Sunday, March 3, 2024

Israel’s Confrontation with Hamas: A Historical Perspective

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Shillong, October 9: In a moment reminiscent of the Yom Kippur War’s gravity, Israel has declared a state of war to combat the Hamas militants who surged from the Gaza Strip, causing chaos in the nation’s southern regions. Yet, a question lingers: to what extent is Israel accountable for the emergence of this Palestinian Islamist extremist group?

The answer to this inquiry becomes evident when we examine various events spanning the last five decades, with a significant portion of the responsibility attributed to governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu during the past thirty years.

As per IANS, Netanyahu’s strategy involved dividing Palestinians between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, aimed at weakening Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas while inadvertently empowering Hamas as a supposed “counterweight.”

This calculated maneuver aimed to obstruct Abbas and any attempts by the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank government to advance the establishment of a Palestinian state, as reported by the Times of Israel.

Senior Israeli officials have disclosed a longstanding history of supporting Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who would eventually establish Hamas in 1987 amid the first Intifada, dating back to 1973 during Golda Meir’s Prime Ministership. Sheikh Yassin initially formed the ‘Islamic Centre’ in Gaza after breaking away from the Muslim Brotherhood due to political differences. Israeli authorities provided support and funding to Yassin, strategically building a rival to the secular Palestine Liberation Organisation, as revealed by then-Military Governor of Gaza, Yitzhak Segev.

Avner Cohen, responsible for religious affairs in Gaza, admitted that Israel had contributed significantly to the group’s formation, despite his fervent warnings against supporting the Islamists.

Israel’s missteps continued with the ill-conceived action of deporting over 400 Hamas and Islamic Jihad members to Southern Lebanon in December 1992 as a punitive measure following the killing of a border police officer. This move, intended as a deterrent, had unintended consequences, as it allowed Hamas deportees to establish connections with the Shia militant group Hezbollah and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. They acquired expertise in suicide and car bombings before being allowed to return home the following year amidst a global outcry.

Netanyahu, who assumed office in June 1996, made his first miscalculation concerning Hamas when his government ordered the assassination of Hamas leader Khaled Mishal in Jordan in September 1997. The attempt failed, with Mishal surviving after an unknown poison was administered to him in Amman, leading to a diplomatic crisis. King Hussein demanded the antidote, and ultimately, a prisoner swap was arranged, including the release of Sheikh Yassin.

These missteps inadvertently propelled Hamas from the shadows to becoming the new face of Palestinian resistance. Despite subsequent challenges and relocations, Hamas has remained a formidable force, winning the 2006 Palestinian elections and securing control over Gaza, supplanting Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah. Its efforts to address crime and provide services garnered support among Gaza’s residents.

While the current conflict may challenge Hamas, its enduring presence cannot be overlooked. Arab governments, despite their reservations, find themselves unable to ignore it, and popular sentiment in the Arab world often supports Hamas. Moreover, Israel must reckon with the reality that the Palestinian aspiration for statehood cannot be dismissed.

Furthermore, international responses to the Israel-Hamas conflict vary, with some nations calling for restraint and a cessation of hostilities. Notably, Western powers label Hamas as a terrorist organization, but achieving UN support for this classification has proven elusive in the General Assembly.

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