President Joe Biden’s attitude toward the war launched by the Hamas terrorist organization against Israel has been somewhat contradictory. Since the Oct. 7 attacks, he has spoken in a manner that has reaffirmed the alliance between the two countries in an emotional and empathetic manner that was entirely appropriate to the tragic circumstances. In aligning the United States behind the cause of eliminating the terror group that has governed Gaza as an independent Palestinian state in all but name since 2007, he also unexpectedly embraced a position that was opposed by the liberal commentariat that has unflinchingly backed him throughout his catastrophic presidency.
But he has also sought to place conditions on Israel’s efforts to deal with the threat to its security in such a manner as to call into question whether the goal of decisively defeating Hamas is going to be possible.
His scolding Israel about not hitting civilian targets in Gaza was nothing more than virtue signaling, since Israel needs no such advice. Indeed, the Pentagon has sent officers to Israel to get its instruction on how to avoid civilian casualties because its procedures are as rigorous as that of any army in the world.
Under the guise of humanitarian concerns, Biden demanded that Israel allow convoys with food, water, and medical equipment into Gaza. That essentially allowed the resupply of Hamas’ heavily armed force, not just essentials to the civilian population under its control.
Hamas Is Not an Outlier
As part of the justification of Biden’s attempt to micromanage Israel’s national defense, he has repeatedly insisted, as he did in his Oct. 20 Oval Office speech, that he sees Hamas as something of an outlier. “The vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas. Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people.”
Publications such as New York magazine have argued the same.
This sounds right to Americans who find it hard to believe that ordinary Palestinians could possibly support a group that Biden rightly compared to ISIS because of the barbarous crimes it committed on Oct. 7, which include the murder of entire families including infants, as well as rape, torture, and the desecration of corpses. More than 200 people were also reportedly dragged into captivity in Gaza (including Americans, two of whom were released on Oct. 20) and are being held as hostages.
It would be nice to think Hamas is unrepresentative of Palestinian opinion. If that were true, then the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace in the aftermath of the current fighting, or even in the foreseeable future, would be a lot less bleak.
But the facts say otherwise.
Hamas’ leadership views Palestinian civilian casualties as a political asset rather than a calamity. The terrorist group hides behind institutions such as hospitals and schools (including those run by the United Nations) as cover for their activities. They use the civilian population as human shields to make it harder for the Israelis to strike at their military assets.
But there is little or no evidence that this has created opposition among those who have dwelt under their tyrannical Islamist rule for the last 16 years.
Biden’s assertions about the Palestinians and Hamas have begun to sound like President George W. Bush’s reflexive use of the phrase that Islam is a “religion of peace” that had nothing to do with al Qaeda’s Islamism, as his administration repeated endlessly after the 9/11 attacks.
Biden’s argument would be stronger if Palestinians didn’t routinely take to the streets to celebrate terror attacks against Israel. The cheers for the Hamas murderers when they returned in triumph to Gaza on Oct. 7, where they displayed their captives and the corpses of some of the Jews they had slain, only ended once Israel’s strikes against the terrorists commenced.
Voting and Polling in Gaza
It also requires us to forget that Hamas defeated the supposedly more moderate Fatah Party, whose leader Mahmoud Abbas is the president of the Palestinian Authority, in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. That vote was held at Bush’s behest during the high point of America’s democracy advocacy fever. Hamas did especially well in Gaza, and that was the impetus for its bloody 2007 coup that evicted Fatah from the strip.
Israel withdrew every settler and settlement from Gaza in 2005 in the hopes that the gesture would help lead to peace. Palestinians were given autonomy. But by 2007, they had established an Islamic tyranny led by Hamas, dedicated to “armed struggle” to overturn the “occupation.” And by “occupation,” Hamas says, in both its founding charter and ongoing statements, this means destroying Israel no matter where its borders might be drawn.
Since 2007, Hamas rule in Gaza has for the most part gone unchallenged, except for groups like the Iran-controlled Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is, if anything, even more radical and violent. Since the Arab population still views all Jews as “colonists” and “occupiers” and not just those who live in the areas that were held by the Arab states before the 1967 Six Day War, Palestinian political culture valorizes terrorism and treats those who shed Jewish blood as having gained political legitimacy.
Though their apologists dismiss the 2006 results as ancient history, that polling validates Abbas’ refusal to hold another election. He is currently serving the 19th year of the four-year term to which he was elected in 2005, and his fears about being beaten by Hamas explain that long pause.
Hamas’ unabashed calls for Israel’s destruction and terrorism are more popular than Fatah’s more equivocal position in which it claims to support peace but has turned down every offer of statehood and independence because that required that it also recognize Israel’s legitimacy.
The Palestinian Authority continues its “pay-for-slay” policies, in which all those who commit terrorist acts against Israelis (including the Oct. 7 atrocities) and are serving prison time are eligible for salaries and their families get pensions.
Those seeking to draw a distinction between Hamas and ordinary Palestinians must also reckon with the way the Islamist group has influenced religious life in the West Bank as well as Gaza, which it directly controls.
The Palestinian Authority’s religious ministry issued a directive to all mosques in the West Bank to include a hadith from the Quran in their Oct. 20 sermons that preaches how the redemption of humanity is contingent on Muslims killing and eventually exterminating all Jews. This means that the same views that fueled the crimes of Oct. 7 are considered mainstream by even those Muslim authorities that Washington considers to be under the control of a moderate Palestinian group.
This points to a fact that the U.S. foreign policy establishment is committed to ignoring. Hamas’ Gaza statelet is living proof that, under the current circumstances, a two-state solution is a guarantee of continued bloodshed, not a path to peace.
Those celebrities calling for an immediate ceasefire aren’t just demanding the equivalent of a halt to U.S. operations against al Qaeda on Sept. 12, 2001. They are also following Biden’s lead in pretending that most Palestinians don’t support terrorism or aren’t committed to continuing their long war to destroy the only Jewish state on the planet, an end they know can only be achieved by genocide.
Hamas’ popularity doesn’t negate the right of Palestinians to be treated with dignity. And all civilian casualties in war are to be mourned and, if possible, avoided, wherever possible. But if this conflict is to end, that will only be possible by decisive actions that lead to Hamas’ complete and total defeat. It also depends on the acknowledgment by Palestinians that, like the Germans and Japanese in 1945, the ideologies that have dominated their politics were mistaken and must be abandoned.
The pretense that Palestinians aren’t supportive of Hamas will make that impossible. Until Biden realizes he is wrong about Palestinian public opinion, his pious optimism about Hamas’ unpopularity may do a great deal of harm.