This is a summary of a joint event with One Family UK featuring Mosab Hassan Yousef and Gonen Ben Yitzak, held on 19th November 2014. The views expressed are those of the speakers and not of the Henry Jackson Society or its staff.
On 19th November 2014 Mosab Hassan Yousef, a former Hamas operative, and Gonen Ben Yitzhak, Yousef’s former Shin Bet handler, addressed an audience at the House of Commons, discussing the issues around the Middle East peace process and the strategic impact of Hamas on the region. They both emphasised that the current focus on a need for dialogue, as well as the perceived moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas, are counterproductive.
Yousef in particular emphasised that the ideology of Hamas must be confronted, while Gonen argued forcefully that negotiating with the group is an option which is doomed to failure. Both speakers also highlighted the threats posed to Israel by radical Islamism, and the need for Israel, the West, and moderate states in the region to challenge this.
The Nature of Hamas
- Gonen began by stating that it is important to stop differentiating between the military and political wings of Hamas, while Mosab pointed out that the group is not a national party, but is instead inspired by religious ideology;
- According to Mosab, Hamas shares this ideology with the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as violent groups, and that there is very little difference between al-Qaeda and Hamas;
- Instead of having national or political goals, Mosab claimed Hamas uses these agendas to push its religious ideology;
- As a result of this, both speakers agreed that Hamas and Israel had very little in common, and that it is extremely difficult to negotiate when such a lack of shared values exists.
The Political Situation of the Peace Process
- Both speakers agreed that Hamas is at the root of problems in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and that Mahmoud Abbas cannot claim to be the legitimate political representative of Palestinians as Hamas has power in Gaza;
- Meanwhile, Abbas has pursued the unity deal with Hamas to present a united front to the world at large, as it provides him with credibility, and has also pandered to the rising Islamist sentiment on the ‘Arab street’;
- He has gained support in the West, but trying to establish a Palestinian state at this point is counterproductive because it suggests to Hamas that violence works and could lead to them taking over a larger area than Gaza;
- Instead, the best course of action would be to build up the Palestinian economy and the infrastructure of the Palestinian territories, ensuring any future state has a prospect of prosperity.
The Political Situation in the Region and Palestinian-Israeli conflict in context
- While focusing on the problems faced by those seeking to negotiate with Hamas, the speakers also highlighted that the Islamist extremism of groups like Islamic State (IS) is spreading across the Middle East, while the threat posed to Israel by Iran remains;
- They stressed that these are Israel’s key existential problems in the region and as part of its struggle against these threats Israel is contributing to the West’s ongoing battle against terrorism, with the country needing support in this fight;
- According to Gonen, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would be a part of the solution to the problems of the Middle East, but just a small part. Addressing the real problems would consume much more time and money, so the Israeli-Palestinian problem is easy for both Arab and Western states to focus on;
- Instead, Israel and the West need to work together with moderate actors in the region to counter these threats, with all Arab actors needing to be integrated into any future peace processes.