By Gwynne Dyer
“If we look at it over the years, one of the main people contributing to Hamas’s strengthening has been (Prime Minister) ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu,” said Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service between 2005 and 2011.
He wasn’t saying that Binyamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu made a big mistake; he was saying that Netanyahu has deliberately made and kept Hamas strong.
One of the most useful concepts in politics is the idea that people who hate and despise each other can still be ‘objective allies’ if they share the same goal.
They don’t even have to talk to each other.
This is the basis on which Israelis can and do argue that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners on the extreme right are the objective allies of the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.
Their shared political goal is to thwart the famous ‘two-state solution’, in which Jewish and Palestinian Arab states would live side by side in peace on the land between the Jordan River and the sea. This
was the idea behind the US-backed Oslo Accords of 1993.
The ultra-nationalists on each side (including the religious fanatics both Muslim and Jewish) hated ‘Oslo’, because each side wanted all of Palestine for themselves. The ‘objective alliance’ between Netanyahu and Hamas began in 1996, after a hard-right Jew murdered Israel’s prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who had signed the Oslo Accords.
The assassination threatened to backfire politically, because Rabin’s successor Shimon Peres looked likely to win the subsequent election on a sympathy vote. However, Hamas launched an unprecedented bus-bombing campaign that killed enough Israelis to discredit Peres, and Netanyahu became prime
Not a word was exchanged between them, but the alliance was born then and there. At its heart is Netanyahu’s unfailing support for Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip and his deliberate undermining
of its rival, the ‘Palestinian Authority’, which controls the parts of the occupied West Bank that Jewish settlers have not colonised.
The division of the Palestinians between two rival groups gives Netanyahu the permanent excuse of having “nobody to talk to” on the Arab side. The threat of a peaceful partition of the Holy Land
between the Arabs and the Jews is permanently averted, to the satisfaction of both allies (although they really do hate each other.)
The trigger for the current upheaval was Israel’s growing links with Arab countries that used to support the Palestinian cause.
That panicked Hamas’s leaders, and the massacre of 1,400 Israelis on 7 October was their response.
Hamas’s intention was to provoke an Israeli counter-slaughter of Palestinians so extreme that it would become unthinkable for any Arab country to talk to Israel.
However, it places the whole ‘objective alliance’ in peril.
Netanyahu’s sole hope for political survival now is to completely destroy Hamas. That is probably impossible – but if achieved, it would also destroy Netanyahu’s long-term strategy for holding
the two-state solution at bay.
If Hamas were eradicated, the Palestinian Authority would take over the government of the Gaza Strip again. And if the Palestinians can speak with a single voice, then the Israeli government no longer
has an excuse for refusing to discuss a negotiated peace settlement with them.
It would be very good to see that issue on the table again, but the path to that potential happy
ending runs through a devastating war in Gaza: a high cost for a very uncertain outcome. No wonder
nobody knows what to do next.