Phillip Knightley
Khaleej Times (Opinion)
March 16, 2009 - 12:00am

An advance copy of an important new book on the Middle East has kept me awake at night reading it. Called “Kill Khalid: Mossad’s Failed Hit. . .and the Rise of Hamas”, it is by an Australian journalist, Paul McGeough, and was written before the recent war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

McGeough is scrupulously objective but paints a telling picture of the skill with which Hamas and its leader Khalid Meshaal have succeeded in turning most of the Israeli’s strategy around so that it rebounded upon them.

The book opens with the botched 1997 Israeli assassination attempt on Khalid in Amman, Jordan.

McGeough said that the Jewish state felt that Khalid Meshal was too credible as the new leader of Hamas. He was too persuasive and had to be “taken out”. As one reviewer, Antony Loewenstein, puts it: “With that we are launched into a world of Israeli blunders over successive decades that have the opposite to the intended effect. Israel never accepted the legitimacy of a viable Palestinian entity, yet never understood that its emergence was ?unavoidable as long as Palestinian land remained occupied.”

“Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation, retired Israeli official Avner Cohen, told the Wall Street Journal last January. McGeough supports this view. He outlines how the Jewish state tolerated and even encouraged the group since its birth in the 1980s, seeing it as a counterweight to Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

By the time Israel realised its mistake, it was too late, because Hamas provided welfare, education and health services to many Palestinians. The organisation, like Hezbollah in the Lebanon, had become part of the local society and could no be eradicated by military means.

This is why many Israelis have compared fighting Hamas with treating cancer. “When you treat cancer you kill some innocent blood cells,” an Israeli speaker told a rally in London in ?January. “We regret any loss of ?human life but you don’t stop before you finish the course, otherwise it will come back stronger.”

Hamas’s 2006 election win in Palestine, shunned by the international community because the “wrong” side prevailed, nevertheless caused some in the movement to seek a more moderate position. It has since offered a long-term truce and a willingness to accept a Palestinian along 1967 borders.

In other words, a two state solution said to be the goal of the United Nations, USA, Israel, the European Union and the Arab League.

But the fact that Israel continued to build illegal settlements in the West Bank and imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza - after Fatah had negotiated with Israel for years and achieved ?nothing - confirmed Hamas’ view that resistance was the only path towards self-determination.

Khalid Meshal was instrumental in this realisation. As far back as the mid-1980s he had recognised the importance of combining violent resistance with political development. He realised the weakness of Arafat long before the vast majority of Palestinians did. Hamas, a word meaning enthusiasm, thrived on its rivalry with Fatah.

After two decades of squabbling and revenge attacks, the relationship between the two groups exploded in 2007 when Hamas pre-empted a Fatah coup in the occupied territories and assumed control of the Gaza strip. Israel and Washington backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammed Dahlan but the civil war which followed left Hamas stronger.

During the recent Gaza war, Meshal wrote an article in the Guardian, London, in which he issued a warning to his Western critics.

Israel should expect violence against its people until the Palestinians were treated with respect: “The logic of those who demand that we stop our resistance is absurd. They absolve and aggressor and occupier of responsibility while blaming the victim, prisoner and occupied.” McGeough quotes former president Jimmy Carter in answer to those who argue that Israel cannot negotiate with Hamas because Hamas will not recognise Israel’s right to exist. At the end of the Gaza war, Carter told the US website “The Daily Beast”: “I met Hamas (leadership) last month and Hamas has committed to me, ?and publicly on Al-Jazeera, that it ?would accept an agreement negotiated between Palestine and Israel, provided its is submitted to the Palestinian people in a referendum or if there ?is an elected unity government. That means that they accept Israel’s right to exist, to live in peace.”


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