Israel and Hamas: A chance for peace?

There are signs that Hamas may be ready to forego its plans to destroy Israel and move toward political accommodation.

The Arab League peace initiative was presented in Beirut, in 2002 (photo credit: REUTERS)
The Arab League peace initiative was presented in Beirut, in 2002
(photo credit: REUTERS)
HAMAS’S OVERARCHING ideology according to its 1988 charter is both anti-Israel and anti-Semitic: It calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and the extermination of its Jewish inhabitants. Not surprisingly, therefore, many Israeli Jews believe that was Hamas’s strategic goal in the recent Gaza war.
It is, however, more reasonable to assume that the aim of the cross-border attack tunnels was to abduct IDF soldiers or take over Israeli civilian communities for bargaining purposes – to force Israel to lift the siege on Gaza and free Palestinian prisoners. It is also more reasonable to assume that rather than to destroy Israel, the internal network of tunnels and the rocket arsenal were intended for defense and deterrence against a possible Israeli offensive.
Indeed, from Hamas’s point of view, its military strategy was successful: It withstood an offensive by elite IDF troops, killed more than 60 Israeli soldiers, disrupted civilian life in Israel, closed down the country’s only international airport for two days, hurt Israel’s economy and seriously undermined its international standing.
Will these “successes” encourage Hamas to adhere to its overarching ideological-strategic goals? On the face of it, yes. In actual fact, no.
Hamas is well aware of the preponderance of power in the IDF’s favor; the high death toll and vast destruction in Gaza; and the hostility of major Arab players like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, there are signs that Hamas, like the PLO before it, may be ready to forego its plans to destroy Israel and move towards political accommodation.
As far back as 1997, Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin offered Israel a 30-year hudna or truce – and it is reasonable to assume that in negotiations with Israel now Hamas will be ready to accept a relatively long hudna or tadiya (lull). But even if the siege is lifted and prisoners are released, it is highly unlikely to meet Israeli demands for the demilitarization of Gaza. It might agree to international arms monitoring – not demilitarization – in return for a seaport and an airport.
On the other hand, Hamas may be prepared to demilitarize and suspend its destructive ideology in the context of a comprehensive peace deal achieved in coordination with the Palestinian Authority.
As a religious and nationalist Palestinian movement, Hamas would be hard-pressed to reject the establishment of a sovereign demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital and including Palestinian control of the mosques on the Temple Mount. In fact, Hamas spokesmen have already agreed to this, subject to a nationwide referendum.
It is unlikely, however, that the current Israeli government will seize the opportunity. It rejects concessions on Jerusalem without which no deal with the Palestinians or the wider Arab and Muslim worlds is possible. The recently formed PA-Hamas reconciliation government of national unity presented a chance for a significant move toward a two-state solution, with both the PA and Hamas on board. But Israel refused to negotiate with it. The sad truth, therefore, is that even if there is an interim solution with Hamas on Gaza, all we can expect are more rounds of violence, war and bloodshed, as well as another intifada in the West Bank.
The IDF is capable of reconquering Gaza, eliminating the Hamas leadership and destroying its military infrastructure, but at great cost to both sides. And how would Israel then rule 1.8 million Gazans, provide them with food, health and education, as well as dignity and hope? And how would it suppress their national aspirations and prevent the reemergence of Hamas or other even more radical forces, like the various offshoots of al-Qaida? Nor would Israel be able to empower the PA in Gaza without a comprehensive peace deal. PA President Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t collaborate against the wishes of the majority in Gaza. And as for the governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, they are ready to establish a tactical alliance with Israel against Hamas but not against the people of Gaza.
For a sustainable strategic alliance between Israel and the regional moderates against the Sunni Jihadists and the Iranian-led Shia, Israel will have to resurrect a credible peace process with the Palestinians, preferably based on the recently reendorsed Saudi/ Arab League peace initiative of 2002, and leading to a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Turkey and Qatar are likely to support such a process and help persuade Hamas to go along with it.
A solution of this kind would help reduce the degree of anti- Semitism in the Arab and Muslim worlds and in Europe. It would also help consolidate Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. 
Moshe Maoz is professor emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem