NDTV Exclusive: How Can Hamas Be Brought To Justice Without Harming Gazans

NDTV Exclusive: How Can Hamas Be Brought To Justice Without Harming Gazans

New Delhi:

Thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge in southern Gaza after the Israeli army issued a warning about an imminent ground invasion. Since last week’s surprise attack by the Palestinian group Hamas, which killed over 1,300 people, Israel has unleashed its fury on the Gaza Strip in an attempt to eradicate Hamas, root and stem.

As things escalate by the hour, NDTV spoke with Simon Mabon, Professor of International Politics at Lancaster University and author of multiple books on the Middle East, to understand the status quo and what the future might hold for the region.

Will calling it the “Israel-Palestine War” be a fair assessment of the situation?

This is a conflict that plays out within the context of societies beset by division. Israeli society is increasingly dominated by the right-wing settler movements and their political allies such as Benjamin Netanyahu and Itamar Ben-Gvir which seek to shape Israeli society in accordance with their view. They are violently opposed to a strand of Palestinian society led by Hamas but which encapsulates many more in a broader attempt to galvanise the resistance struggle.

That being said, many Palestinians do not support Hamas. They condemn the violence against civilians. They express concern about Hamas’s growing popularity as it does not have a great deal of political legitimacy within the West Bank. And yet, it has captured support by virtue of positioning itself in the vanguard of resistance.

As a result of this, the conflict is consuming all parts of Palestinian and Israeli society even when it is not a war between Israel and Palestine. It is a complex and multifaceted conflict. It is a war over control, a war against terrorism, a struggle over occupation, and a fight against a system described by Israeli human rights organisations such as B’Tselem as an “apartheid system”.

Can Hamas be described as ‘freedom fighters’ and do they accurately represent the overall Palestinian cause for liberation?

Hamas is a complex political entity that encompasses daily efforts to regulate life in Gaza, attempts to increase legitimacy and influence in the West Bank, and a resistance component that is often captured under the banner of ‘freedom fighters’.

But it also uses tactics that have been viewed as terrorism. The killing of Israeli citizens and civilians in the past week falls under that banner of terrorist activity. But for Hamas, and for many Palestinians, it participates in a broader struggle for freedom, for liberation, and a resistance struggle against an occupation and a 16-year-long blockade.

Many Palestinians do not support Hamas. They have expressed serious concerns about the ways in which Hamas operates politically, especially in the West Bank, and at violence against civilians.

As Israel bombs Gaza and Gazans flee to safety, how does this situation affect the West Bank which has been put under a similar blockade?

We have seen the West Bank being under occupation since 1967. We have seen settler movements beginning to push at the fabric of the Israeli state, trying to expand into Palestinian territories. We know that they have a particular ideological vision of what the state of Israel should look like which is illegal under international law.

In the past, the Israeli state has pushed back against that but more recently with the right-wing government, the rising influence of hardline politicians, and the religious right, there has been growing support for settlers. Recently, the Israeli national security minister Ben-Gvir declared that he has purchased 10,000 assault rifles to be given to civilian security groups, including settlers.

So the occupation of the West Bank continues. The regulation of life under conditions that Settler violence against Palestinians continues, and this will almost certainly escalate in light of what has been happening in Gaza and in Israel.

For those who are not familiar, how close were we to peace and how much of a blowback is the current crisis?

The facts on the ground such as Israeli settler movements, the occupation of the West Bank, and the blockade of Gaza mean facts on the ground will prohibit any type of political agreement along the lines of the Oslo Accords. Until there is a curtailing of settlement processes or until there is a return of Palestinian lands that have been taken over by settlers, the scope for a political solution is limited.

There also needs to be a more vibrant, more legitimate Palestinian leadership. The present Palestinian Authority (PA) has little credibility. In light of that, and given the power asymmetries, peace is a long way away.

How much support, both civilian and political, does Hamas have among Palestinians?

Hamas was elected in Gaza so it has a lot of support there and for its position against Israel. But in the West Bank, where the majority of the Palestinians reside, there is less support and it has not managed to achieve the same level of success.

Before this, there were growing tensions between various Palestinian factions, and rising frustrations against Hamas’s actions in the West Bank. But by virtue of their attack, and taking their fight to the occupying forces, they have gained a great deal of legitimacy and authority amongst Palestinians because they are seen as keeping the resistance alive.

Does the PA have any real authority and what is their relationship now with the Palestinian people?

The PA wields very little authority and is unable to curtail any type of actions from Hamas for fearing to be condoning the occupation. There are no serious claims to legitimacy from actors within the PA aside from Mahmoud Abbas, but even he does not have the same level of legitimacy that others such as Yasser Arafat has in the past.

How can you extract justice from Hamas without harming the civilian population of Palestine?

It is incredibly difficult because of the nature of the urban landscape of Gaza. Hamas is firmly embedded within Gaza so any effort to extract forms of justice from the organisation will directly and indirectly harm the population of the region.

Gaza is one of the most densely populated urban areas on the planet and has been under a blockade for 16 years. It has had huge pressure in terms of access to water, electricity, food, and the basic infrastructure needed for rebuilding. Because of the dense population, Hamas is deeply embedded within daily life there. So attacks on Hamas will almost certainly incur civilian casualties.

There is also a degree of how you differentiate between a Hamas operative or a Hamas sympathiser in light of the shift in contours in Gaza right now. Some people are standing up for Hamas because they are standing against Israel. They do not necessarily condone the actions of Hamas but in light of the occupation, the group is gaining more support. Others have taken up arms to defend their homes and families without necessarily supporting Hamas.

Israel is pushing to not contain but obliterate Gaza. Is there any possibility of backing out and sitting with Palestinian leaders for a fresh round of peace talks?

The increasing right-wing nature of Israeli politics, the fragile nature of Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest coalition, and the rising influence of settler movements and the religious right mean there is little to no chance of Israel engaging with Palestinian leaders on peace or any type of political settlement without a good degree of international pressure from the likes of the United States.

But even then, the US has professed widespread support for Israel and its “war on terror”. As a result, we are going to see widespread devastation in Gaza.

Is the idea of a two-state solution dead?

The two-state solution is moribund. Palestine is not recognised as a state by a vast majority of countries in the international community. And the facts on the ground prohibit a diplomatic resolution. As a result, a two-state solution is not viable until Palestine is recognised as a state.

A creative solution is needed to find lasting peace.

What are the wider implications of the war not just on the region but the world?

The war is having a serious impact on the ways in which Palestinians around the world are able to express their frustrations at the occupation. There have been calls to criminalise any type of pro-Palestinian support in France. There has been a similar call to do the same in the United Kingdom. That, of course, has huge implications for political expression and support for the Palestinian cause, and conversely, global pressure against Israel both in terms of the occupation and the military engagement that it is undertaking in Gaza right now.

I think that is contributing in a sense as well to a broader revival of anti-Muslim tensions that we saw during the “global war on terror”. Similarly, anti-Semitic attacks have been on the rise.

It is a particularly worrying time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button