Understanding Hamas' Six R's
by Rami G. Khouri Released: 11 Apr 2008
BEIRUT -- The controversy over whether former US President Jimmy Carter should meet with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus during Carter's upcoming visit to the Middle East can usefully spark a serious debate about two important current issues in the Middle East: Hamas' ideology and policies, and the US government's attitude to it.
Israel, the United States, and some other countries reject dealing with Hamas because they see it purely as a terrorist organization dedicated to the "destruction of Israel." The reality is more complex than that. Hamas certainly has committed acts of terror against Israeli civilians, and it must be held accountable for such deeds -- in a context in which all who commit murder and terror in the Middle East are similarly held accountable, including Israelis, Arabs, Iranians, Americans and British.
Hamas argues that its actions are legitimate resistance in the context of a much more brutal Israeli war against Palestinian civilians. One that uses terror, assassination, kidnapping, starvation, imprisonment, colonization, Apartheid-like segregation and racism and other nasty policies. We remain stalemated, but also at war.
This important issue may hold the key to progress towards true peace. To do so, the world should judge and engage Hamas on the same basis that was used in the case of other militant or terrorist groups around the world, including the IRA in Northern Ireland, the Viet Cong in Vietnam, SWAPO in Namibia, the ANC in South Africa, and, more recently, the "insurgents" in Iraq, and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This approach typically comprises four critical components: Talk to the group in question rather than boycott them; make clear their objectionable and unacceptable actions that must stop; identify their legitimate nationalistic or political demands that can be met; and, negotiate in a context of equality to achieve a win-win situation that stops the terror, removes the underlying reasons for it, satisfies all sides' minimum demands and rights, and achieves peace and security.
The key to achieving a peaceful win-win situation is to analyze and deal with Hamas in the total context of its actions, and not only through the narrow lens of terror acts. This means understanding and addressing the six R's that Hamas represents: resistance, respect, reciprocity, reconstruction, rights, and refugees.
1. Resistance against Israeli occupation and aggression is Hamas' main task, and the key operative verb in its Arabic language name "harakat al-muqawama al-islamiyyah" ("Islamic resistance movement"). It resists, defies and actively fights Israel, including delegitimizing it, refusing to acknowledge Israel's legitimacy -- until Israel decides in return to acknowledge Palestinian national rights and integrity.
2. Achieving respect is an intangible but crucial part of Hamas' battle against Israel; it has been achieved in part by Israel's agreement to two cease-fire accords with Hamas, with a third likely on the way, perhaps followed by a prisoner exchange.
3. Reciprocity -- the application of respect in tangible political form -- requires Israelis and Palestinians to deal with each other, and to be treated by the world, according to the same rules and criteria, e.g., on the use of violence, application of the Geneva Conventions, political engagement, and implementation of UN resolutions. It also applies to reciprocal statehood with Israel, which Hamas now says it accepts if Israel withdraws from the 1967 occupied territories and implements UN resolutions on refugee rights.
4. Reconstruction of Palestinian society, and ending the chaos, corruption, insecurity, abuse of power and political floundering that defined the Fateh-dominated years -- especially the Oslo process era -- are key reasons why Hamas has grown in stature and credibility in recent decades. Much of its attraction to voters is related to domestic issues, and a quest for dignified, normal daily life, as much as it is to resisting and fighting Israel.
5. A central pillar of Hamas' legitimacy and popularity is its insistence that the Palestinian people have individual and collective national rights that must be exercised in freedom, sovereignty and security; if they must battle for their rights militarily, as many others in the world have done, then so be it.
6. An important aspect of Hamas' political program is its insistence that the Palestinian national struggle comprises several dimensions that together form an integrated whole, including territory, comprehensive individual and national rights, and compensation and a just resolution of the refugee issue, according to UN resolutions. Hamas reminds the world and Israel that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about the events of 1947-48, not only of 1967. It says that a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is neither a just and comprehensive resolution of the conflict, nor anywhere near compliance with international law and legitimacy.
These six basic aspects of Hamas' worldview and political program should be appreciated more clearly by those who claim to seek to promote an Arab-Israeli peace-making process. They form a coherent foundation for potential negotiations, peace, security and coexistence -- but only on the basis of respect, reciprocity and a single rule of law that applies to all.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.
Copyright © 2008 Rami G. Khouri