Just like Arafat in the 1970s, Hamas has a very broad base of external support that is entirely indifferent to the rights and wrongs of the conflict. For Arafat, it was the Soviet Union with all its satellites except recalcitrant Romania. The Middle East was then the focus of Soviet global strategy, and the Moscow leadership had become convinced that it could best out-influence the United States by uncritically supporting Arafat and the Palestinians. From his Soviet support base, Arafat therefore obtained unstinting diplomatic support at the United Nations as well as arms, but only to discover that U.N. hot air is only hot air, while weapons would only get himself and his men into trouble. But the huge drawback of Soviet support was that it positioned Arafat as an antagonist of the United States, the only power that could have advocated for him with Israel, as it did for Egypt and Jordan.
For Hamas the broad base of uncritical external support is even broader, stretching from Dearborn, Mich., to Islamabad and beyond. In vehemently siding with Hamas, Muslim opinion is not moved by mere religious solidarity. It is rather that Israel’s superior strength in war presents a very personal problem for each believing Muslim, and Hamas seems to offer a remedy. It all starts with Islam itself, as a faith originally validated by the immense conquests of the first Muslims. The Quran is replete with categorical promises of victory for true believers, and Islam as a religion still rests on those promises—there is not much there for the meek or the weak. Hence the unending sequence of Muslim defeats of the last century and more generates terrible inner doubts about the truth of Islam—doubts now vented in many varieties of violence in a great many places from Mindanao and southern Thailand to Niger and Nigeria, and not just across South Asia and the Middle East. In almost all of these conflicts, enemies perceived as Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish keep winning, aggravating inner doubts and outward aggression.
Defeats inflicted by Jews are an even more acute problem, because in the Quran they are written off as weaklings, easily defeated—so that making victorious heroes out of Hamas, which defines itself as Islamic rather than Palestinian, is some sort of remedy. Its video re-enactments of the August 2014 fighting, featuring pathetic Israeli soldiers bursting into tears before being killed or surrendering meekly to the noble warriors of Hamas have been wildly popular, while rioting demonstrators in Berlin and Paris in August 2014 comforted themselves with shouts of “Remember Khaibar!” evoking Muhammad’s conquest of the Jewish oasis of Khaibar in the year 629—thus testifying both to their collective historical memory and also to the dearth of notable Muslim victories over Jews over the last 1,385 years.
But for Hamas, this global Muslim support, however gratifying it might be, is just as damaging as Soviet support was for Arafat during all the years when he was at the peak of his political fortunes, and might have gained a state within the West Bank and Gaza by making the necessary compromises with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, with American support.
What Hamas can achieve in this world is to keep what it has—the control of Gaza by force of arms if not consent—and then to develop Gaza in every possible way by soliciting aid and investment and securing easy access in and out by rigorously abjuring any form of violence against its two neighbors, Israel and Egypt. Soon enough, in its rising prosperity, Gaza would have both a port and airport, instead of blockades and tunnels. There are eager donors and all else needed is available, notably Israeli and Egyptian reciprocity. But of course Hamas would be abjuring global Islamic support, and would immediately have to fight it out with Islamic Jihad, which serves Iran and has no interest at all in peace.
That global Islamic support at the United Nations—and everywhere else from Sweden to Sydney—makes and will make absolutely no difference to the misery of everyday life in Gaza, should be the decisive consideration for responsible leaders. But just as Arafat kept sacrificing the living Palestinians for the sake of his own idea of Palestine as he jetted around the world, Hamas leaders will ruthlessly sacrifice the people of Gaza for Islam, not without rewards for themselves (Gulf money is pouring in) to assuage the pain. The tranquility of the West Bank, and the loyalty of Israel’s Arab citizens throughout 50 days of hard to watch fighting, show that they know very well what Hamas has to offer: death, destruction, and failure.