analysisIsrael at War

Israel has to make it clear: No to a new Hamas paradigm

Sinwar and his 25,000 fighters must be exiled from the Gaza Strip in the manner of the removal of PLO forces from Beirut in 1982.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar holds the son of an Al-Qassam Brigades terrorist who was killed in recent fighting with Israel, during a rally in Gaza City, May 24, 2021. Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar holds the son of an Al-Qassam Brigades terrorist who was killed in recent fighting with Israel, during a rally in Gaza City, May 24, 2021. Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images.
Zvi Hauser
Zvi Hauser

After yet another failure in the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas on the release of kidnapped Israelis, it’s clear that there is a fundamental disconnect between the sides’ perceptions of reality and their expectations for the aftermath of any deal.

Since the outbreak of hostilities on Oct. 7, Hamas has been aiming for strategic gains, something evinced by both its military actions and its tough stance on prisoner exchanges. Prior to this date, Hamas typically demanded the release of imprisoned terrorists in exchange for captives; now, the group is seeking far-reaching concessions that go beyond massive prisoner swaps.

Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar’s minimum demand is a guarantee of continued Hamas control over the Strip following any ceasefire, a scenario that would be seen as a resounding victory in the eyes of Palestinians and the Arab world at large. Such an outcome would solidify Hamas’s popular support and could pave the way for the group to seize control of the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria.

Sinwar himself has drawn parallels between the current conflict and Algeria’s bloody struggle (1954-62) for independence from France, revealing the scale of his aspirations for Palestinian statehood. Many in Israel seem reluctant to acknowledge the link between the current escalation and the overarching Hamas strategy of independence.

Polls conducted from time to time throughout Judea and Samaria predict a staggering success for Hamas in P.A. elections if they are held, with support rates that are at least double those of Fatah.

The Arab public in Judea and Samaria overwhelmingly justifies Hamas’s campaign of murder and rape, and sees the war, even after eight months in which the Gaza Strip is being crushed, as a victory for Hamas and the Palestinian people. The public wants Hamas—not Mahmoud Abbas. Sinwar understands this.

Leaving Hamas in control

Israel is once again building a paradigm based on ending the war while leaving Hamas in control of Gaza. This concept assumes that it will be possible to “engineer” the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and establish popular support for the faltering P.A., backed by Saudi Arabia and others, while Sinwar sits idly in Gaza’s tunnels.

Sinwar reads of the Israeli fantasy and scoffs, saying, “Israel is exactly where we would want it to be.”

It seems that Hamas has never been in a more comfortable position to take over the P.A. without firing a single shot, as it will be after a deal that meets its conditions.

Faced with the Hamas desire for a historic strategic achievement, Israel must make it clear that it is not willing to pay strategic prices as part of an agreement with the group. Therefore, Israel has no choice but to update its war objectives.

Real costs of defeat

The alternative to destroying the guerrilla force is proving to be ineffective and has brought us to the current point in time with its many challenges. The defense establishment estimates that defeating Hamas, in an optimistic scenario, will take two or three years.

The number of uninvolved individuals losing their lives in the war increases international pressure and poses an unprecedented legitimacy challenge for Israel, while Hamas refuses any prisoner exchange deal.

In such a situation, Israel must realize that the idea of “collapsing Hamas” needs to be translated into an updated practice that includes real costs of defeat for the Palestinians.

First, stop the fighting and declare a third of Gaza’s land as an Israeli combat zone, from which Israel will not withdraw and to which residents will not be allowed to return until an agreement is reached—an agreement under which Sinwar and his 25,000 fighters will remain alive, but not in Gaza. They and terrorists released from Israeli prisons will be exiled from the Gaza Strip in the manner of the removal of PLO forces from Beirut in 1982.

The demand to remove the heads of terrorist organizations, led by Hamas leaders and members of its military wing, outside Gaza is the maximum compromise Israel can make without incurring a strategic cost. A gradual withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will take place in parallel with the release of living captives, the return of bodies, and the deportation of “military” wing members and of terrorists who will then be released.

This is the only realistic strategic goal that can divert Sinwar’s strategic plan from its course, drive a wedge in the growing popularity he enjoys among the Palestinian public, save the P.A., allow minimum conditions for the growth of an alternative force to Hamas in Gaza, form a broad and significant international coalition, and lead to the release of captives in the difficult path to victory.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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