Nadim Koteich

Hamas Could End... Then What?

The most dangerous question of the Gaza war is whether or not Hamas will be destroyed. The reason for the dominance of questions around the fate of the movement is self-evident. It is a party to the war; indeed, it instigated this round. Nonetheless, its fate is not the most consequential question we should be asking ourselves and dedicating time and effort to answer instead of focusing on more complex questions about the future of Palestine and Israel and regional countries' ties to them.

So, does the Israeli government have any political ideas for what comes after the war? We have not seen a single Israeli political idea rise to the surface since October 7, making the war seem like a blatant show of force with no political objectives.

As far as Benjamin Netanyahu is concerned, things should stay exactly the same after the Gaza war ends. Before the war, Netanyahu strove to perpetuate intra-Palestinian divisions and the rift between Gaza and Ramallah, exploiting the Palestinian Authority and Hamas's extremely weak sense of responsibility to their nation to claim that he has no Palestinian negotiating partner. It seems that Netanyahu is going to take the same course after the war, but through a deranged attempt at physically eliminating the Palestinians this time, not just their political structures.

On the other hand, we have not heard a single Palestinian political idea that goes beyond the Palestinian national discourse's dogmas, be it those tied to the right of return, Jerusalem, or the Palestine Liberation Organization's other dogmas, or Hamas's vision for "Palestine from the river to the sea." Neither of these projects has any real leadership prospects.

Amid this vacuum, the political discourse revolves around whether ending Hamas is possible or if the movement can declare its victory on the ruins of Gaza.

It has been said that "Hamas is an idea" and that ideas are hard to kill. However, the history of ideas tells us otherwise. Following World War II, the defeat of the Axis powers led to the death of Italian Fascism, German Nazism, and Imperial Japan's militarism. The horrendous outcomes of these ideologies, including the Holocaust, cost them their credibility across the globe.

In parallel, the notion that colonialism is a form of international relations and governance gradually died, after having peaked in the 19th and early 20th century. After World War II, decolonial movements gained exceptional momentum, reshaping political and economic international relations. These movements benefited from the economic and political weakness of the European powers after two world wars, which undermined their ability to maintain their empires.

The advancement of opposing ideas, such as the notion of "self-determination" that US President Woodrow Wilson imposed on the international political discourse, played a role in allowing nationalist movements demanding independence and self-governance to escalate. The establishment of the United Nations granted these movements a huge platform from which to fortify anti-colonial sentiments and empower national movements. While the communist idea did not completely vanish as an ideology, its classic political and economic system of governance completely collapsed after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

We can also touch upon social, political, economic, and scientific ideas that were killed with time, by changes in the contexts that safeguarded them, by their own failings, such as slavery, apartheid, feudalism, theocracy, or absolute monarchy.

Ideas do die then. And if Hamas is an idea, it is not immune to death. In any case, Hamas is not just an idea. It is a governance model that rules over parts of Palestine and that has played a role in the Palestinian national struggle and bears responsibility for the fate of the Palestinian national project as a whole, the cohesion of its social base, and its political institutions. Moreover, it bears responsibility for the fate of its own base in Gaza once the war winds down.

Those who argue that killing ideas in our region is particularly difficult tend to point to the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan nearly two decades after the US invasion brought down their regime. However, the lesson of the Taliban should not be seen as a testament to the strength of the Taliban as an idea, but to the total failure to create a convincing alternative that builds on the military defeat inflicted on them.

Despite the presence of international forces and an abundance of aid, efforts to establish a stable democratic government in Afghanistan failed to rise to the challenges of corruption, the quota-based power-sharing model of the Afghan social system, and the persistence of insurgent operations, whose main causes and direct backer were not dealt with.

Accordingly, the new political system in Afghanistan failed to enhance its legitimacy among Afghans. It remained reliant on direct US support, exacerbating its cultural and political schism with the people of the country. Under these circumstances, the lack of a strong and globally acceptable social and political idea allowed the Taliban's ideology to persist and regain control over the country.

This experience, then, contrasts with what we saw in Germany and Japan, where the successful suppression of extremist ideologies was not merely the result of a military defeat, but the fruit of a comprehensive political, economic, and cultural reconstruction strategy known as the Marshall Plan, which engineered new, flexible national identities and ideologies.

Our problem with what comes after the Gaza war is not the fate of Hamas, but the fate of Israeli politics. Our problem, in the region as a whole, is that there is no practical alternative to belligerent projects that could pave the way for real and sustainable peace. To be more precise, our problem is the absence of an Israeli partner capable of understanding that the Palestinians are not going anywhere.