You might have come across an organisation called Forward Thinking in your travels. In my mind, I’ve filed it under “well meaning”. Although it has co-organised conferences with various Muslim Brotherhood front groups, and the pro-Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood advocacy organisation Conflicts Forum, I understood its mission to be, essentially:
“Let’s keep the channels of communication open, while we try to come up with an imaginative solution to Israel/Palestine”.
That is something that I would support.
However, I think I’ve got Forward Thinking completely wrong.
This morning, Sir Jeremy Greenstock – Britain’s former ambassador to the UN – spoke for Forward Thinking on the Today Programme. If I understand him right, Forward Thinking’s mission is to provide the sort of public relations for Hamas that it is incapable of conducting itself.
Paul Waugh – who is clearly very impressed by Sir Jeremy’s insight into Hamas – summarises his arguments here. But they are so incredible, that I really do wonder whether Sir Jeremy can really believe them himself.
I suppose the art of diplomacy is saying what your audience needs to hear you say, so that they’ll give you what you want. I wonder whether the whole point of these think tanks – Conflicts Forum, Forward Thinking – is to allow former MI6 and FCO officers the freedom to campaign openly for the outcome they’d like to see: a future in which Britain’s relations with the Middle East and the Muslim world in general is unpolluted by the rancour caused by the continuing existence of Israel as an independent nation.
There are two ways to push that argument. The first is to stress the absence of British national interest in opposing Hamas. But that only gets you half the way there. The second part is to explain that Hamas is a much maligned outfit, that is best thought of as a benevolent mutual self help organisation. That’s the “fluffy Hamas”, that is. Of course, there’s a bad Hamas that does some bad things, but the “fluffy Hamas” can’t really be blamed for any of that.
God knows, there are plenty of people pushing a “fluffy Hamas” message. However, by and large, they’re those on the furthest reaches of the Far Left, plus a few mainstream politicians who have gone a bit potty – Clare Short, Jenny Tonge, and so on. Every time Seuauaueumas Milne writes a Guardian article pushing the “fluffy Hamas” line, it is spoilt by Azzam “Kaboom” Tamimi ulutating like an extra from Greenmantle, and reminding us what sort of organisation it really is. And so nobody has really taken the “fluffy Hamas” thesis seriously.
Which is why it is so important that a really respectable, authoritative figure in the foreign policy establishment fronts up the “fluffy Hamas” thesis.
This is what he says:
He pointed out that Hamas is not under the thumb of Iran, because it is a Sunni rather than a Shiite group.
He said that Hamas was not trying to set up a Taliban state, that women and men attend the same universities, that one of the best schools in Gaza is run by a Catholic priest with Hamas’s blessing.
No, it is not trying to set up a Taliban state. That isn’t their model at all. The Muslim Brotherhood – of which Hamas is merely a wing – recently published its “Blueprint” which has been described, accurately, as reminiscent of Iran’s Islamic state. One Iranian liberal described it as as “an assassination to the civic state”. That’s the model.
We know that Hamas has a beef with Jews. But how would Palestinian Christians in Gaza fare in an officially Islamic State, applying Sharia as its basic law? Remember the YMCA library? And the school and chapel that were sacked during the Hamas coup last year? Here’s the Guardian on the subject:
At the end of the afternoon, Rami Ayad said goodbye to his fellow workers at Gaza’s Bible Society and headed home. He never got there.
In the hours after Mr Ayad’s failed to return home, his wife and his brother spoke to him on his mobile phone. Both were concerned that something was wrong. His brother, Ramzi, said he had heard fear in his voice. Later, Rami called his wife and told her he was in a faraway place and would be very late; the next morning, his body was found in a street. He had been stabbed several times and shot in the head.
His friends and family are convinced his only crime was that he was a Christian – and his murder, on October 7, has persuaded many in the 3,000-strong Christian community they are no longer welcome in Gaza.
But, no, according to Sir Jeremy, there’s nothing to worry about here.
Then of course, we are treated to the IRA parallels:
Greenstock said that Blair should know better than most the possible dividends of turning militants into democrats, revealing this little nugget of info: “My colleagues and I have introduced Hamas to senior members of Sinn Fein and they are very interested in the precedent, the example of what happened in Northern Ireland.”
Now, the Hamas=IRA discussion is an old chestnut. Yes, there are some parallels. Yes, there are some differences. In my view, the main differences are that the IRA never claimed sovereignty over England or Scotland, and that by the time the IRA agreed to stop murdering people, the organisation had been thoroughly infiltrated, its leadership were middle aged and looking for a happy and publicly funded retirement, and the European Union had made the arguments over “re-unification” a bit, well, archaic. However, it is also argued that when Britain made overtures to the IRA back in the 1970s, it was seen as proof by the IRA that they had bombed Britain to compromise: with the result that many many more innocent people were slaughtered, as the IRA dealt out more of the same. It isn’t always good to talk.
Then, there’s this:
Yet Sir Jeremy added that some of the rockets were being fired by Fatah militants and Islamic Jihad. “The truth is not being told about the current situation”.
Oh come on. Is Sir Jeremy really suggesting that Hamas has no control over the operations of other “militant” groups, particularly those linked to Fatah, whose supporters they have been suppressing, brutalising, and executing for the past year?
But best of all is this:
Greenstock refuted the constant claim that Hamas was intent on destroying Israel.
“They are not intent on the destruction of Israel. That’s a rhetorical statement of resistance and not part of their programme.”
He added that the Hamas charter opposing Israel’s existence was “drawn up by a Hamas-linked imam some years ago and has never been adopted since Hamas was elected as the Palestinian government in January 2006 as a part of its politcal programme”. “This is a grievance-based organisation desperate to end the occupation”.
First of all, he didn’t “refute” anything. He simply denied that Hamas intends to destroy Israel. That is quite a different thing.
Of course Hamas intends to destroy Israel. It isn’t just a matter of its Covenant. Its highest officers and most cherished clerics say this this time and again. Shall I waste 5 minutes googling footage of Hamas spokesmen saying precisely this? No I won’t. Go look for it yourself. Look at the material disclosed in the Holy Land Foundation trial, which illustrates with full internal documentation, the Hamas position from Oslo onwards. This is an organisation that cannot, as a matter of basic theology, accept a non-Muslim state – including a secular Arab state – in any part of what it regards as “Muslim land”.
In fact, Sir Jeremy must know – I assume he must know – that Hamas was utterly dismayed by Oslo. It was – so they thought – the end of their dreams of a single Palestine, without self-governing Jews. The Holy Land Foundation trial disclosures show how Hamas went about trying to scupper negotiation and compromise.
The fact that Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood repeats its desire to cleanse Palestine is a huge problem for those pushing the “fluffy Hamas” thesis. How could any British politician – other than an extremist or the most cynical of ‘realists’ – embrace an organisation with that sort of agenda? Oh sure, you can claim that a “bad Hamas” cleric drafted it. But, then, why is it still in place? One solution has been to claim that the Covenant is out of date. Azzam “Kaboom” Tamimi was drafted in to claim that it was going to be redrafted. Of course this hasn’t happened. So Sir Jeremy is reduced to arguing that the Covenant hasn’t actually been put into practice, although Hamas is now in power. In what sense hasn’t it been put into practice? Hamas hasn’t managed to kill every Jew in Israel? I’ll give you that.
Alternatively, of course, all this Jew-killing stuff is merely “rhetorical”. I won’t repeat the “rhetoric” of the Covenant. I expect that you know it off by heart by now. But, seriously, what sort of feeble argument is this? If I went up to my neighbour and told him that God had decreed that we fight until the End of Days, accused him of responsibility for every bad thing that has happened since the beginning of time, and then produced a Biblical quotation to prove me right, that should be dismissed as mere “rhetoric”? Is the thinking that Arabs are frothing at the mouth nutters given to issuing bloodcurdling threats for kicks, who we shouldn’t take too seriously? Even when Hamas members appear in “shahid” videos proclaiming their desire to “knock on the doors of heaven with the skulls of Zionists”, and then do precisely that, we should just dismiss it as rhetoric? Despite the fact that the calls for truces are always couched in religious terms, calibrated to make it clear to the faithful that the “truce” is no settlement, but merely an exercise in reculer pour mieux sauter?
No, that’s not it at all. I think that Sir Jeremy knows precisely what sort of organisation Hamas is.
Now, I would like to think that eventually, Hamas will segue into a Middle Eastern version of Sinn Fein, and that at some point in the future, there will be an opportunity for power sharing and pooled sovereignty across the region, in a manner that ensures that the rights of minorities are respected. By contrast, I suspect that Sir Jeremy thinks this a pipe dream.
Far better to peddle this absurd “fluffy Hamas” story on the Today programme, and hope that nobody from Hamas pops up to demolish Forward Thinking’s fiction.
Some people are all Hamas now.