Fighting long-term wars against totalitarians and terrorists is always a difficult task for Western societies because such conflicts require the sort of resolution that is always bound to flag over time. There is always the tendency, especially among our intellectuals, to begin to reinterpret our enemies and to project our own values and interests onto their very different perspectives. That was true during the long twilight struggle against communism and the Soviet Union, and it is just as true during what may prove to be an equally lengthy struggle against Islamism. It is in this context that we should view the flurry of reports about the possibility of the Hamas terrorist movement changing its character and adopting non-violence and pursuing peace.
That’s the conceit behind an article in The National Interest titled “A new Hamas in the Making?” which cites no less an authority than Jane’s military publications that the Islamist group is making a “strategic” shift in strategy which aims at repositioning Gaza’s overlords as legitimate Arab players on the stage of Middle East diplomacy. But, as Jonathan Schanzer points out in a far more valuable article in The Weekly Standard, this may have more to do with the group’s need to adapt themselves to the dictates of their funders than any change in philosophy. Though some of the sound bites coming out of Gaza may seem to promise moderation or even non-violence, the expectation that Hamas is prepared to live in peace with Israel or drop the Jew-hatred that is at the core of its worldview is the product of a campaign of deception that ought not to be taken at face value.
There is no question that Iran’s financial situation and the crackup of the Assad regime in Syria has affected Hamas’ strategic position. The steady flow of money and arms from those two countries has slowed, and if Bashar Assad is forced to step down or flee Damascus, Hamas, which has made the Syrian capital its regional headquarters, doesn’t want to be making a last-minute escape with him. But luckily for the terrorist group, Turkey appears to be willing to step into this potential void to not only keep Hamas officials in cash but also to lend a cloak of diplomatic respectability to their misrule of Gaza.
As Schanzer writes,
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised $300 million to the Gaza-based terrorist organization Hamas. If true, this pledge would cover nearly half of Hamas’ reported $769 million budget next year, and would make Turkey its primary benefactor.
But neither that report nor Bilal Y. Saab’s claim in the National Interest that Hamas will drop terrorism as part of its unity pact with Fatah should lead anyone to think that what we are seeing is a genuine evolution of the group. It should be remembered, as Schanzer points out, that Hamas has had other principal funders before Iran took them on early in the last decade. It was founded as a branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudis and other Gulf monarchies bankrolled them prior to 9/11 and a spate of Islamist terror attacks on the conservative kingdoms. But while Hamas has shifted its tactics as its sponsors changed along with the quality of their arsenal (from suicide bombings to primitive rockets to the more sophisticated weaponry that now faces Israel’s southern border), what hasn’t changed is the organization’s commitment to the destruction of the Jewish state.
Saab believes what is happening is part of an effort to create a united Palestinian front encompassing Fatah that will force the United States and the rest of the West to stop calling Hamas a terrorist group. Turkish sponsorship of Hamas may further weaken Western resolve on this issue, though Schanzer is skeptical about just how far Ankara will go out on a limb for the Islamist group.
Liberals and others who are always quick to seize on any indication of moderation on the part of Israel’s foes will claim this is progress and the world should welcome the change in Hamas with open arms. But this is not something that those who truly want peace for the region should be cheering.
What is going on here is not the transformation of a radical and violent group but a clever ploy whose purpose is to facilitate Hamas’ takeover of the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank. Nothing in these moves indicates that the group has changed its ideological commitment to cleansing the region of Jews and eradicating Israel. Nor has it dropped its Islamist agenda in terms of completing the transformation of Palestinian life from a largely secular society to one solely guided by fundamentalist Islam. Just as the unity pact with Fatah is a signal that peace with Israel is no longer possible in the foreseeable future, allowing Hamas to become a force in the West Bank is a guarantee of more violence and the spilling of more Israeli and Palestinian blood.
Rather than encouraging Turkey or other Arab states (which will host Hamas leader Ismail Haniya on a tour of the region in the coming weeks), to continue their flirtation with the group, the West must make it clear it is not deceived by this talk of moderation. No matter who is paying its bills or what it says in English when Western reporters are listening, a new Hamas will be just as destructive a force as the old one.