[Hat tip to James Kirchick for bringing this to my attention]
Zion Evrony has an important article in last month’s International Herald Tribune on the differences between the IRA and Hamas. Often those in the business of peace of reconciliation make comparisons between various terrorist organizations, the essential argument being if the British state can make peace with the IRA or the Spanish state with ETA, why can’t the state of Israel make peace with Hamas?
Unlike the IRA or ETA, which are largely secular organizations with secular goals such as independence or autonomy, Hamas is connected to a much larger, transnational movement and ideology. Simply stated, Hamas does not simply seek a Muslim controlled Palestine, it desires the acquisition of all lands previously controlled by Muslims. In other words the establishment of a new caliphate.
As Mr. Evrony writes:
One of the main differences between Hamas and the IRA is the role played by religion in their ideologies. While most IRA members were Catholic and religion was a factor, its political platform and vision was the unification of the island of Ireland, not defined in religious terms. The religious beliefs of its members did not block the way to a political compromise.
By contrast, the ideology of Hamas is defined in absolutist religious terms, that of a radical version of Islam, which is not open to influence or change. The political vision and religious belief of Hamas are one and the same; therefore, change is unlikely.
At the core of this belief is the desire to create an Islamist state based on Islamic law over all the land, not just the West Bank and Gaza, but Israel as well. There is no acceptance of the notion of coexistence, no support for the idea of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, but an exclusive demand, based on fundamentalist interpretations of religious texts, for control of the entire territory.
The Hamas Charter, adopted in 1988 and still very much in effect, defines the land of Palestine as “an Islamic Waqf” (trust territory) consecrated for future Muslim generations. It adds: “Until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it” (Article 11).
The Charter’s preface states “Israel will arise and will remain existent only until Islam eliminates it as it has eliminated its predecessors.” Furthermore, it defines the enemy explicitly as an ethnic-religious group – the Jewish people. Hamas officials continue in their refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. In contrast, the IRA never questioned Britain’s right to exist.
The difference also applies to the practical level. After the IRA ceasefire of 1994, U.S. Senator George Mitchell, called in as a mediator, laid down ground rules for participation in the Northern Ireland talks. All the parties to the conflict then agreed to a code of conduct. The first principle was a commitment by all sides to “democratic and exclusively peaceful means” of resolving political issues. The second was a commitment to “the total disarmament” of all paramilitary groups. Sadly such principles cannot be reconciled with the Hamas Charter, its religious ideology and the concept of the duty to wage holy war (jihad), which will inherently always take precedence.
In fact, the whole idea of a peace process and the use of mediators are ruled out by the Charter. Mediators would not be welcome, since “those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the unbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam” (Article 13).
Efraim Karsh has addressed this at some length in his Islamic Imperialism: A History. Karsh contends:
Hamas is neither the embodiment of pan-Arab aspirations nor of Palestinian self-determination. It is not a political movement for national liberation that contains an armed wing. Hamas has articulated the far broader goal of establishing a global Islamist empire. This is in line with it’s ideological parent organisation, “which viewed its violent opposition to Zionism from the 1930s and 1940s as an integral part of the Manichean struggle for the creation of a worldwide caliphate rather than the defence of the Palestinian Arabs’ national rights” (Islamic Imperialism, 213-4).
In Karsh’s final analysis:
Arab and Muslim anti-Americanism, have little to do with U.S. international behaviour or its Middle Eastern policy. America’s position as the pre-eminent world power blocks Arab and Islamic imperialist aspirations. As such, it is a natural target for aggression. Osama bin Laden’s … war is not against America per se, but is rather the most recent manifestation of the millenarian jihad for a universal Islamic empire (or umma) (234).