How Israel Supported Hamas Against the PLO

by | May 6, 2024

How Israel Supported Hamas Against the PLO

by | May 6, 2024

palestine vs israel conflict concept on chessboard. war between israel and palestine, concept

Since the Hamas-led attacks in Israel on October 7, 2023, Israel has been executing a devastating assault on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, blocking humanitarian aid, internally displacing 75% of Gaza’s population, systematically destroying civilian infrastructure, and otherwise bombing indiscriminately. To date, over 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, including over 9,500 women and over 14,500 children.1United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel – reported impact | Day 206”, OCHAOPT.org, April 29, 2024, https://www.ochaopt.org/content/hostilities-gaza-strip-and-israel-reported-impact-day-206. More than 10,000 additional Palestinians are missing under the rubble, and over 77,000 have been injured.2United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel | Flash Update #160”, OCHAOPT.org, May 1, 2024, https://www.ochaopt.org/content/hostilities-gaza-strip-and-israel-flash-update-160. Children have been dying from hunger and malnutrition due to Israel’s use of starvation as a method of warfare.3“Gaza: Israel’s Imposed Starvation Deadly for Children”, Human Rights Watch, April 9, 2024, https://www.hrw.org/news/2024/04/09/gaza-israels-imposed-starvation-deadly-children. “Israel: Starvation Used as Weapon of War in Gaza”, Human Rights Watch, December 18, 2023, https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/12/18/israel-starvation-used-weapon-war-gaza.

In a case brought against Israel by the government of South Africa, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has deemed Israel’s military operation a plausible genocide.4International Court of Justice, “Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip”, Order, ICJ-CIJ.org, January 26, 2024, https://www.icj-cij.org/sites/default/files/case-related/192/192-20240126-ord-01-00-en.pdf. The U.S. government under the administration of Joseph R. Biden has been absolutely complicit in Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity.5Jeremy R. Hammond, “US Humanitarian Aid to Gaza Is a Cynical PR Ploy”, The Libertarian Institute, March 19, 2024, https://libertarianinstitute.org/articles/u-s-humanitarian-aid-to-gaza-is-a-cynical-pr-ploy/. See also: Jeremy R. Hammond, “The ‘Israel Has the Most Moral Army in the World’ Trope”, JeremyRHammond.com, April 18, 2024, https://www.jeremyrhammond.com/2024/04/18/the-israel-has-the-most-moral-army-in-the-world-trope/. Jeremy R. Hammond, “If Israel’s Apologists Insist ‘From the River to the Sea’ Is Genocidal…”, JeremyRHammond.com, April 24, 2024, https://www.jeremyrhammond.com/2024/04/24/from-the-river-to-the-sea/.

In reporting on the situation, the American mainstream media has tended to start their timeline for reporting on October 7, with little to no historical context provided to help news consumers understand why Hamas’s armed wing would break through the armistice line fence surrounding Gaza to perpetrate what it called “Operation Al Aqsa Flood.”6Jeremy R. Hammond, “A Brief History of Palestine, from Canaan through the Mandate Era”, JeremyRHammond.com, January 4, 2024, https://www.jeremyrhammond.com/2024/01/04/history-of-palestine/. “Haniyeh outlines context and objectives of Hamas Operation Al-Aqsa Flood”, Middle East Monitor, October 9, 2023, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20231009-haniyeh-outlines-context-and-objectives-of-hamas-operation-al-aqsa-flood/.

Editors at The New York Times even instructed journalists to avoid describing the West Bank and Gaza as “occupied territories” despite Israel being occupying power in both territories under international law, with its belligerent occupation ongoing now for nearly 57 years, leading UN bodies and international human rights organizations to describe it as an apartheid regime.7Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Grim, “LEAKED NYT GAZA MEMO TELLS JOURNALISTS TO AVOID WORDS ‘GENOCIDE,’ ‘ETHNIC CLEANSING,’ AND ‘OCCUPIED TERRITORY’”, The Intercept, April 15, 2024, https://theintercept.com/2024/04/15/nyt-israel-gaza-genocide-palestine-coverage/. “The Occupied Territories and International Law”, B’Tselem, November 11, 2017, https://www.btselem.org/international_law. United Nations General Assembly, “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel”, A/78/198, September 5, 2023, https://undocs.org/A/78/198. United Nations Human Rights Council, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk”, A/HRC/49/87, August 12, 2022, https://undocs.org/a/hrc/49/87. “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution”, Human Rights Watch, April 27, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution. “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: a cruel system of domination and a crime against humanity”, Amnesty International, February 1, 2022, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/02/israels-apartheid-against-palestinians-a-cruel-system-of-domination-and-a-crime-against-humanity/. “Not a ‘vibrant democracy’. This is apartheid”, B’Tselem, October 2022, https://www.btselem.org/publications/202210_not_a_vibrant_democracy_this_is_apartheid.

Times reporters were additionally told not to use the term “ethnic cleansing” on the grounds that it is “historically charged,” even though about 80% of Gaza’s population are refugees or their descendants from the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, which was the means by which the self-described “Jewish state” came into existence.8Scahill and Grim, “LEAKED NYT GAZA MEMO”. United Nations Relief and Works Agency, “Where We Work”, UNRWA.org, updated August 2023, accessed May 2, 2024, https://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/gaza-strip. Jeremy R. Hammond, “What Was the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and Why Is It Significant?”, JeremyRHammond.com, November 2, 2017, https://www.jeremyrhammond.com/2017/11/02/what-was-the-balfour-declaration-of-1917-and-why-is-it-significant/.

The New York Times further instructed its reporters to restrict the use of the word “genocide,” along with “slaughter” and “massacre,” on the grounds that these words are “incendiary.”9Scahill and Grim, “LAKED NYT GAZA MEMO”. Meanwhile, The New York Times is fine with using the words “slaughter” and “massacre” when referring to Israelis killed by Palestinians. An analysis by The Intercept found that, in the pages of The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, “The term ‘slaughter’ was used by editors and reporters to describe the killing of Israelis versus Palestinians 60 to 1, and ‘massacre’ was used to describe the killing of Israelis versus Palestinians 125 to 2. ‘Horrific’ was used to describe the killing of Israelis versus Palestinians 36 to 4.” In fact, The Intercept found that as the Palestinian death toll climbed, mentions of Palestinians decreased.10Adam Johnson and Othman Ali, “COVERAGE OF GAZA WAR IN THE NEW YORK TIMES AND OTHER MAJOR NEWSPAPERS HEAVILY FAVORED ISRAEL, ANALYSIS SHOWS”, The Intercept, January 9, 2024, https://theintercept.com/2024/01/09/newspapers-israel-palestine-bias-new-york-times/.

One particularly important piece of historical context that the mainstream media unsurprisingly omit from their reporting, with it only slipping out in very rare exceptions, is how the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had long been effectively utilizing Hamas as a strategic ally to block any movement toward peace negotiations with the Palestinians.11Thomas L. Friedman, “Israel Has Never Needed to Be Smarter Than in This Moment”, New York Times, October 10, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/10/opinion/israel-hamas-.html. Adam Raz, “A Brief History of the Netanyahu-Hamas Alliance”, Haaretz, October 20, 2023, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-10-20/ty-article-opinion/.premium/a-brief-history-of-the-netanyahu-hamas-alliance/0000018b-47d9-d242-abef-57ff1be90000.

In fact, Hamas had been essentially nurtured by Israel since its founding in the late-1980s, at which time the Israeli government utilized the group as a counterforce to Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which had dangerously joined the international consensus in favor of the two-state solution to the conflict.12Jeremy R. Hammond, Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Cross Village: Worldview Publications, 2016), p. 6-7, https://www.jeremyrhammond.com/product/obstacle-to-peace/. I document extensively in this book how Israel and the US government have always rejected the two-state solution.

A heightened threat of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians has always been a price that Israeli leaders were willing to pay to combat the threat of peace, which poses an obstacle to the Zionist regime’s territorial aims. Indeed, Israel has depended on the threat of terrorism to justify the persistence of its occupation regime and brutal oppression of the Palestinians.

The Founding of Hamas

In 1973, an Islamic charity organization named Mujama al-Islamiya was established in the Gaza Strip by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, whose family had fled to Gaza when Zionist armed forces ethnically cleansed their village during what is commonly known as the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.13“The life and death of Shaikh Yasin”, Al Jazeera, March 24, 2004, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2004/3/24/the-life-and-death-of-shaikh-yasin. That is the war that resulted in the establishment of the state of Israel in 78% of the territory formerly known as Palestine.

The village where Yassin was born, al-Jura, was one of over five hundred Arab villages that the Zionists literally wiped off the map in furtherance of their goal to reconstitute Palestine into a demographically “Jewish state.” While the 1948 war is known to Israelis as the “War for Independence,” the ethnic cleansing by which Israel came into being is known to the Palestinians as Al Nakba, or “The Catastrophe.”14Jeremy R. Hammond, “Benny Morris’s Untenable Denial of the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”, JeremyRHammond.com, November 14, 2016, https://www.jeremyrhammond.com/2016/11/14/benny-morris-ethnic-cleansing-palestine/.

The tale that we are routinely told by the Western mainstream media is that Arabs were the aggressors for having started the war by invading the newly created state of Israel. Supporting that narrative is the popular myth that Israel was established by the United Nations through a legitimate political process that the Arabs rejected for no other reason than that they hated Jews.

But that is all a lie. The truth is that UN General Assembly Resolution 181 neither partitioned Palestine nor conferred any legal authority to the Zionist leadership for their unilateral declaration of the existence of Israel on May 14, 1948, by which time over a quarter million Arabs had already been ethnically cleansed from their homes.15Jeremy R. Hammond, “The Myth of the U.N. Creation of Israel”, JeremyRHammond.com, October 26, 2010, https://www.jeremyrhammond.com/2010/10/26/the-myth-of-the-u-n-creation-of-israel/. Hammond, “Benny Morris’s Untenable Denial”.

The neighboring Arab states intervened to try to stop the ethnic cleansing, but they mostly failed. By the time it was over and armistice lines were drawn in 1949, approximately 750,000 Arabs had become refugees whose right to return to their homes was denied by the Zionist regime.

Having suffered a severe spinal injury at the age of twelve, Ahmed Yassin was a quadriplegic and wheelchair-bound for most of his life. In 1959, he went to Egypt and spent a year studying at university, but he lacked the funds to continue his academic career and returned to Gaza. The experience had left him deeply influenced by the Egyptian organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood, and he later became involved in the creation of a Palestinian branch of the group in Gaza.16“The life and death of Shaikh Yasin”.

In 1978, Mujama al-Islamiya, or the “Islamic Centre,” was legally registered as a charity in Israel. The group built schools, mosques, and clubs in occupied Gaza.17Richard Sale, “Israel gave major to aid to Hamas”, UPI, February 24, 2001, https://www.upi.com/Archives/2001/02/24/Israel-gave-major-to-aid-to-Hamas/6023982990800/. “Crucially,” The Wall Street Journal reported in 2009, “Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.”18Andrew Higgins, “How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas”, Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2009, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123275572295011847.

The internationally recognized leadership of the occupied Palestinian territories at the time was the secular Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headed up by Yasser Arafat, a key founder and leader of the political party Fatah.

In 1984, Fatah tipped off the Israeli military that Yassin was stockpiling weapons, and he was arrested and jailed. According to David Hacham, who was then an Arab-affairs expert in the Israeli military, Yassin told Israeli interrogators that the weapons were for use against his Palestinian rivals, not Israel. The following year, Israel released Yassin as part of a prisoner exchange agreement.19Ibid.

In December 1987, a mass uprising of the Palestinian people against Israel’s military occupation began, which uprising became known as the first “intifada,” an Arabic word meaning “throwing off.”

In August 1988, a new organization founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin published its charter.20The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement, August 18, 1988, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp. The group went by the name “Hamas,” an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, or the Islamic Resistance Movement.

Israel’s Initial Support for Hamas

At the time, The New York Times reported how Hamas had quickly become “a major force in the Gaza Strip,” causing “the first serious split of the nine-month-old Palestinian uprising.” Hamas was critical of the PLO, the Times explained, and posed a threat to its secular leadership. The Israeli government had “taken no direct action against Hamas,” which led to a belief among many Palestinians that Hamas was “being tolerated by the Israeli security forces in hopes of splitting the uprising.” This was a tactic, the Times noted, that Israel had used before.21John Kifner, “Islamic Fundamentalist Group Splitting Palestinian Uprising”, New York Times, September 18, 1988, https://www.nytimes.com/1988/09/18/world/islamic-fundamentalist-group-splitting-palestinian-uprising.html.

Israel viewed the PLO as a threat because of its movement away from armed conflict toward diplomatic engagement with the aim of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel in just 22% of the Palestinians’ historic homeland.

Demonstrating this policy shift, in 1976, the PLO supported a draft UN Security Council resolution recognizing the Palestinians’ equal right to self-determination and calling for a two-state settlement. It was vetoed by the United States.22Colter Louwerse, “‘Tyranny of the Veto’: PLO Diplomacy and the January 1976 United Nations Security Council Resolution”, Dipomacy & Statecraft, June 9, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1080/09592296.2022.2062127. In November 1988, the PLO officially proclaimed its acceptance of what is known as the two-state solution, an independent state of Palestine consisting of the West Bank and Gaza alongside the state of Israel.23United Nations, “Letter dated 18 November 1988 from the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General”, A/43/827, November 18, 1988, http://undocs.org/A/43/827. In December, Arafat again declared the PLO’s acceptance of the two-state solution before the United Nations General Assembly.24United Nations, “Provisional Verbatim Record of the Seventy-Eighth Meeting”, A/43/PV.78, January 3, 1989, http://undocs.org/A/43/PV.78.

The “Palestinian peace offensive,” as it was called in 1982 by Israeli strategic analyst Avner Yaniv, was problematic for Israel since the Israeli government rejected the two-state solution, which is premised on the applicability of international law to the conflict.25Muhammad Shehada, “Israel calls all Palestinian resistance ‘terrorism’. That’s not just racist – it’s dangerous.”, Forward, February 13, 2020, https://forward.com/opinion/439846/israel-is-clearing-the-way-for-more-violence-by-demonizing-moderate/. Accordingly, the two-state solution requires implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which called on Israel in the aftermath of the “Six Day War” of June 1967 to fully withdraw its forces from the occupied Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.26Jeremy R. Hammond, “UN Resolution 242’s True Significance vs. Popular Zionist Myth”, JeremyRHammond.com, January 26, 2018, https://www.jeremyrhammond.com/2018/01/26/un-resolution-242s-true-significance-vs-popular-zionist-myth/.

Israel had no intention of withdrawing its forces to its side of the 1949 armistice lines, which are also called the “1967 lines” or the “Green Line” for the color with which it was drawn on the map. The government had no intention of giving up on the Zionist dream of establishing Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, in all of the former territory of Palestine—but without the Palestinians.

Consequently, at the time, the strategy adopted by Israeli policymakers was to try to disarm the threat of peace posed by the PLO by undermining its leadership. As Yaniv had elaborated on the “peace offensive,” a moderate PLO “could become far more dangerous than the violent PLO of the previous years.” so it was necessary to “undermine the position of the moderates.” Israel therefore aimed at “destroying the PLO as a political force capable of claiming a Palestinian state.”27Shehada, “Israel calls all Palestinian resistance ‘terrorism’”. Norman Finkelstein, “The Scourge of Palestinian Moderation”, Middle East Research and Information Project, May/June 1989, https://merip.org/1989/05/the-scourge-of-palestinian-moderation/.

To that end, during the First Intifada, Hamas was viewed as a useful tool to the Zionist regime.

This Israeli strategy was illuminated by Richard Sale of the United Press International (UPI) news service in an article published in 2001. Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East policy analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies, told UPI that Israel “aided Hamas directly—the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO.”

A former senior CIA official likewise told UPI that Israel’s support for Hamas “was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative.”

An anonymous U.S. intelligence source similarly told UPI that Israel was funding Hamas as a “counterweight” to the PLO and to enable Israeli intelligence to identify the most “dangerous hardliners” within the movement.28Sale, “Israel gave major aid to Hamas”.

Escalating the Threat of Terrorism

The predictable consequence of Israel’s policy of blocking implementation of the two-state solution by undermining the PLO was an increased threat of terrorism, but that was an acceptable risk in the calculation of Israeli policymakers.

As former State Department counterterrorism official Larry Johnson put it, “The Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism…They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than to curb it.”29Ibid.

This reality was more recently disclosed by David Shipler, The New York Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief from 1979 to 1984, who wrote a letter to the editor published on May 17, 2021, stating that,

“In 1981, Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, Israel’s military governor of Gaza, told me that he was giving money to the Muslim Brotherhood, the precursor of Hamas, on the instruction of the Israeli authorities. The funding was intended to tilt power away from both Communist and Palestinian nationalist movements in Gaza, which Israel considered more threatening than the fundamentalists.”30David Shipler, “Casting Blame in the Israel-Gaza Conflict”, Letters to the Editor, New York Times, May 17, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/17/opinion/letters/israel-gaza-palestinians.html.

The U.S. State Department, in a cable from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to the Secretary of State dated September 29, 1989, acknowledged that, despite having outlawed Hamas and imprisoning Sheikh Yassin under “administrative detention” without charge or trial, “some Israel officials indicated that Hamas served as a useful counter to the secular organizations loyal to the PLO.” Consequently, the State Department noted, “Israeli forces may be turning a blind eye to Hamas activities.”31US State Department, “Islamic Group, Hamas, Outlawed”, September 29, 1989, Wikileaks, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/89TELAVIV14032_a.html.

As I wrote in the first chapter of my book Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,

“That the real threat to Israel has been that of peace achieved through implementation of the two-state solution is well evidenced by its policies and their predictable consequences. This is oftentimes the only rational explanation for Israel’s actions. Its continued occupation, oppression, and violence toward the Palestinians have served to escalate the threat of terrorism against Israeli civilians, but this is a price Israeli leaders are willing to pay. Indeed, the threat of terrorism has often served as a necessary pretext to further goals that would not be politically feasible absent such a threat.”32Hammond, Obstacle to Peace, p. 6-7, https://www.jeremyrhammond.com/product/obstacle-to-peace/.

This was recognized within the Israeli government itself. In October 2003, for example, Moshe Ya’alon, the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), criticized the policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon because they served to increase hatred of Israel and strengthen terrorist organizations.33Greg Myre, “Israel’s Chief of Staff Denounces Policies Against Palestinians”, New York Times, October 30, 2003, https://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/30/world/israel-s-chief-of-staff-denounces-policies-against-palestinians.html.

The following month, four former chiefs of Israel’s domestic security service, the Shin Bet, similarly criticized that Israel was headed in the direction of “catastrophe” and would destroy itself if it continued to take steps “that are contrary to the aspiration for peace,” such as the continued oppression of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. “We must admit that there is another side,” said Avraham Shalom, Shin Bet director from 1980 to 1986, “that it has feelings and that it is suffering, and that we are behaving disgracefully.”34Justin Huggler, “Disaster looms for Israel, say ex-security chiefs”, Independent, November 15, 2003, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/disaster-looms-for-israel-say-exsecurity-chiefs-8810653.html.

Conclusion

When Hamas was first founded in the 1980s, the Israeli government viewed it as a useful force to advance its policy aim of undermining the PLO, which was seen as a threat because of its acceptance of the two-state solution. Israel therefore effectively treated Hamas as a strategic ally to divide the Palestinian leadership.

Right up until the Hamas-led attacks in Israel in October 2023, Benjamin Netanyahu, who first served as Israeli prime minister in the late 1990s and has again been in power since 2009, maintained the Israeli government policy of utilizing Hamas as a strategic ally to block any peace negotiations with the Palestinians because Israel has always rejected the two-state solution.

The threat of terrorism was preferable, in Netanyahu’s calculation, to the threat of peace, and while the mainstream media never put it into this proper context, it is important to recognize that Hamas’s “Operation Al Aqsa Flood” on October 7, 2023, was blowback for this Israeli government policy.

About Jeremy R. Hammond

Jeremy R. Hammond is an independent journalist and a Research Fellow at The Libertarian Institute whose work focuses on exposing deceitful mainstream propaganda that serves to manufacture consent for criminal government policies. He has written about a broad range of topics, including US foreign policy, economics and the role of the Federal Reserve, and public health policies. He is the author of several books, including Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman: Austrian vs. Keynesian Economics in the Financial Crisis, and The War on Informed Consent. Find more of his articles and sign up to receive his email newsletters at JeremyRHammond.com.

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