Excluding Hamas from the ‘day after’ in Gaza would be a mistake

Marginalising the movement in post-war governance in Gaza would lead to instability.

This handout picture provided by the Iranian foreign ministry on December 20, 2023, shows Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaking to journalists as he welcomes the Iranian foreign minister (not in the picture), in Doha. (Photo by Iranian Foreign Ministry / AFP) / XGTY / XGTY / === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS === - XGTY / XGTY / === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS === /
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks to journalists before he welcomed the Iranian foreign minister in Doha on December 19, 2023 [Handout/Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AFP]

In the field of the social sciences, it is very common to say “history repeats itself”. However, there is nothing inevitable about how political events pan out and the choices that political actors make.

In this sense, and in the current context of Israel’s war on Gaza, it is important to consider what foreign intervention in a country’s internal affairs and government can lead to.

When foreign powers decide to eject a certain political player from power and impose an unelected provisional government, they create two problems.

First, the population of the country is denied their voting rights and their right to voice their political opinions. A governing body that does not represent the people ignores their demands and complaints, which leads to precarious outcomes, including internal conflict.

Second, the forced marginalisation of a political party could weaken and silence it, but it could also backfire. The denial of its right to political participation could push its members to reorganise, remobilise and return to the political scene with more hardline approaches or even violence.

The example of Afghanistan is quite telling. In 2001, a US-led coalition invaded the country and dislodged the Taliban government from power. In the subsequent proceedings to form a government, the Taliban was excluded after being presented as an illegitimate actor. What followed was 20 years of political instability and war, which ended with the Taliban coming back to power.

Today, as the international community mulls the fate of Gaza after Israel’s war on it ends, it is on its way to repeating its mistakes of the past. Of course, the history and current situation in Gaza are different from Afghanistan’s, but there is a similar desire to marginalise a legitimate political actor.

Since Israel announced its war on Gaza, it has repeatedly made clear that it wants to dismantle and eliminate Hamas, for which it has received backing from its ally, the US, and European countries.

The Israeli military has claimed it is after Hamas’s fighters and military infrastructure, but over the past 75 days, it has become evident that it is also targeting its political structures, including ministries, institutions that provide civilian services, facilities responsible for basic utilities and so on.

Worse than that, Israel has demonstrated its intentions to devastate the civilian infrastructure of the Gaza Strip and expel as many of its residents as possible.

In a November 17 interview with NPR, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to say who should take over governing Gaza; he did insist that whoever it is, it “can’t be people committed to funding terrorism and inculcating terrorism”. He then went on to compare the Israeli invasion of Gaza to the Allies’ occupation of Germany and Japan after World War II.

But the comparison Netanyahu drew between Germany, Japan and Gaza is inaccurate. Gaza, as well as the West Bank and East Jerusalem, has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. The Palestinians, unlike the Germans and the Japanese, do not have a state and have the status of an occupied population. As such, under international law, their acts of armed resistance are not equal or comparable to acts of aggression by an independent state with a national army.

Resistance in Palestine under occupation has historically taken numerous forms and has been channelled by various political parties, both on the left and on the right. Yet, Israel has labelled all of them as “terrorist”, whether it was the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or any other.

If Hamas is dismantled, as Israel seeks to do, another resistance group would take its place. This is due to the fact that the culture of resistance is embedded in the Palestinian society on the religious, political, economic and social levels and it will require much more than the eradication of one party to change that.

That is why, the plans of foreign powers to impose an unelected government on Gaza are likely to backfire. The US specifically has proposed the unification of the West Bank and Gaza under the rule of the Palestinian Authority as a step towards Palestinian statehood.

Such a move would deny the right of the Palestinian people to choose who they want to be governed by. It is important to note that Hamas won the 2006 legislative elections in the occupied Palestinian territories and its government was democratically elected.

Since then, it has become so embedded in the Palestinian society in general, and in Gaza specifically, that its marginalisation in any future Palestinian would create massive societal tensions.

It would also create a political, social and security vacuum that would not spell any good for whoever takes over governance.

How and when the war in Gaza will end and what follows next is still uncertain. But one thing is clear: If Western and regional powers repeat past mistakes of marginalising a major political actor and seek to impose their will on the Palestinian people, they would not get a different outcome than they have had in the past.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.