Hamas is not an exception when considering the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. If flaunting attacks made the difference, then we must be mindful that other Palestinian organizations had preceded Hamas to that in the past, leaving the world in awe with attacks of no less magnitude. The only difference was that photography was still in its early beginnings, and the media didn’t readily broadcast video of attacks.
The Fatah Revolutionary Council, known by its leader’s nom de guerre “ANO,” after Abu Nidal, killed about 2,000 people in twenty countries, hijacked airplanes and ships, and assassinated politicians. Another leftist group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, led by George Habash, carried out massive operations, the most poignant of which was the kidnapping of oil ministers during an “OPEC” meeting in Vienna. The abductors roamed the skies with the trophy before touching down in Algeria. In a separate operation, the “PFLP” blew up three aircrafts in one go at Amman airport.
Abu Nidal and the PFLP vanished in Syria and Iraq, while Fatah is still there, and it’s on Palestinian soil. Its activism and militant activity were part of a national political project, whereas Abu Nidal shot himself with a rifle when Iraqi Baathist officials showed up at his home to arrest him. Habash ended up as a minion of the Syrian Baath Party.
Hamas may not survive the fallout from the earthshattering October 7 attacks. I imagine that the movement’s leadership must have been aware of this beforehand, when they gave the go-ahead to launch the attack, because the conflict is usually governed by the balance of losses.
Hamas has never had any shortage in trained volunteers eager to engage in combat; however, the attack was carried out by only a handful of militants. Balance was part of the conflict’s calculations that each of the warring sides had to endure and coexist with. Similarly, despite the frequent small clashes, Israel only attacks Hezbollah almost once every decade, when it considers that the group’s human and military capabilities have grown to a level that it considers as posing a threat to it.
Armed militias don’t decisively resolve conflicts by high-pitched flashpoints, and regardless of their short-lived fame, the world soon forgets them. The Palestinian Authority, when it was still the Palestinian Liberation Organization, led by Fatah, lived in exile and ran Palestinian affairs politically, militarily, and socially.
After being expelled from Beirut, the PLO returned through the Madrid Conference, and then transformed into a legitimate authority under the Oslo Agreement, on its promised land, the West Bank. Today, the PA may be hope for Palestinians who want to both rescue their difficult daily living conditions, and to have an independent Palestinian state.
The Israelis reject this under the pretext that the PA is incapable of assuming its responsibility, and that its leadership, Abu Mazen and his comrades, have become old, and cannot be compared – in terms of competence – to the PLO's earlier senior leaders. In return, we can say that Israel is bereft of historical leaders, the likes of Yitzhak Rabin. The incumbent prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is seen by many Israelis as corrupt and opportunistic, and was never involved as a partner in all previous peace endeavors. In order to save himself from prison, he is embroiled in conflict with his rivals and party comrades.
The region is embroiled in a very serious crisis, which may fester and escalate. In addition to Gaza, the West Bank may witness destruction, a war may break out in Lebanon, and the flames of war may extend even further, for a long time.
I see a resemblance between this war and the Beirut War of 1982 when Ariel Sharon invaded Lebanon, after the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador in London. Ironically, that the perpetrator was from the Abu Nidal group, albeit the blame was pinned on Damascus.
But it was the Palestinian Liberation Organization that paid the price, forced by the Israelis to leave Lebanon and relocate in Tunisia, Sudan, and Yemen. To all intents and purposes, Fatah ended as an armed struggle movement.
Israeli operations and statements indicate it intends to get rid of the organization and the majority of Hamas militants, including expelling them from the Gaza Strip via Egypt.
To the north, Hezbollah is unlikely to become involved in the war; because that would mean the return of the Israeli army to southern Lebanon. Hezbollah is aware that the destruction of its military power would weaken it in Syria, which has become more important to the group militarily and politically, and may culminate in losing its unrivaled hegemony over Lebanon itself.
Once again we pose the question: Why did Hamas carry out this massive attack, or as some call it “Israel's 9/11”? Is it a mass suicide or a decisive response to the power balance impasse? Al-Qaeda after its attacks, turned its members from an organization governing the state of Afghanistan to living in caves, and Bin Laden ended up hiding in Pakistan, while his children hid out in Iran. But al-Qaeda is different from Hamas. The former was pursuing a caliphate project, a mere historical fantasy, which has no place in modern times, whereas the Palestinian project is genuine, and holds great hope.
Despite this, we are at an opportune moment, as Churchill famously said in the United Nations after the carnage and destruction of World War Two: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Hamas chose this path, and Israel decided to change the reality in Gaza by force and put an end to Hamas. Both sides will not be able to decisively resolve the conflict; Hamas will not free Palestine with its paragliders, nor will Netanyahu eliminate the Palestinians’ resolve to establish their own state.