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.
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