Both Israel and America are facing a huge conundrum vis-à-vis Hamas and other radical Islamic groups. Are they legitimate participants in the democratic process about to unfold in the Palestinian territories? Should non-democratic organizations be permitted to participate in democratic elections, and potentially to come to power? We are also left with room for “interpretation” on Israeli policy towards Hamas. Sharon’s recent statements have been oblique at best when he talks about Hamas saying, “if the organization participates in the elections, it will be a negative development, and we see a danger to the continuation of the peace process.” But he also stressed to members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that “the elections are an internal Palestinian matter that we cannot prevent.”
Ideologically speaking, Hamas descends from the Muslim Brotherhood – the group responsible for putting anti-American/Israel on its flag. Islamism is rooted in the writings of the Brotherhood. The notion that Hamas will have the opportunity to show its political strength in the upcoming elections in January is mind-boggling. This bizarre development exemplifies how a non-state group – one that is nothing like a ‘political party’ – uses the rhetoric of democracy to infiltrate a state-like entity to become the governing power.
Hamas is both an Islamic and Islamist organization, and demonstrates how the logic and obligations of the religion flow directly – and perhaps inevitably – into the latter. Hamas works under the guise of charity (zakat) to promote its agenda, and it also known for using hospitals and medical treatment centers to hold meetings and hide its arsenal of explosives, thereby compromising the integrity of these facilities.
In addition Hamas practices dawa – what Muslims call “inviting others to Islam,” an obligatory duty (fard) for Muslims of all sects and degrees of (im)moderation. In reality, this is proselytizing, in which Hamas’ version of Islam encourages the faithful to achieve at any cost. As such, dawa operatives’ willingly volunteer their homes which become safe-houses for fugitives and their cars as escape vehicles. Using Islam’s mandates for social welfare and kindness has become Hamas’ signature. As terrorism expert Matthew Levitt writes, “the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development – the primary Hamas front organization in the United States until its closure in December 2001 noted that Hamas’ ‘benevolent programs’ …‘are used to enhance its image and earn goodwill in the Palestinian community.’”
Given these deliberate manipulations of Islam, we must ask ourselves whether it is sensible to hold negotiations with countries run by al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The willingness to use Islam as a means of terror is exceeded only by hatred of the West and Israel, however disguised it may be at any given moment. Islamists and jihadist ideology doesn’t recognize or accept the West; their goal is to destroy it, not work with it. Accepting Hamas as a legitimate legal political party means accepting a sworn enemy as an equal partner in a political process they have sworn to destroy, from the inside and the outside.
This debate also skirts the issue of reform with regard to Islamist groups: are they actually even capable of running a state? Hamas has not progressed in that direction as it still does not recognize Israel, America or – for that matter – the Palestinian Authority (PA) as the main body of Palestinian representation. A victory by Hamas means simply another revolutionary group actually taking charge, Islamist rather than the PLO, and this is the last thing Palestinians or Israelis need.
As usual, the “official” Palestinians want to have it both ways, indicating strongly that they share Hamas’ goals. On the one hand, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who has been working on co-opting Hamas, criticized Ariel Sharon for saying that Israel “will do whatever is possible to impose difficulties on the movement of Hamas members on Election Day.” Abbas called this “flagrant intervention” in internal Palestinian affairs. On the other hand, he has met the challenges to his own party and leadership from Hamas weakly. Agreeing to treat Hamas as political party de facto means that the West and the Palestinians are surrendering to terrorism.
Internationally speaking, Hamas has already managed to attain a status of an NGO (non-governmental organizations) by infiltrating the ranks of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency). There they guide the educational system taught to Palestinian children by UNRWA as well as use UNRWA vehicles to transport explosives and suicide bombers. As the former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N., Dore Gold, illustrates, “UNRWA schools were ‘greenhouses for suicide bomber’…UNRWA graduates like Ibrahim Maqadama, who founded the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1983 and helped create the military structure of Hamas and Salah Mustafa Shehada, another Hamas leader. At least forty-six terrorist operatives were students in UNRWA schools.”
UNRWA runs 27 refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, and another 32 camps in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It calculates almost four million Palestinians as refugees, including those whose grandparents never saw “Palestine.” There is no wonder why simultaneously the support for Hamas continues to grow.
Hamas is everything an NGO isn’t; it is a grassroots initiative/charity/NGO that wants to perpetuate the status quo, and like the PLO in its golden days benefit from it. And both couldn’t run a state if they wanted to. We have already seen the process in Iran, which supports the Islamist model of governance similar to what Hamas would like to build, an Islamic revolutionary regime that is massively corrupt, brutally repressive, and irrepressibly aggressive. Algeria also exemplifies this, albeit in an interrupted way; when Salafists were permitted to run in an open election they won, causing the military to step in and creating a civil war and hundreds of thousands of death.
All of the above should remind us not to forget that Hamas and al-Qaeda are one and the same. Hamas may be local and al-Qaeda global but they are two sides of the same coin. If we are truly committed to cracking down on terrorism, we should stand up and prevent Hamas from gaining political credibility. In sum, given the growing support for Islamism in the Arab World we face a dire situation whereas the Islamists use democracy as tool for promoting their ideology. UNRWA is already a liability given the fact that they have been tainted by Hamas let’s make sure that they do not have the opportunity to taint an entire government.