Most commentary on the Israeli-Palestine conflict presupposes that Hamas is a homogenous actor with clear, top-down leadership. Take Eric Trager’s ham-handed attempt to burst the meme that Israeli’s aggression is weakening prospects for a two-state solution:
It’s hard to see how a two-state solution had a better chance of success immediately prior to the current fighting, when–aside from refusing to recognize Israel–Hamas refused to even extend a short-term truce and instead renewed its rocket firings.
The unfortunate reality is that Hamas is a fragmented, decentralized organization with many different wings. These various wings often have competing agendas. Hamas’ political wing negotiates with Israel, but the political leadership brandishes little more than the power of persuasion to convince militant cells of the Izzidin al-Qassam Brigade to stop lobbing Qassams at Israel. Militant cells nominally associated with other Palestinian organizations have also been known to coordinate with Hamas cells in launching attacks.
It is not clear to me that the resumption of rocket attacks which led to the current conflict was even at the bequest of Hamas’ political leadership. It is just as likely that a small cell lobbed a few Qassams at Sderot autonomously and then the leadership retroactively endorsed the attacks for fear of appearing weak and out of touch. Qassam rockets do not exactly require lodes of technical know-how to build and operate. They are more Estes rocket than ballistic missile. All it takes is a handful of loyal Hamas backers to autonomously commence another rocket attack, and the Gaza strip is filled with ‘em.
Irrespective of whether this is the case, of course, it remains the fact that Hamas is not a top-down organization that can be destroyed with its leaders. Whereas Nazism died with Hitler, Hamas has flourished following the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2004. Hamas is an organically grown virus that has infected the hearts and minds of the Gazan populace. The vaccine is not to kill hundreds of civilians–including women and children.
Sure many in Gaza resent Hamas for using civilians as human shields and quartering soldiers in schools and hospitals, but this resentment will NEVER translate into widespread support for Israel or renunciation of Hamas. Remember, it is Israeli firepower that is killing Palestinian civilians en masse. However much the means are detested, Hamas is waging what is seen as a righteous war against a government whose actions are causing a horrid amount of death and suffering.
Killing Hamas’ leaders will further atomize Hamas, resulting in a still more decentralized governance structure. Contrary to Trager’s assertion, this WILL make it more difficult for Israel to negotiate a two-state solution, since it will become even less clear which Palestinian players to negotiate with in Gaza. Even if Hamas should fall out of political power following the Israeli campaign (Unlikely considering that Fatah is weak and unpopular in Gaza. More likely Hamas will retain power but become ever more weak and innefectual), it will still pose a grave threat to Israeli security for as long as it has the people on its side. And there is no way Israel can come to terms with a two-state solution when Qassams volleys periodically hit its border towns.
No matter how many bombs are dropped or houses collapsed in Israel’s military campaign, the specter that is Hamas will live on, and in a form less conducive to two-state negotiations.
This seems pretty astute.