Before the European Union rushes to engage any “unity government” of the Palestinian Authority, the Hamas’ extremist religious views have to be carefully considered, and not glossed over due to political expediency. The Hamas’ “Islamist agenda” represents the latest paradigm in the ongoing conflict between the Arabs and the Jewish state of Israel, and presents itself as its greatest challenge.
Over the past 60 years, the Arab Middle East has witnessed the ebb and flow of various national leaders, the movements they represented, as well as their impact on the region, ranging from the bad to the utterly destructive. In the aftermath of the Second World War, while the rest of the world was happily celebrating the defeat of the Axis Powers, a portion of the Arab Middle East was still infatuated with the discredited ideology of their former German ally. The proponents of Pan-Arabism found an ideological cousin in the National Socialists. Both movements understood each other as natural allies and recognized their similarities: both of them were secular, cultural and nationalistic.
Pan-Arabism became the corner stone of the modern Ba’athist Party, culminating in the failed “Pan-Arab” state between Egypt and Syria, the United Arab Republic. The UAR was established by Egyptian President Gamal Abdner Nasser, and even enjoyed a measure of nationalistic support from the persecuted Communists and the Islamist movement of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to American Middle East scholar Martin Kramer, “secular Pan-Arabism came to an abrupt end with the humiliating Arab defeat by Israel ‘67, and ‘73 wars, and finally buried with Egypt’s recognition and subsequent peace treaty with Israel in 79”. Officially the Arab/Israeli war was over”.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed at the zenith of the pan-Arab movement in 1964, being a joint-venture creation between the Gamal Nasser and the Soviets. It came into full prominence with the demise of Pan-Arabism, and marked a new era, the beginning of the Palestinian/Israeli war. The PLO under the secular tutelage of Yasser Arafat sought to maintain a continual wave of terrorist violence, intending to wear down the Israeli public while deligitimizing the Jewish state of Israel on the international level. To help prolong the hostility towards Israel as well as counter any gains made by the Islamist Hamas movement, Arafat approved of mosques throughout the PA to be opened up to Islamist extremism, whose sermons for jihad against Jews and Israel rivalled that of the Hamas.
Although the PLO charter does not include the name of God, according to Martin Kramer, “there had always been an Islamist component to the “resistance” against Israel, but it had traditionally played a supporting role, first to the Arab states, and then to the PLO”. Ironically, although the two Palestinian movements are ideological opposites of the other; they share the same ideological goal of removing the Zionist entity from Muslim land. For the secularists, this represents a return to Pan-Arabism that ended with Sadat, for the Islamists, it means the purification of Muslim land and a step towards the return of the Caliphate. In any case, Yasser Arafat was to some degree responsible for the rise of Islamist extremism in the P.A. that would eventually come to take a leading role in the conflict with Israel. With the failure of Pan-Arabism, the defeat of both Intifadas, the death of Arafat as well as the decline of Fatah, a new dynamic has risen to the forefront in the Middle East conflict.
The Palestinian version of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, has made their Islamist agenda the focal point in the Palestinian conflict with Israel. This conflict can no longer be defined as being solely a political contest between the two sides. For the Palestinians, the conflict is now seen through a prism of Islamist extremism, where victories are won primarily for Islam, not for Arabs or Palestinians. From the Israeli side, the conflict is characterized by a period of political pessimistic realism, the cornerstone of Ariel Sharon’s policy of disengagement from the Palestinians.
Israel’s disengagement policy, which is currently under review due to continued violence, should be understood as a response to Islamist extremism in general, that as an intolerant ideology, it’s incapable of compromise and co-existence according to western morals and understandings. Such an ideology is traditionally an anathema to European/western values, deserving neither recognition nor EU funding, regardless of how much of a role it will play in any “unity government”.
Without concrete proof of the Hamas renouncing violence, accepting the right of Israel to exist, as well as accepting previous signed agreements, and without these three conditions being reflected both in the platforms of a new government and in Hamas itself, there is little hope of a way forward. But most importantly, the EU must first concede to the fact that the Palestinians have opted for an Islamist solution to the conflict with Israel. This represents the latest paradigmatic shift in the Middle East. KGS