Stephen Chan: As Israeli Zionism began acquir­ing a greater and greater ortho­dox deter­mi­na­tion, a deter­mi­na­tion to expand bor­ders to what they were at the height of the Biblical sense of what had been Israel under­neath King Solomon, the response of the Arab states and the response of the Palestinians was very divid­ed. There was great resis­tance on the part of the Palestinian Liberation Organization of a mil­i­tary nature. And also there were pop­u­lar upris­ings of Palestinian peo­ple in the increas­ing amount of ter­ri­to­ries occu­pied by the Israelis.

But to no great effect. There was a great effort not so much on the part of estab­lished offi­cial states but on the part of Track II actors—that was non-official actors in the first instance—to estab­lish a future roadmap by which the two com­mu­ni­ties could live in some kind of ami­ty side by side. And these were encap­su­lat­ed in the so-called Oslo Accords that began in 1993, and what they called Oslo II in 1995, which had an offi­cial stamp upon them. 

These Oslo Accords divid­ed the occu­pied ter­ri­to­ries into three parts. Part C was meant to be under­neath Israeli con­trol, with a long-term inten­tion to return this to Palestinian con­trol. Plan B, or Territory B, was meant to be ter­ri­to­ry that was in joint admin­is­tra­tion. And only ter­ri­to­ry marked Category A was to be in full Palestinian con­trol. And these were a small num­ber of the great cities of the West Bank like Ramallah, which became the cap­i­tal of what they hoped would one day be a rec­og­nized Palestinian state, and a free Palestinian state.

Except that the Israelis dragged their feet in terms of trans­fer of ter­ri­to­ries, so that Territory C is almost now ful­ly col­o­nized by Jewish set­tle­ments. Territory B is one which is sub­ject to con­stant incur­sions by Israeli defense forces. And the tiny amounts of Category A land, even those are not immune from Israeli inter­ven­tion from time to time.

In the midst of all of this, togeth­er with the grow­ing jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of all of this in terms of reli­gious Zionism, the PLO became more and more cor­rupt. It became more and more inept. So that the rise of an alter­nate Palestinian par­ty became almost inevitable. And this was what led to Hamas as a move­ment of resis­tance and to Hamas as a polit­i­cal enti­ty that was able to orga­nize itself final­ly into a polit­i­cal par­ty. And then to fight and win par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Palestine in 2006.

The only prob­lem was that no one want­ed to hon­or a Hamas vic­to­ry at elec­tions that were regard­ed as free and fair. Least of all the United States, who regard­ed Hamas as a dan­ger­ous group. And least of all the Israelis, who also regard­ed Hamas as a dan­ger­ous group. Because of the Hamas dec­la­ra­tions and the Hamas Charter, which called upon the evac­u­a­tion of the ter­ri­to­ries occu­pied by Israel. Not just those that had been demar­cat­ed Palestinian ter­ri­to­ries, but for the Jewish state no longer to exist in the Middle East.

And if that was not enough, it was very very clear from the Hamas Charter that the orga­ni­za­tion saw itself not only as a nation­al­ist orga­ni­za­tion but very very much as an orga­ni­za­tion of jihad, as a reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion. To an extent this was inevitable, as ortho­dox Zionism acquired deep­er and deep­er reli­gious deter­mi­nance, so it was prob­a­bly inevitable that the Palestinian resis­tance should also acquire reli­gious deter­mi­nance. So that a polit­i­cal strug­gle which had led to par­tic­i­pa­tion in the inter­na­tion­al super­pow­er strug­gle now acquired also the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a reli­gious strug­gle which would mir­ror what has become today’s much larg­er sense of a clash between Christianity and Islam. To a cer­tain extent you could trace it all back to hav­ing begun in the Israeli-Palestinian stand­off. The Israeli response once again was to use mil­i­tary force. So that the assaults of a mil­i­tary nature on Hamas-controlled ter­ri­to­ry, 2008, 2009, 2012, and 2014—particular that of 2014—caused huge dam­age to Gaza. 

Now, the way Hamas came to be the con­trol­ling force in Gaza was one of strug­gle, one of betray­al, and one of internecine fight­ing with­in the Palestinian move­ment itself. Not wish­ing to hon­or the results of the 2006 elec­tions by which the PLO lost pow­er in par­lia­men­tary terms to Hamas, mil­i­tary strug­gle began and Hamas was basi­cal­ly dri­ven out despite its demo­c­ra­t­ic man­date from the West Bank, and relo­cat­ed to Gaza, which it was able to con­trol. The Israelis imme­di­ate­ly block­ad­ed Gaza. And one would have thought that there would been some sense of ease of pas­sage from Gaza to Egypt, which it bor­dered, the Egyptians hav­ing won back con­trol of those bor­der­lands dur­ing the 1973 war against Israel in which it had secured sig­nif­i­cant victories.

But the Egyptians, far from being coop­er­a­tive with the Palestinian cause in this instance, were deter­mined to main­tain from its side of the bor­der a block­ade to that mir­rored the Israeli block­ade on all oth­er points. And this is because the reli­gious ethos of Hamas mir­rored that of the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Egyptian state in its sec­u­lar, mil­i­ta­rized guise at that point in time was very very much antipa­thet­ic to the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Genuine democ­ra­cy not exist­ing in Egypt, the only means of polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion for the sake of resis­tance to the mil­i­ta­rized author­i­ties was by way of reli­gious defi­ance being able to be orga­nized through a nation­al net­work of mosques. So that gave it an insti­tu­tion­al imprint which allowed very very care­ful and stu­dious set­tings up of cells of resis­tance which one by one all the same the Egyptian mil­i­tary were able to crush. And one of the means of crush­ing it was to pre­vent it from hav­ing out­side allies, even an ally like Hamas in Gaza City. So that Gaza under Hamas became a city-state under con­stant siege on two fronts. An Israeli mar­itime block­ade com­plet­ed the encir­cling of this city-state.

Whether Hamas ran it well or not, it would still seem that there’s pop­u­lar sup­port for the par­ty in Gaza. Not least as an act of defi­ance, par­tic­u­lar­ly against Israeli aggres­sion and the car­nage that the Israelis have inflict­ed upon the ter­ri­to­ry on sev­er­al occa­sions. The overkill of the 2014 inva­sion was such that almost all the major insti­tu­tions includ­ing uni­ver­si­ties, includ­ing hos­pi­tals, includ­ing those fly­ing United Nations flags…the destruc­tion of all of those insti­tu­tions has ran­kled very very deeply in the hearts and the minds of the peo­ple who live in Gaza. And cer­tain­ly the acts of defi­ance that have used home­made rock­ets as means of attack­ing the Jewish state, usu­al­ly to no large effect, these have reaped a vengeance in the form of very very destruc­tive coun­ter­at­tacks on the part of the Israelis, which con­tin­ue to this day to do dam­age to such insti­tu­tion­al fab­ric as the Gaza city-state might have. 

So it had now become a prob­lem not only of can the Israelis and the Palestinians find a way for­ward? Can the Oslo Accords be hon­ored even though they’ve been cor­rupt­ed per­haps irre­triev­ably by the Israelis? Can these accords be res­cued despite the obvi­ous intent and ambi­tion on the part of Benjamin Netanyahu and his gov­ern­ment to extend the bor­ders of Israel to ful­fill the religiously-guided ide­al of an Israel that con­trols essen­tial­ly all the ter­ri­to­ry? Will final­ly the Palestinian enti­ty be con­fined to a small neck­lace of so-called free cities with­out any of the sur­round­ing hin­ter­land? Will one of these free cities be Gaza? And will the Palestinian quar­rel with­in the move­ment itself between Hamas and the Palestinian lib­er­a­tion orga­ni­za­tion Fatah, will that ever be rec­on­ciled? Can two basi­cal­ly poorly-organized, ide­al­is­tic in the first instance, increas­ing­ly cor­rupt in char­ac­ter of both of them, actu­al­ly be able to stand in an orga­nized, choate, and nego­ti­at­ing pos­ture with the pow­ers that be around them? At this moment in time, the odds are weighed very much against that pos­si­bil­i­ty, and siege and depri­va­tion look like­ly to continue. 

Hamas has made all kinds of sym­bol­ic move­ments to declar­ing itself more and more a sec­u­lar nation­al­ist move­ment as opposed to a pure­ly reli­gious one seek­ing the destruc­tion of Israel. All kinds of signs that it would be pre­pared to coop­er­ate with Israel if rea­son­able bor­ders could be estab­lished and respect­ed. The Israelis in a mood for expan­sion at this moment in time, with a mood of reli­gious des­tiny at this point in time, with a revived Zionism which is very very dif­fer­ent from Herzl’s orig­i­nal vision very much at the fore­front of people’s minds, are prob­a­bly deter­mined to take their Middle Eastern saga for­ward to the bit­ter end. It is not like­ly to be an end which is going to be hap­py, but it is an end which now, religiously-based or not, seems des­tined to come.

Further Reference

Religion and World Politics course information


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