And now you have Hamas. Hamas came into being and thrived because there was no breakthrough. There was nothing in the land-for-peace basis—a foundation of the Oslo process—there was nothing in that for the Palestinians. They were negotiating on the basis of land for peace when their land was being consumed by Israeli settlements. So now Hamas is there, and if you take Hamas out of the equation, God knows what you get in its place.
KB: Is is accurate to say that Fatah wants Hamas dismantled as a part of this current conflict?
PM: That Fatah wants to have Hamas taken out? Absolutely. I think if you look at the history of the last twenty years of Palestinian affairs, Fatah is the faction that consumed itself. It thrived on corruption. It represented so much of what is bad about the exercise of power in Arab societies. It wasn’t democratic; it was bullying. It was venal. And Palestinians—who, you would have to say, are one of most democratically inclined Arab societies in the region—could see that. They could see that you didn’t get a job unless your family was Fatah. You didn’t get the house. You didn’t get the car. You didn’t get your snout in the trough unless you were Fatah.
It was so corrupt that Hamas was able to run on the ticket of anti-corruption, working amongst the grassroots of Palestinian society, delivering at a grassroots level, and earning political credibility not just in terms of handing stuff out, but also in terms of being disciplined, being controlled, being articulate, and standing up, and being seen to stand up for Palestinians when nobody else would.
KB: How should we reconcile Hamas as a force for change with the organization’s history of violence.
PM: Let’s not be churlish about this, call it terrorism. Rather than describe Hamas as a terrorist group, I would say they’re a group that uses terror as a weapon and I think there’s a significant difference there. You’ll find a lot of Israeli commentators, amongst others, can understand and make in their writing. There is a difference there.
But the Palestinian attitude to terror as a weapon is dictated by their sense of the ability to achieve a settlement. If they think there’s a chance that there can be a negotiated settlement, as they did in the aftermath of the Oslo accords in the mid-1990s, their view of violence falls. But it’s when they see their land being taken, when they see their water resources being consumed, when they see Gaza being converted into a prison, they believe in violence. It’s a part of the world where all sides are very familiar with the notion of revenge and vengeance.
One of the kernel issues in the Gaza crisis at the moment is the fact that Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal, is a prisoner of Hamas in Gaza. Palestinians laugh when they read or hear that Israel is going to war for one man when there are 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. They understand they’re at war. Now how that plays out after this latest round in Gaza, we have yet to see, in terms of public and Palestinian opinion and attitudes to Hamas. They’re going to make a call on whether Hamas overplayed its hand. They’re going to make calls about the standing of Hamas vis-a-vis the standing of Hezbollah after the war in Lebanon in 2006. And that will feed into the political mix of the region.
KB: How should journalists balance these two aspects of the organization to help readers understand?
PM: It’s very difficult, in the helter-skelter, daily evolution of a story like this, to pull in all the relevant bits. And it’s very hard to pull them in particularly, as I said, when the parameters of the narrative are being constructed by the key players, be it the Palestinian leadership, be it the Israeli leadership, be it the regional heavyweights like Egypt, or be it Washington for that matter.
So what you have to be able to do is take the eyes of the big-picture story and be able to infer it, use them as counterpoints in writing. If you tell a foreign readership that this poor soldier is being held in Gaza and he’s been held for years, isn’t this shocking? It is shocking. But is it more or less shocking than the plight or circumstances of the 11,000 Palestinians who are being held in Israeli prisons?
KB: So, how should they describe those individuals? Are they civilian members of Hamas or militants?