Thursday, January 15, 2009

The No-State Solution

Hamas cares more about Shariah than 'Palestine.'


Of all the errors in the West's understanding of Hamas, none is more fundamental than the routine characterization of the group as a Palestinian movement. It is nothing of the sort.This isn't to say that the Islamic Resistance Movement -- to use Hamas's proper name -- isn't led by Palestinians, or that it's unpopular among them. On the contrary: Even before the current fighting, Hamas was almost certainly more popular than its secular rival Fatah throughout the Palestinian Authority, including the West Bank. The only difference with Gaza is that Israel remains a presence on the West Bank, able to prevent Hamas from gaining sufficient strength to rout Fatah in an armed contest.

Hamas's claim on Palestinian hearts has only gained force in the last three weeks, though whether the feeling lasts will depend largely on how it emerges from the war. But the test of Hamas's Palestinian-ness, as it were, has nothing to do with its popularity. The test is whether it actually believes in something called Palestine. There is scant evidence that it does.
The Opinion Journal Widget

Download Opinion Journal's widget and link to the most important editorials and op-eds of the day from your blog or Web page.

Bear in mind that there has never previously been an independent state by that name; politically, it remains a notional place. The idea of a Palestinian people, referring to the Arab inhabitants of the land, is also of relatively recent vintage. (The late, great Israeli pianist David Bar-Ilan, my predecessor as editor of the Jerusalem Post, was known, as a Jewish child during the British Mandate, as the "Palestinian piano prodigy.")

This isn't to deny, as Golda Meir famously did, the existence of a Palestinian people. But it is to say that a Palestinian people -- as opposed to merely an Arab one -- exists only as a kind of counterpart, perhaps a twin, to the Israeli people. Put simply: No Israel, no Palestine.

That's why the creation of the Palestinian Authority, on the basis of the 1993 Oslo Accords, could only happen once Yasser Arafat's PLO had recognized Israel's right to exist. Israel later learned, at great cost, that Arafat's "recognition" had been a lie. Yet the principle remains valid regardless of the lie.

Hamas, to its perverse credit, does not lie, at least not on fundamental issues. It has never accepted the Oslo Accords. It is sworn to Israel's destruction. Its charter is nakedly and aggressively anti-Semitic; no fig leaf of "anti-Zionism" there. The closest it has ever come to terms with the Jewish state is the offer of a long-term hudna, on the model of the Prophet's 10-year truce with the tribes of seventh century Arabia. "Anyone who thinks Hamas will change is wrong," said supreme leader Khaled Mashal in 2006. Could he be any clearer?

Of course, Hamas enjoys "democratic legitimacy" by virtue of its parliamentary victory in January 2006. And with the quiet expiration last week of Mahmoud Abbas's presidential term, it is the only Palestinian party that enjoys such legitimacy. But this turns out to be no legitimacy at all, since Hamas refuses to recognize the legal basis of the Authority it purports to represent. And this is to say nothing of the putsch through which Hamas came to power in Gaza.

Still, it isn't merely Israel's right to exist, or the Palestinian Authority's, that Hamas denies. It denies Palestine's as well.
In Today's Opinion Journal


* The Clinton Business
* Estates of Pain
* Three Medals of Freedom


* Main Street: What Obama Could Learn From Cheney
– William McGurn


* We're All Keynesians Again
– George Melloan
* Freedom Is Still the Winning Formula
– Terry Miller
* Let's Spend on Broadband and the Power Grid
– Samuel J. Palmisano

The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is merely an affiliate, has never been keen on the concept of the nation-state. Hamas's charter describes the land of Palestine as an "Islamic Waqf," or trust, "consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day." Hamas's charming slogan -- "God is [Hamas's] target, the Prophet is its model, the Quran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of God is the loftiest of its wishes" -- is tellingly silent on the subject of Palestine.

This isn't so different from the old Soviet model, which disdained nationalism in theory even if it made use of it in practice (and sometimes vice versa). It is nearly identical in its totalitarian aspirations. Above all, Hamas is a revolutionary movement, similar in spirit, if not theology, to Khomeini's revolution in Iran, or Lenin's in Russia.

It's easy to understand why so many Palestinians would be keen to join the movement: What comparable form of moral and political transcendence can a little Palestinian state offer? But in choosing Hamas and the fantasy of pan-Islamism over secular Palestinian alternatives, they are also choosing to abandon Palestine itself. Good luck to them with their corner of the caliphate.

Western pundits and policy experts are now in full-throat about the threat that Israel's war in Gaza poses to the possibility of a two-state solution. It's a shopworn lament. That solution always depended on the willingness of Israelis and Palestinians to treat their conflict as a territorial one, amenable to the drawing of borders, rather than a religious one. Israel made its preferences clear with its Gaza withdrawal. As for the Palestinians, the people who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity have missed one, again.

Write to

No comments: