Analysis from Israel

Hamas celebrated its 24th anniversary this week, and like any organization, it used the occasion to issue a press release detailing its achievements. So here, according to its own press release, are what Hamas considers its most notable achievements: It has killed 1,365 Israelis and wounded 6,411 since 1987. It has carried out 1,117 attacks on Israel, including 87 suicide bombings, and fired 11,093 rockets at Israel. And it has lost 1,848 of its own members to this noble cause.

Then, lest anyone fail to get the message, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh made it explicit at a mass rally to mark the anniversary. “Resistance is the way and it is the strategic choice to liberate Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea and to remove the invaders from the blessed land of Palestine,” Haniyeh said, making it clear there’s no room in his vision for a Jewish state in any borders. “Hamas … will lead the people towards uprising after uprising until all of Palestine is liberated.” And the crowd replied by chantingm “We will never recognize Israel.”

Hamas’ boasts are almost certainly exaggerated: It claims “credit” for more than 80 percent of all Israeli casualties since 1987, whereas Israeli data shows a much more equal distribution between Hamas and its rival, Fatah, aka Israel’s “peace partner.” But its eagerness to claim responsibility for more than its fair share of murders merely underscores the point that, far from being moderated by the responsibilities of governance, Hamas’ years in control of Gaza haven’t slaked its thirst for Israeli blood one whit.

There are several reasons why this ought to give pause to all those, from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to the New York Times, who routinely blame Israel for the impasse in the peace process. First, as Elliott Abrams noted, there’s little point in negotiating a peace agreement with half the Palestinian polity while the other half remains committed to Israel’s eradication, as that makes it unlikely a Palestinian state could actually deliver the promised peace.

More importantly, it’s hard to see how peace is possible when a sizable portion of the Palestinian public shares Hamas’ genocidal goals. About one-third of Palestinians (excluding the undecided) say they plan to vote Hamas in the next election. Even taken at face value, that’s a minority far too large to ignore, and in reality, the figure is probably larger: Polls also predicted a Fatah victory before the last election, which Hamas won handily.

Then there’s the fact that Israel’s “peace partner” feels it has enough in common with this genocidal organization to decide to form a unit government with it. That ought to cast doubt on Fatah‘s commitment to peace even among those untroubled by other evidence.

Finally, there’s what it says about the broader land-for-peace paradigm. Abrams argued that how newly-elected Islamist parties in other Arab countries respond to Hamas’s genocidal goals will be a good test of their intentions. But in one case, we already know the answer: Hamas announced last week that it was formally joining the Muslim Brotherhood, which, shortly after winning Egypt’s elections, has already announced plans to reconsider Egypt’s own peace with Israel. In other words, the change in government in Egypt is making that peace treaty look decidedly shaky; would a treaty signed with Fatah to create a state where Hamas could someday win power be more stable?

One can understand why many Westerners prefer to avert their eyes from these facts; Hamas’ naked bloodlust isn’t pretty. But if you really want to understand why the “peace process” has failed, you won’t find a more concise explanation than Hamas’ own press release.

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How Israel’s Electoral System Brings the Country’s Fringes Into Its Center

Like Haviv Rettig Gur in “How and Why Israelis Vote,” I, too, think the advantages of Israel’s parliamentary system outweigh its disadvantages, and for essentially the same reason: because it keeps a great many people in the political system who would otherwise remain outside it.

Critics of the system’s plethora of small parties—as Gur notes, no fewer than 43 parties have been vying for Knesset seats in this year’s election—maintain that it should be streamlined and redesigned so that only big parties would be able to enter the Knesset. In that case, the critics argue, people who currently vote for small parties would simply switch their votes to large ones.

No doubt, some voters would do so—but many others would not. There are at least three groups among whom turnout would plummet if niche parties became by definition unelectable: Arabs, Ḥaredim (including some ḥaredi Zionists), and the protest voters who, in every election, propel a new “fad” party into the Knesset. (In 2015, as Gur writes, the fad party was Kulanu. This year, it’s been Moshe Feiglin’s pro-marijuana, libertarian, right-wing Zehut party, which Gur doesn’t discuss although polls have consistently showed it gaining five to seven seats.)

Together, these three groups constitute roughly a third of the country, and all three are to some extent alienated from the mainstream. If they were no longer even participating in elections, that alienation would grow.

Why does this matter? In answering that question, I’ll focus mainly on Ḥaredim and Arabs, the most significant and also the most stable of the three groups (protest voters being by nature amorphous and changeable).

It matters primarily because people who cease to see politics as a means of furthering their goals are more likely to resort to violence. Indeed, it’s no accident that most political violence in Israel has issued from quarters outside the electoral system.

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