What Makes Hamas Tick, and Why Israel Fails to Understand It

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, I remember constant admonitions to try harder to “understand” al-Qaeda. While these admonitions usually came from Osama bin Laden’s apologists, this does not mean they were wrong. A better understanding of the jihadists might have helped to prevent the attacks, or to improve American responses. The same is true regarding Hamas, which, Michael Milstein explains, Israel seriously misread in the months before October 7:

Inside Hamas, there are no clear distinctions among social, military, and political activity; ambiguities are deliberately created to blur those distinctions. The questions raised in Israel over three decades and a half: is Hamas a terror organization, a political party, or a social movement? Answer: all of the above. Is it more Palestinian or more Islamic? Answer: it is both. Is there a difference between its political and military wings? Answer: this is another myth that the movement seeks to perpetuate.

Thus, for the last sixteen years Israelis came to describe an intense divide within Hamas between the polarized aspects of “resistance” (muqawwamah) on one hand and governance on the other, along with the claim that the movement assigns growing priority to the demands of the latter due to its new duties as a sovereign, and particularly the need to take care of the heavily burdened and needy Gazan population. In fact, during this past decade and a half Hamas deliberately avoided any such choice, and handled both poles with equal attention: managing the sewage in Gaza while also investing in a military buildup and preparation for a doomsday war with Israel.

The analysts and pundits still fail to understand that for Hamas, the duty of jihad is paramount. . . . Instead of cracking open the enemy’s logic, and carefully reading its value system which reflects a different model of rationality, many of the analysts and pundits were projecting their own logic upon [Gaza’s ruler Yahya] Sinwar, effectively playing chess with themselves.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas


Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood