Building Hamas


On the 8th of October, an angry article appeared in The Times of IsraelFor years, Netanyahu propped up Hamas. Now it’s blown up in our faces, or so ran the headline. One has to read some way into the article to discover that it was not only Netanyahu-led governments that followed the policy of “propping up Hamas.” Presumably, The Times of Israel is part of the extensive opposition to Netanyahu, but that does not diminish the seriousness of the charges.

What was the point?

The idea was to prevent Abbas — or anyone else in the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank government — from advancing toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.

That’s it in a nutshell. Remember that Fatah, the party originally of Yassar Arafat, and now of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was and remains a secular party, originally influenced by National Liberation ideology and its Marxian leanings, whereas the group carefully cultivated by the Israelis to split the Palestinians is an Islamist organisation springing from the Muslim Brotherhood, not that anyone in the West needs to be reminded of the ideology of Hamas. Hamas’ constitution demands the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, and the creation of a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea.” Hamas’ ruling Gaza is a guarantee of perpetual armed conflict between Israel and Gaza. In the limited wars of 2009, 2012 and 2014, around a dozen Israeli and 2000 Palestinian civilians were killed. Israeli figures who maintain this policy refer to these outbreaks, cynically, as “mowing the grass.” It is just the price that must be paid, in this fallen world, to stymie efforts towards a two-state solution. And the price is paid mainly by Palestinians.

It isn’t as though the dependency relationship between Hamas and successive Israeli governments has not been widely known, and criticised by many within the Israeli establishment. In 2018, Mehdi Hasan and Dina Sayedahmed at The Intercept published a short video and accompanying article in the Blowback video series, called Blowback: How Israel Went From Helping Create Hamas To Bombing It. Israeli support for the fledgling organisation of Sheik Ahmed Yassin began in 1978, long before the official creation of Hamas in 1987 at the time of the First Intifada. Yassin was later assassinated in an Israeli airstrike.

Earlier still, in 2014, the Washington Post published a story How Israel helped create Hamas, covering much of the same ground.

Egypt lost control of Gaza to Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war… In 1966, Nasser had executed Sayyid Qutb, one of the Brotherhood’s leading intellectuals. The Israelis saw Qutb’s adherents in the Palestinian territories, including the wheelchair-bound Sheik Ahmed Yassin, as a useful counterweight to Arafat’s PLO.
“When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake,” one Israeli official…said in a 2009 interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Higgins. “But at the time nobody thought about the possible results.”

Yassin’s organisation Mujama al-Islamiya, approved by the Israeli authorities in Gaza, set up a network of schools, clinics, kindergartens, a library, and later, the Islamic University of Gaza. Such activities, in contrast to the increasingly corrupt Fatah, won great support for Mujama; support which transferred to Hamas. Up to this point, Israeli authorities might be forgiven for not appreciating the potential dangers. But the Washington Post report includes this ambiguous gem.

Israel jailed Yassin in 1984 on a 12-year sentence after the discovery of hidden arms caches, but he was released a year later. The Israelis must have been more worried about other enemies.

Hasan’s report at The Intercept refers to a number of Israelis who, by the mid-80s, were warning about the dangers of the policy regarding Yassin. One of them, Avner Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew, had been responsible for religious affairs in Gaza up until 1994. In 2009 he was interviewed for the Wall Street Journal, presumably the one mentioned in the Washington Post article. He said, “Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” and called it an “enormous, stupid mistake” made 30 years previously. (See this item at Huffington Post.) According to Hasan, Cohen wrote a report in the mid-80s, urging that the policy be abandoned.

Yet a blind eye was turned to Yassin’s development of an armed force. By 2006, Hamas was in a position to win the election against Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Over the course of 2006 and 2007, Hamas fought against the PA, and drove them out of Gaza, realising the hopes of many in Israel to split the Palestinians, not only politically, but territorially.

Despite this seeming policy triumph, it seems that in the nine years since Operation Protective Edge the grass grew pretty high.

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18 responses to “Building Hamas”

  1. Bespoke Avatar
    Bespoke

    Thanks for the background info, Peter.

  2. dover0beach Avatar

    Apropos the above:

    This might be the best explanation I heard for “why Oct 7” and, surprisingly, it comes from Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service, and commander-in-chief of the Navy.

  3. Vagabond Avatar
    Vagabond

    It was a similar situation to the US backing the mujahadeen in Afghanistan because they saw them as fighting the Russians. That came back to bite them big time. If it’s not too late I hope what we can generically call Western powers have learnt the lesson that there is no partnership possible with Islamists despite temporarily having common enemies.

  4. Katzenjammer Avatar
    Katzenjammer

    When Israel withdrew in 2005 Gaza was left under the administration of the PA, not under Hamas. The US insisted on holding an election against the advice of Israel.

    Another aspect -The period when Hamas planned this was during the term of Bennett and Lapid, the gap in the series of elections between Netanyahu terms, including a year ago when Israeli military and intelligence knew of it. Within a week of Netanyahu regaining office in late December last year, the divisive protests began. Heads of military and intelligence made public apologies but Netanyahu hasn’t appologised. It’s possible that due to the divisions over judicial reform, Netanyahu was never advised of Hamas’s plans.

  5. Katzenjammer Avatar
    Katzenjammer

    The assessment by Ami Ayalon reads as though he retrofitted premises and argument in order to reach a predetermined conclusion. The “two state solution”, according the Arafat after Oslo, would give Palestinians a stronger platform for their “final solution”. The autonomy of Gaza demonstrates the folly of that idea. The two state solution of the Mandate for Palestine was implemented a century ago with the river Jordan as the dividing border.

  6. Roger Avatar
    Roger

    The assessment by Ami Ayalon reads as though he retrofitted premises and argument in order to reach a predetermined conclusion.

    I also don’t think his attribution of causation to Israel stands up ethically or philosophically.

  7. Katzenjammer Avatar
    Katzenjammer

    I also don’t think his attribution of causation to Israel stands up ethically or philosophically.

    I’m not well versed in those areas. Would you like to expand on “ethically and philosophically”. Ami Ayalon doesn’t attribute any part of it to volition initiated by Palestinians, only to their reactions to Israeli acts. That alone shows his view is informed by the paradigm of “passive victims and oppressors”. Palestinians have been taking part in actively determining their own fate.

    Allowing transfer of funds from Qatar and permits to work in Israel were based on the idea that prosperity would both improve general conditions in Gaza, and separately grant approved individuals something they would not want to lose. That seems very ethical.

    Israelis in general are thoroughly sick of having to deal with Palestinians, at the same time as wishing they would build state like institutions so Israelis can drop treating them as a thorn in their side, and relate to them as neighbours.

  8. Katzenjammer Avatar
    Katzenjammer

    and separately grant approved individuals higher paid work in Israel something they would not want to lose

  9. Roger Avatar
    Roger

    I’m not well versed in those areas. Would you like to expand on “ethically and philosophically”. Ami Ayalon doesn’t attribute any part of it to volition initiated by Palestinians, only to their reactions to Israeli acts.

    I certainly would, but it deserves more time and consideration than I can give to it at present.

    I will respond further tomorrow, Katz.

  10. Katzenjammer Avatar
    Katzenjammer

    @Roger, thanks, and I’ll give your expansion time to brew over it.

  11. Katzenjammer Avatar
    Katzenjammer

    @dover

    Over the course of 2006 and 2007, Hamas fought against the PA, and drove them out of Gaza, realising the hopes of many in Israel to split the Palestinians, not only politically, but territorially.

    Israel didn’t want the election in Gaza that was forced by the US. By 2005 Israel was well aware of Hamas and its Charter and aims. After withdrawal in Aug/Sept 2005 Israel assumed and wanted Gaza to be administered by the PA, especially with the hope on Arafat’s death a few months short of a year previous in November 2004 that the PA might revise its aims. So, the evidence disputes that Israel initiated installation of Hamas “to split the Palestinians, not only politically, but territorially”. That doesn’t dispute that Israeli policy after Hamas gained power didn’t persue the division policy at some time later, but Israel didn’t initiate and was initially against that level of authority for Hamas.

  12. Roger Avatar
    Roger

    @Roger, thanks, and I’ll give your expansion time to brew over it.

    I’m not promising a thesis, mind you. 😀

  13. Katzenjammer Avatar
    Katzenjammer

    Just brief signposts as hints is enough. If I can’t follow it up myself then I most likely wouldn’t understand a long exposition. That’s what I’ve found with others, and most likely for me too. We usually can’t appreciate views we wouldn’t have realised ourselves when given the right promptings.

  14. Roger W Avatar
    Roger W

    I also think it important to not forget that, throughout the whole period since the end of World War II the Israelis have been severely hampered by the West – first, by the British, in establishing a homeland at all, then by the USA in particular and Europe generally, in effectively dealing with threats to the existence of Israel. After 1967 and 1974 in particular Israel would have continued to smash the opposition but was forced to stop short. Same for dealings with Lebanon. Israel has always had to try to come up with second best solutions as a result. I get the impression they have finally got fed up with this and intend to keep going against Hamas.

  15. Peter West Avatar
    Peter West

    @katz

    From the Times of Israel article.

    Most of the time, Israeli policy was to treat the Palestinian Authority as a burden and Hamas as an asset. Far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich, now the finance minister in the hardline government and leader of the Religious Zionism party, said so himself in 2015.

    According to various reports, Netanyahu made a similar point at a Likud faction meeting in early 2019, when he was quoted as saying that those who oppose a Palestinian state should support the transfer of funds to Gaza, because maintaining the separation between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

    A video of Bezalel Smotrich’s 2015 comments is available. Note: 2015.

  16. Katzenjammer Avatar
    Katzenjammer

    So, the evidence disputes that Israel initiated installation of Hamas “to split the Palestinians, not only politically, but territorially”. That doesn’t dispute that Israeli policy after Hamas gained power didn’t persue the division policy at some time later, but Israel didn’t initiate and was initially against that level of authority for Hamas.

  17. Vicki Avatar
    Vicki

    In 1966, Nasser had executed Sayyid Qutb, one of the Brotherhood’s leading intellectuals. The Israelis saw Qutb’s adherents in the Palestinian territories, including the wheelchair-bound Sheik Ahmed Yassin, as a useful counterweight to Arafat’s PLO.

    It is hard to believe that the Israelis would in any way see the followers of Sayyid Qutb as anything other than jackals. Sayyib Qutb is perhaps one of the most venomous advocates of Islamic jihad in modern times.

  18. jupes Avatar
    jupes

    I get the impression they have finally got fed up with this and intend to keep going against Hamas.

    You can bet your arse on it. Israel have never been allowed to defeat their enemies comprehensively. This time is different.

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