Saturday, April 14, 2007

Schisms in Hamas

The British Jewish philosopher Isaiah Berlin made the observation that every movement or organization has within it the seeds of its own destruction. As organizations grow they become beset by problems that may resolve into internal schisms that rend the organization apart and lead to its downfall. This certainly happened to Empires within my lifetime, the great and proud British Empire is no more, forced to give up colonial domination for self determination (in Israel as well as India and elsewhere), the Japanese and German Empires lasted a short time due to their dependence on force and subjugation, and the Russian Communist Empire collapsed because it could not afford to control its dependent countries.
Political organizations are equally subject to this rule, for example the Communist movement split early into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, the Nazi movement had its Blackshirts and the SA. The Zionist movement had its political armies, the Haganah and the Irgun Zvai Leumi. Some were able to overcome their differences and survive, others were not. The Palestinian movement has been beset by internecine warfare, for example the PLO for a long time had many distinct groups that fell within the two categories of those who were prepared to deal with Israel (e.g. Fatah) and those in the "resistance" (PFLP and Hamas) who were not.
Now that Hamas constitutes the Government of the PA, there is a schism even within Hamas that mirrors that within Fatah. There are those who are prepared to "deal" with Israel, even while expressing their eternal opposition to it, and those who will accept no such pragmatism. Fatah was split between the "old guard" who followed Arafat's path of pretending to deal with Israel while at the same time carrying out a program of terrorism to "pressure" Israel to make concessions, and the "young guard" of the more militant fighters who believe that the "armed struggle" is the only path for the Palestinians. So similarly there is now a schism within Hamas, between those who, like PM Haniyeh, want to act in a somewhat "responsible" manner, and to gain world support, and those who see their task as purely fighting to destroy Israel, and this includes not only some of the gangs of younger terrorists, but is lead by members of Hamas within the ruling elite, such as former Foreign Minister as-Zahar. Meanwhile the leadership of Hamas in Syria is equally torn between trying to appear diplomatically accceptable and carrying out terrorist attacks in Israel to show how recalcitrant they truly are. It is said that Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas in Syria, has decided that the time has come for Hamas to pretend to appear respectable. But, the activist elements on the ground in Gaza are not prepared to go along with this. So there has been fighting and shooting between some of these two groups in Gaza, as well as between Hamas and Fatah.
It seems that the gang holding Cpl Shalit in Gaza are from a clan that accepts no compromise on Israel's right to exist. As such it is impossible for them to agree to a prisoner swap with Israel, since in their view this means dealing with the devil. But, on the other hand, the leadership of Hamas and Fatah realize that the PA cannot gain legimitimacy and receive foreign aid without releasing Shalit, and cannot get support from their own people without getting Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails. So unfortunately the release of Shalit has become hostage to the vicious internal struggle within Hamas.


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