So everybody suddenly realizes that demilitarizing Gaza is the way to go, even American officials. Take their arms and exchange them for money with which to better their lives. Surely, it is a fine idea. The devilish details will determine if it is also a feasible one. Here are some things to consider:
A. Hamas isn’t likely to want this idea, because Hamas with no arms is not Hamas and will lose control over Gaza. Of course, it will gladly take the funds, but don’t be utterly surprised if it doesn’t quickly comply with its own part of the deal.
B. If it doesn’t, someone will have to do the job and disarm it. Do you see any candidates around?
C. The whole point is to prevent an Israeli-Palestinian round of violence. So Israel is not a candidate.
D. Next: the “international community”. Seriously? Israel is still waiting for the international community to disarm Hezbollah. There is a UN Security Council resolution demanding Hezbollah to disarm. An international force was sent to southern Lebanon. It didn’t really reduce the number and quality of Hezbollah arms – and it isn’t likely to change it anytime soon. I don’t see an outside force willing to sacrifice soldiers for such a mission, so I don’t see reason to believe that Hamas is going to be different than Hezbollah.
E. Next: Mahmud Abbas. The proper thing to say now is that Abbas should be empowered and given the keys to Gaza (I refer you to Will Saletan, who made this case in his usual measured and balanced way, so that you won’t waste your time on lesser advocates of similar ideas). Of course, that’s a wonderful idea, except that Abbas already had the keys to Gaza – had them, lost them, couldn’t get them back. If you aren’t quite familiar with this history, read here.
F. Surely, many people believe that Abbas is only weak because Netanyahu made him weak. To this two answers can be given: One – this isn’t exactly true. Two – it doesn’t really matter. The only thing that matters is whether Abbas can take control over Gaza.
G. So can he? Maybe, maybe not. Saletan writes (is it about me?): “Israelis grouse about Abbas, but he has done a lot to merit their trust. His security forces in the West Bank have cooperated with Israel even when it angers Palestinians”. True. But for some reason you don’t see him running around pushing Israel to open for him and his forces a road to Gaza through which they will reenter the area and reoccupy it. Go back to the example of Lebanon: do you see the Lebanese government disarming Hezbollah? I don’t. That is, because preventing a group from committing atrocities is one thing. Actively seeking to strip it of its stock of weaponry is quite another. So maybe Israel is being too skeptical about this, but I still think that if Abbas decides to disarm Hamas against Hamas’ will, that would be a surprise. There are few positive surprises in such instances.
H. (I should also say that there is something fishy about the pressure on Israel to “strengthen” anyone and to orchestrate an Arab takeover of other Arabs. If the idea is for Israel not to have control over the lives of Palestinians, why make it its business to tamper with their leadership?)
I. And anyway, what if Israel strengthens Abbas yet Palestinians decide that they want Hamas after all? What if they decide that they do want Abbas but then Hamas doesn’t care to comply with their decision? Then you’d need someone to tame, disarm and dethrone Hamas by force. Again, a candidate is needed.
J. How about America? Would America do it? Like with Abbas, my skepticism is based more on ongoing impressions than on rock-solid proof. So let me suggest another reading that demonstrates the kind of thinking that makes me suspicious. It is an article from Foreign Affairs (2010) that explains why “actively seeking to demilitarize Hezbollah non-coercively has its advantages”. One of the authors was an Obama official. Yes, I’m being a little unfair here because everybody makes mistakes. Then again, read this paragraph, written prior to the war in Syria, when some people could still fall for such claptrap, and reconsider the proposition of the current US administration in charge of disarming Hamas: “Hezbollah… may be ready to shift more decisively into the political realm… Hezbollah was distancing itself from Iranian patronage…Some of Hezbollah's leaders might see a move toward demilitarization as a new avenue for increasing the group's appeal… Contact with Hezbollah would have to exploit this impulse to be useful”.
K. Hey, but didn’t the US succeed in disarming Syria from its chemicals? Even Netanyahu praised Obama for this achievement, right? Right. You have to read Netanyahu carefully, though, as it isn’t his habit to walk around praising Presidents he dislikes. The praise means to suggest a path to success: If Obama wants to succeed with Iran, he has to do what he did, successfully, in Syria – that is, have a credible threat of using force. This isn’t a post about Iran, it’s about Hamas, but the lesson is similar. If the Americans want to disarm Hamas the same way they disarmed Syria, the Netanyahu government is likely to be thrilled. I don’t think the Obama-Kerry team is ready to take on such a task.
L. Can Hamas be disarmed, then? Maybe it can. A credible threat of using force (Israel) is already in place. Two tough neighbors (Egypt, Israel) seem ready to see the process through. The involvement – the presumably well intentioned involvement – of outside forces is actually why disarming Hamas is more complicated than it should be. Kerry and his partners are standing in the way.