Nothing can erase the barbaric acts that took place in the southern Israel massacre. If humanness was present, even now, all the hostages would have been released with no conditions. The fact that a Hamas member can hold the hand of his captive or that Hamas might have treated her well, as Mrs. Lifshitz said, does not mean that Hamas is good. It just means that the nightmare Mrs. Lifshitz underwent, as she also said, could have been even worse.
The frantic reaction of the Israeli government on the prospects of a Hamas member showing some good behavior aspects reminds the wider reaction to the question of whether Nazis could have ever been good. For example, some years ago, when Tom Cruise impersonated in Valkyrie the Nazi wanting to assassinate Hitler, voices were critical of the positive light under which some of the Nazis were presented in the movie. Yet, also as in the case of Hamas, isolated individual positive and human gestures by a member of the Nazi party, would not mean that this person was good. Only in a particular moment, he sometimes for ulterior motives, as in the case of Valkyrie, may have found himself on the correct side of history and humanness.
The uproar around Yocheved Lifshitz's interview did not only bring back equivalents from the Holocaust. It further stressed some other parameters, like for example the role the government should have in free speech issues as the war unfolds or the role of the media in pressing the hostages and their families for a statement even on issues that may be politically or socially sensitive. But more importantly, all this emphasis on the Hamas member's nice gestures toward Yocheved Lifshitz, stirred away from the most important political element that should be derived from the photo where Mrs. Lifshitz is shown being released holding her Hamas captor's hand, and that is the Palestinian flag on the Hamas chest vest.
So far, Hamas has appeared as a separate organization with its own flag. Bearing the Palestinian flag, its members come to underline the fact that they should be seen as the official Palestinian army.
Such a portrayal of Hamas resonates with Erdogan’s statement that Hamas is not a terrorist organization but a liberation army. Yet, if Hamas is the Palestinian army, then it is an army that conducts war crimes and crimes against humanity on a permanent basis. The massacre in southern Israel and the intentional targeting of civilians all these years through rocket and kite attacks bear no legal justification. Palestine is already a member of the International Criminal Court, with an open investigation waiting to be concluded. If Hamas is the Palestinian army, then automatically, Palestine becomes a terrorist state. This is a huge reversal of the Palestinian narrative which consistently tries to portray Israel as the region’s terrorist state.
The prospect of Hamas being the Palestinian army also bears implications for Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the wider international community. For example, Mahmoud Abbas would be the first Palestinian president to see himself being deposed as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, despite that all these years he fought tooth and nail to postpone presidential elections, depriving Hamas of an electoral West Bank victory.
For Israel, any conclusion that Hamas is the Palestinian army and thus it is Hamas and not Fatah which represents the Palestinian people, would automatically mean aversion to proceed with any peace talks that would render the West Bank part of a Palestinian state. With the security challenges coming also from the north and Hezbollah as well as from Iran as the current war has demonstrated, Israel would be reluctant to accept any future status that would entrench any Hamas presence both on its left as well as on its right side as we see the map, exposing the Ben Gurion Airport to any future West Bank attacks.
The stress of the"secure borders" clause in UN Security Council Resolution 242, widely accepted as the basis for any future peace arrangement, is something that the Israeli side will not be ready to relinquish in future negotiations. Along these lines, we may see the Palestinians exercising their right to self-determination through statehood in Gaza and through autonomy in the large Palestinian cities and areas in the West Bank, with voting rights for a national Palestinian parliament in Gaza and full socio-economic and access rights to Israel.
Following this war, a Hamas-as-Palestinian army scenario would pose also geopolitical challenges for regional as well as for the wider international stability. Landlocked in the West Bank, a Palestinian state with Hamas in office would soon turn to war - this time not only with Israel, but also with the region’s pro-Western regimes.
Jordan, bordering the West Bank and hosting already a Palestinian majority, would be the next immediate target. A possible Palestinian-Jordanian war would either see a repetition of Black September back in 1970 or would ultimately lead to the toppling of the Hashemite Kingdom, destabilizing the region even further and threatening U.S. national interests. It is maybe for this reason that the U.S. has insisted on including in the latest draft resolution it has circulated to the other UN Security Council members, that the Palestinian Authority is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. In the future, such an utterance may call for more tangible measures in order to be supported.
- The author is former member of the Knesset Legal Department on international and constitutional issues
First published: 18:43, 10.30.23