There is a paragraph in the article I wrote for Slate yesterday that both my editor and I agreed is somewhat condescending. My only defense is that it truly reflects a great measure of puzzlement. The article deals with the motivation behind Hamas' insistence on a war that it cannot win. Really, it is an article about our failure to understand Hamas' motivation. Here it is:
What Hamas thinks it can achieve is a mystery. The comparison might seem condescending, but Hamas feels like a nagging child that periodically gets a stick and is picking a fight with the stronger grown-up next door. Surely, even a grown-up is hurt when hit with a stick, so he has to do something about it. At some point, he has to discipline the irritant child. But a grown-up’s heart is never in this fight. The battle is repetitive, it is boring, it is predictable.
So what do they want?
Peter Beaumont, writing in The Guardian, attempts to answer the question with the help of some experts:
"They feel like they have nothing to lose," says Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University, who has studied the group. "Since the 2 June unity agreement the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen [President Mahmoud Abbas's nickname] have done nothing for Gaza and Hamas. It was supposed to open the crossings [to Egypt], pay the salaries of their people, who have not been paid for months. They were expecting a visit from Abu Mazen, and he has not even called.
"They calculate there will be a new ceasefire and when it happens it will improve things for Hamas."
And in some respects that is exactly what Hamas wants: to fight a war for a ceasefire.
Hey – Israel wants ceasefire too. In fact, it offered a ceasefire. Hamas didn't want it, though, not before it could inflict some damage on Israel. But what is happening now is that the damage is inflicted mostly on the poor people of Gaza. So Hamas is looking for a so called "quality attack" – that is, to kill enough Israelis to be able to declare victory. No one can say with certainty that Hamas isn't going to achieve this goal, but anyone can see that the price Hamas is paying – the price the people of Gaza are paying – for such a momentary mirage of triumph is very high.
Another answer is laid out by Elliott Abrams, at the Council on Foreign Relations – in fact, several answers:
A. "The economic situation in Gaza is dire… Hamas needed a way out of its increasingly difficult situation".
B. "The arrangement Hamas had reached with Israel—no rocket attacks out of Gaza, no Israeli attacks into Gaza—was becoming increasingly tough for Hamas to maintain… Hamas was risking the charge from other terrorists that it was an auxiliary police force for Israel".
C. "Hamas is no longer irrelevant".
D. "This episode in its long struggle with Israel allows Hamas to show its capabilities".
Abrams says this is "a very big gamble for Hamas, and the size of the gamble is the measure of Hamas’s desperation". And looking at his list of reasons one realizes that for Hamas the ensured defeat and the pain inflicted on Gazans is not even a consideration. The battle is being fought for political reasons – for political survival.
My Slate article begins with a reference to Hillary Clinton's latest book, and to her role in mediating a ceasefire in a similar situation in 2012 (I used the same reference in my article in Hebrew for Maariv). Michael Crowley at Time Magazine uses the same story in his article in which he argues that the Obama administration should step in to prevent a "disastrous" continuation of the war (I use the word "war" but this isn't a "war"). But he knows that "Obama faces a different calculus today, including the recent collapse of Kerry’s push for a Middle East peace deal, and a new Egyptian regime that is decidedly hostile to Hamas, making Cairo unlikely to mediate again". Here's the problem I present today to my Hebrew readers regarding this: The US can pressure Israel to restrain itself by threatening not to give it diplomatic cover. The US can pressure Hamas to restrain itself by giving Israel diplomatic cover. Pressuring both at the same time could be tricky, though.