ISIS And Israel Allies Against A Palestinian State
08 October 2014
By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
An image speaks a thousand words – and
that is presumably what Israel's supporters hoped for
with their latest ad in the New York Times.
Two photographs are presented side by
side. One, titled ISIS, is the now-iconic image of a
kneeling James Foley, guarded by a black-hooded
executioner, awaiting his terrible fate. The other,
titled Hamas, is a scene from Gaza, where a similarly
masked killer stands over two victims, who cower in
A headline stating "This is the face of
radical Islam" tries, like the images, to equate the
We have heard this line repeatedly from
Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who
tweeted "Hamas is ISIS" after the video of Foley's
beheading aired. Last week, in a speech addressed to
the family of Steven Sotloff, ISIS's latest victim, he
called Hamas and ISIS "tentacles of a violent Islamist
Netanyahu's depiction of Hamas and
ISIS, or Islamic State, as "branches of the same
poisonous tree" is a travesty of the truth.
The two have entirely different – in
fact, opposed – political projects. ISIS wants to
return to a supposed era of pure Islamic rule, the
caliphate, when all Muslims were subject to God's laws
(sharia). Given that Muslims are now to be found in
every corner of the globe, the implication is that
ISIS ultimately seeks world domination.
Hamas's goals are decidedly more
modest. It was born and continues as a national
liberation movement, seeking to create a Palestinian
state. Its members may disagree on that state's
territorial limits but even the most ambitious expect
no more than the historic borders of a Palestine that
existed a few decades ago.
ISIS aims to sweep away Palestine and
every other Arab state in the region.
That is the key to interpreting the
very different, if equally brutal, events depicted in
the two images.
ISIS killed Foley, dressed in
Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuit, purely as spectacle
– a graphic message to the world of its menacing
agenda. Hamas' cruelty was directed at those in Gaza
who collaborate with Israel, undermining any hope of
Palestinian liberation from Israel's occupation.
The extra-judicial execution of
collaborators may be ugly but it has a long tradition
among resistance movements fighting asymmetrical wars.
Militants among the Marxist revolutionaries of Latin
America and the Catholic nationalists in Ireland, as
well as the Allied resistance in Nazi Europe and the
Jewish underground against the British in Palestine,
had nary a Muslim in their ranks but they brutally
punished those who betrayed them.
ISIS's reported 20,000 foot soldiers
have quickly taken over swaths of Iraq and Syria in a
murderous and uncompromising campaign against anyone
who rejects not only Islam but their specific
interpretation of it.
Hamas – split between political and
militant factions – has shown itself both pragmatic
and accountable to the Palestinian public. It won the
last national election, in 2006, and after its recent
fight against Israel in Gaza is by far the most
popular Palestinian movement.
Despite being in control of Gaza for
eight years, it has not implemented sharia law nor
targeted the enclave's Christians. Instead it has
recently formed a unity government with its secular
political rivals in Fatah, and has been more than
willing to negotiate with Israel.
According to reports, Hamas leader
Khaled Meshal has joined Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of
the Palestinian Authority, in demanding the most
diminutive Palestinian state possible, inside the 1967
Netanyahu's fundamentalist right wing
are the ones refusing to negotiate, with either Hamas
In casting a popular resistance
movement like Hamas as ISIS, Netanyahu has tarred all
Palestinians as bloodthirsty Islamic extremists. And
here we reach Israel's real goal in equating the two
Netanyahu's comparison has a recent parallel.
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks on the US, Ariel
Sharon made a similar equivalence between al-Qaeda and
the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Israel's intelligence officials even
called the destruction of the Twin Towers a "Hanukkah
miracle", a view echoed by Netanyahu years later when
he described the attack as beneficial, adding that it
had "swung American public opinion in our favour".
All of them understood that 9/11 had
reframed the debate about the Oslo-inspired debate
about the Palestinians needing statehood to one about
an evil axis of Middle East terror.
Sharon revelled in calling Arafat the
head of an "infrastructure of terror", justifying
Israel's crushing the uprising of the second intifada.
Similarly, Netanyahu's efforts are
designed to discredit all – not just the Islamic
variety of – Palestinian resistance to Israel's
occupation. He hopes to be the silent partner to
Barack Obama's new coalition against ISIS.
Aaron David Miller, an adviser to
several US administrations on Israeli-Palestinian
negotiations, warned in Foreign Policy last week that
the rise of ISIS would pose a serious setback to
Palestinian hopes of statehood – a point underscored
by the far greater concerns about ISIS than the
Palestinians' plight expressed by Arab League
delegates at this week's meeting in Cairo.H
ow Netanyahu hopes to follow Sharon in
exploiting this opportunity was on show last week,
when Israeli intelligence revealed a supposed Hamas
plot to launch a coup against the PA.
The interrogation of Hamas officials,
however, showed only that they had prepared for the
possibility of the PA's rule ending in the West Bank,
either through its collapse under Israeli pressure or
through a disillusioned Abbas handing over the keys to
But talk of Hamas coups has melded with
other, even wilder stories, such as the claims last
week from foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman that ISIS
cells had formed in the West Bank and inside Israel.
Defence minister Moshe Yaalon underscored this
narrative by hurriedly classifying ISIS as a
All this fear-mongering is designed
both to further undermine the Palestinian unity
government between Hamas and Fatah, and to sanction
Israel's behaviour by painting a picture, as after
9/11, of an Israel on the front line of a war against
"Israel's demands for a continued Israeli presence [in
the West Bank] and a lengthy withdrawal period will
only harden further," wrote Miller.
In reality, Israel should share common
cause with Palestinian leaders, from Fatah and Hamas,
against ISIS. But, as ever, Netanyahu will forgo his
country's long-term interests for a short-term gain in
his relentless war to keep the Palestinians stateless.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha
Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest
books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations:
Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East"
(Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: Israel's
Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed Books). His website