, sewage treatment, jobs, opportunities to leave the Gaza Strip to study or get medical treatment—without strengthening Hamas’s ability to move terrorists in and out and acquire more weapons or their components? We are familiar with the story of cement: permitted to be imported to build houses, but instead diverted by Hamas into construction of those tunnels.

It is worth trying again to reduce misery in Gaza, even if success will be partial or minimal. Efforts at humanitarian relief at least show Gazans and moralists in Europe (so quick to jump to facile criticism of Israel, as we saw this week) that the true author of Gaza’s plight is Hamas, which sees Gazans as cannon fodder rather than citizens for whom it is responsible. There is no visible “solution” to the problem of Gaza, because it is today a small Islamist emirate governed by a terrorist organization. For Israel, violence can at best be reduced or delayed, but not avoided entirely, when the goal of the group ruling Gaza is precisely violence designed to destroy you.

Is that really true? Here are a few choice lines from the Hamas Covenant:

“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it” (The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory).

Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts. It is a step that inevitably should be followed by other steps. The Movement is but one squadron that should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realised.

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement.

Jihad becomes the individual duty of every Moslem. In face of the Jews’ usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised.

Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people. “May the cowards never sleep.”

These beliefs are the background to the recent violence. While Hamas rules Gaza, full solutions to Gaza’s problems must be sought but it seems very unlikely that they will be found.


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Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor under Pres. George W. Bush.