September 28, 2021 — New York
This piece originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post.
Hamas was one of the first to congratulate the Taliban. “The demise of the American occupation and its allies proves that the resistance of the peoples, foremost of which is our struggling Palestinian people, will achieve victory,” Hamas stated the day Kabul fell to the Afghani terrorist organization.
Welcoming “the defeat of the American occupation on all Afghan land,” Hamas praised the Taliban’s “courageous leadership on this victory, which was the culmination of its long struggle over the past 20 years.” The Taliban, in turn, declared that Israel is the only country it would not establish relations with.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who moved to Qatar from Gaza in 2019, and Taliban leaders, who opened a Doha office in 2013, reportedly met in May, soon after the last Hamas-Israel conflict. “The end of the US occupation of Afghanistan is a prelude to the end of the Israeli occupation of the land of Palestine,” Haniyeh told the Taliban’s Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who today is Afghanistan’s deputy prime minister.
Does Hamas, which has sought for more than 34 years Israel’s eradication, have a new sense of confidence in fulfilling its founding Charter, to establish an Islamic state on what is now Israel, including Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza?
Hamas’s governance of Gaza is not an existential threat to Israel, but it is the roadblock to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace, and particularly to resolving the quandary of the Palestinian coastal enclave that Israel left in 2005. Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, there has been an uptick in Hamas violence – rockets, incendiary balloons, an IDF soldier shot dead, and protests along the border – that undermines the May ceasefire ending the 11-day Hamas-initiated battle that involved firing 4,000 rockets and missiles into Israel. Not even a fresh delivery of Qatari cash to aid Gazans has quieted Hamas for a moment.
The United States and several European countries that have long recognized Hamas as a terrorist organization, have been struggling, as they have following previous Hamas-Israel clashes, to figure out how to deliver humanitarian relief and other aid to Palestinians in Gaza without dealing with Hamas. Meanwhile, American and many other media continue to refer to Hamas and its terrorist allies as “militants,” not “terrorists.”
From his Doha perch, Haniyeh has more freedom to travel than during his time as Gaza prime minister following the Hamas coup in June 2007 that ousted the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.
Haniyeh met in Tehran with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on August 6. The previous day, Haniyeh, along with representatives of Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, attended Raisi’s inauguration where they were accorded VIP seats.
Earlier in the summer, Haniyeh visited Beirut for several days, meeting with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and separately with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. With Aoun, the Hamas leader discussed the conditions of the Palestinian population in Lebanon, another avowal by Haniyeh that Hamas, not PA President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, speaks for the Palestinian people.
Before arriving in Beirut Haniyeh had visited Morocco and Mauritania, part of his regional tour to celebrate what Hamas and its supporters considered a victory in the May conflict, the fourth since Hamas seized control of Gaza, with Israel.
A majority of Palestinians agreed, according to a public opinion survey by Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki. Some 77% said Hamas emerged as the winner, and 53% viewed Hamas as “most deserving of representing and leading the Palestinian people.” Only 14% favored Fatah.
Haniyeh benefited from the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. During Morsi’s nearly one-year presidency, Qatar’s emir and several Arab foreign ministers visited Gaza, publicly embracing Haniyeh and further legitimizing Hamas.
And on his last visit to Tehran, in 2012, Haniyeh was warmly received on his arrival, reviewing an honor guard accompanied by first vice president Mohammed Reza Rahimi. His visit to Iran came after stops in Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.
Hamas has been openly praising Iran for its support, for supplying weapons and the technical know-how to manufacture rockets and missiles. Following the May ceasefire, Haniyeh thanked “the Islamic Republic of Iran, who did not hold back with money, weapons and technical support.”
Hamas leaders may feel buoyed by the Taliban experience, by a bellicose Iran that is extending its influence and reach across the region. They may believe their defiance will eventually lead to a US disengagement from their part of the Middle East, and a weakened Israel. Disabusing Haniyeh, and like-minded terrorist leaders, of this illusion must be a priority for all nations truly committed to achieving durable peace.
Sixteen years ago, Israel’s transfer of Gaza to the PA set the stage for establishing, through negotiations, a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Now, it’s tragically clearer than ever that peace, a possible two-state deal, will remain elusive as long as Hamas rules. That’s the Gaza reality.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.