Hamas and Israel: Conflicting Strategies

An improved understanding of the dynamics of the conflict between Hamas and Israel — one that goes beyond “they started it” — is probably a prerequisite to any enduring reduction of the violence and the terrible human suffering that the conflict now entails.

A detailed new assessment (pdf) by an analyst at the U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute traces the evolution of the Israel-Hamas conflict prior to the end of the recent ceasefire and identifies steps that both sides would likely have to take in order to arrive at a long-term truce.

“Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have a unified position towards the other,” writes Sherifa Zuhur, professor of Islamic and regional studies at the Strategic Studies Institute. “Each group is socialized in particular ways, through the educational system, employment experiences; and for Israelis, in the military, in political parties, families, and bureaucracies.”

Based on her own interviews and analyses, the author attempts to elucidate the social, cultural and political factors at work.

A struggle to control the narrative of the conflict is itself part of the conflict and Prof. Zuhur’s account may not be fully embraced by anyone.  On the whole, her analysis seems more sympathetic to Hamas, whose objective, she says rather incongruously, “is not the destruction of Israel” but only the “liberation of Palestine.”

But even those who cannot accept her terms or the way she frames some of the issues may find food for thought in her 100-page paper (which does not represent an official U.S. Army position).

She concludes optimistically that “each side is still capable of revising its desired endstate and of the necessary concessions to establish and preserve a long-term truce, or even a longer-term peace.”

See “Hamas and Israel: Conflicting Strategies of Group-Based Politics” by Sherifa Zuhur, U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute, December 2008.

No Responses to “Hamas and Israel: Conflicting Strategies”

  1. Mike January 1, 2009 at 6:45 PM #

    What, in heavens name, would cause you to push an extensive HAMAS apologia at a time when even Arab neighbors view HAMAS as the guilty party in the current conflict? Is it a secret that HAMAS desires not peace but rather the total destruction of Israel? Is it a secret that the U.S. and most moderate governments consider HAMAS a terrorist group?

  2. Steven Aftergood January 1, 2009 at 6:47 PM #

    I hope that it is more than an extensive Hamas apologia and that it provides some insight into Hamas’ motivations and aspirations short of Israel’s destruction. I don’t think it is sufficient under the circumstances to identify Hamas as “the guilty party” and simply a terrorist group. The logic of that approach excludes any possibility of compromise and accommodation and points to continued violent conflict until one side is eliminated. My hope is that another possibility exists.

  3. Maxtrue January 4, 2009 at 6:12 PM #

    I am surprised that so little international context is supplied by the author. Nor is it weighed in the broader balance of immediate US interests. Hizb’Allah, Syria and Iran have much to lose in the present conflict.

    Mike is right. Sure, Hamas can change. Reality at the moment doesn’t suggest that has happened. No, there is nothing wrong in negotiation between hostile positions, but Democracy in itself doesn’t legitimize terrorists.

    Possibilities exist between moderate Palestinians and moderate Israelis and the author maps out one strategy between these groups. In real time, Palestinians elected a violent group who declared “death to Israel”. How can legitimizing terror lead to moderation? Did the author anticipate the extent moderate Arabs are divided over Gaza?

    Unfortunately, actions take place in the broader Middle East context and Israel must act to stop the aspect of Hamas and its sponsors. It seems our adversaries have much at stake in the present hostilities (even provoking them), that the author over looks.

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