Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon, I hope you are all have a chance now to at least have a part of your lunch. You are welcome to continue and don't feel threatened by the format of the seminar. It's a pleasure to welcome all of you here for this discussion, this afternoon. Of course one of the recurring questions to the policy makers across the Atlantic is whether we should engage with radical organizations in the Middle East or whether we should isolate them. And nobody is probably better qualified, both as a policymaker and as a scholar, to ask this question and provide us some insights on the issue of the National Unity Government just established in the Palestine Authority and composed of Hamas. Matthew Levitt has recently returned to the Washington Institute after a three year period at the Treasury and he wasted no time leaving public service back into the world of academia and just released this book in English with Yale University Press on Hamas. I have a few copies of the introduction in English for anyone interested here and it's also available on the website of the Washington Institute where Dr. Levitt is a Fellow and the Director of the Centre for Terrorism, Policy and -. Terrorism, Intelligence, and Policy Intelligence; there you go. So without further adieu I will leave it to Matthew. Just a reminder for all of you, that we are filming this event and the event is on the record. So this is just for the benefit of those who want to use the comments of our speaker but also for those who may wish to think twice about what they are about to say. Matthew, the floor is yours, thank you. Thank you very much Emmanuel. I want to thank you and I thank the Transatlantic Institute for hosting this event. I'm especially grateful for one part of introduction where you laid out that I was going to ask the question but you did not suggest that I would give any answer; which I said insights. - insights, I can offer, answers might be more difficult. And thank you for plugging my book from the bottom of my children's college fund and I mean the bottom of their college fund. I want to take a little bit of time to talk about Hamas and then leave as much time as possible for questions and answers; hopefully I will say some things that are provocative enough to force some questions and some discussions. Let me stress that the book is written before I went to Treasury. I had been a kind of Terrorism Analyst of the FBI and did a PhD at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts and Harvard; left the FBI and went to the Washington Institute. I was there I was teaching at Johns Hopkins. It was during that period that I did the research for the book, in part here in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe and of course the Middle East. The book came out right after I joined treasury and I am now very pleased because I couldn't then to be able to do some promotion for it. Before we get into the bottom line of should we engage or should we isolate Hamas, I think it's really important to understand a little bit more about Hamas, because I think that we tend to look at Hamas with very broad strokes and we miss a lot of the calculus. And no equation is going to be complete if you don't have all of the data. What I mean here is that we need to take into account more than just did Hamas run in an election did it win an election? Is it a viable member of international political community? What has it done since winning the election? And even more so perhaps you know, what is it's what is its identity? I'd like to start off especially to be honest when I was speaking in Europe and point out that if you look across the elections laws in Europe; especially within the European Union, as a colleague of mine at the Washington Institute did as Hamas was considering whether or not to participate in the elections; by almost every standard in the European Union, Hamas would not have been allowed to run. Almost every where in Europe the threshold is not participation in violence but verbal promotion of violence, even hatred language, and by that standard, Hamas and many other groups that fell even lower below the threshold would not have been allowed to participate and run as a political party. It's an interesting anecdote but it doesn't really help us today. To understand Hamas you have to understand several things. The first is that Hamas is comprised of three components which Hamas would like us to believe are separate and disparate but are actually intimately intertwined. And this in large part is one of the things I tried to set out to do with this book and that is to debunk the myth of the disparate wings. That is to say the political and the charitable, social and the military wings of Hamas are in no way disparate and we need go no farther than to listen to the leaders of Hamas when they tell us just that. Even more important than what they say I would argue because they will say it from on one hand that you cannot take any wing out of Hamas, they are all one and part and parcel of the same thing. And then they will also say that they are willing to forego violence why it's very difficult to follow and analyze Hamas just based on their statements, if you look closely at their behavior it's a very telling pattern. Hamas uses its social welfare infrastructure to provide support to needy Palestinians, yes. But it does so in such a way earmarked in such ways to build, maximize grassroots support for the organization in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian authority officials before Hamas became the Palestinian authority, that I interviewed as early as 1997 and as recently on this issue as 2004 I finally had to stop them because they were giving me so many examples of cases where a a widow for example was to receive 500 Israeli shekel or a 100 Israeli shekel and actually was receiving a 115 and just knew that when someone came to her door that week and ask for that 15 she wasn't to ask any questions. It is an ideal form of money laundering that I can tell you as a former treasury official is not traceable or tracked in any way once it gets out of the formal and for that matter informal transfer mechanism. No one wants questions at all when money goes in to a conflict zone, when money goes one way and not two ways, when there is a need as there is in the Gaza and in the West Bank which makes the charities run by Hamas a classic money laundering operation. I am taken by two particular examples that are in the book. They are many, many more as highlights for how the various wings of Hamas cross pollinate. The one is the case of Jamaal Tawil. Jamaal Tawil was the Hamas political spokesman overtly in Ramallah in the West Bank. He was also at the same time the covert head of the Izz al-Din Al Qassam Brigades, Hamas terrorist wing in the central region of the West Bank. For a while he found that it was not terribly difficult to get money from the Hamas leadership in Damascus into his personal accounts and into other accounts that were in the names of family members and friends, in part because he was the political leader and could always claim that that money was in for Hamas's overt activity. With time the Israelis started paying closer attention to him and he found it was difficult. At the recommendation of Hamas leaders in Damascus this is the school of Khaled Meshaal, Mousa Abu Marzook, [0:08:36] ____ all of whom have tied not only to political activity but to terrorist activity as well as some of which the US government has declassified and made public. At their recommendation he shifted from using his personal account for everything to using his personal account only for the strictly political activity. For the other activity he opened deal as the charity, for the express purpose of serving as a money laundering mechanism, to get money into the Middle West Bank for the Qassam Brigades activities. Did the this little charity provide charitable social welfare services to Palestinians? Of course. Did that social welfare include even some people who are not members of Hamas? Absolutely. But the fact that the charity was created for the express purpose of serving as a money laundering mechanism is telling in and of itself. When you take that in context of a quote that the FBI declassified and made public from a Hamas meeting that was held in Philadelphia in 1994, shortly after the 1993 Oslo Accords as Hamas was trying to come to terms with how to deal with this new peace process is a very telling quote; where these Hamas operatives, mostly from the United States one former military operative who is now doing a rotation in Hamas's social charitable sector his name was it was Muin Shabib who was at this meeting, and they say very clearly that "To prevent Oslo, Hamas should make social services available to the populations." And they say "Our relations have to be good with everyone. But we can give the Islamists 100,000 and 5,000 to the others." And they go on and explain that really it should be the obligation of the United Nations, various committees, UN aid etc to provide for most Palestinians and they will provide for those who either are or have the potential to become Islamists. So one example is Jamaal Tawil. The other example is an individual that I interviewed in person in an Israeli jail for the book. I was particularly taken by the attack right around this time of year on Passover Netanya, that led to the reinvasion by the Israeli forces of the West Bank in what the Israelis call the Defensive Shield. The attack was not only telling because it was one of the largest bombs that Hamas had deployed and not only because it had one of the highest casualty rates targeting religious celebration of the Passover Seder at a hotel that was being used primarily by elderly people and many Holocaust survivors at many levels it was an extremely outrageous attack. But that all aside it was a very interesting attack to me because of the extent of the overlap between the military, political and social wings of Hamas in this very attack. Every thing from the fact that the suicide bombers there were actually supposed to be two, only one was deployed because the other one got a common cold and Hamas say what you will about them but they are very serious, very committed and very sincere, and they will not deploy some one who is either mentally unstable or sick; they want someone who is fully committed and for all the right reasons; and then only one of the two suicide bombers was deployed, but both suicide bombers, several of the facilitators, logistical people who put this operation together, between two cells in the Northern West Bank were members of a Hamas singing troop, several of them almost all of the men in fact grub through Hamas's [0:12:08] ____ Islamia, the Islamic block student movement present in almost all of the campuses in the West Bank and Gaza but especially in the Islamic University of Gaza and on Najah in the West Bank. But perhaps most telling was again the mastermind of the attack and the head of one of the two cells of Abbas al-Sayed I met Abbas al-Sayed in an Israeli prison. First I interviewed Fateh Hatib who drove the suicide bomber. And that was a very different experience, Fateh Hatib is the father of 14 children, I am the father of four. And I said to him father to father you know; forget about the people who are going to be killed in the attack, you know, who is going to provide for your children right now. And it shouldn't surprise well document that he said I don't know the names of the individuals, but I do know that the organization is going to take care of my family and I know that they will be looked after, perhaps in a way better than I could have done it. Removing this incentive that exits for people who may otherwise not conduct attacks is an extremely effective means that the Hamas has done with the social welfare infrastructure provides. Parenthetically at a kind of political science level, one could argue that when it comes to combating terrorism specifically Jihadists or others who are willing for example, to commit suicide, it's very difficult to argue that there is any real kind of deterrence that works. This is not kind of Cold War adversary. I mean this is a very different type of rationality. It is actually rational it's not irrational, but it is a different rationality. I would argue that the only area perhaps where deterrence still may work is on the money side, because those major donors who are providing significant funds not the people who are trying to help needy Palestinians and whose funds are fraudulently then applied for other purposes, by charities going bad, but those major donors they are not the ones who are deploying their sons on suicide bombings. They have spent their time in their lives building up their financial kingdoms and if you look for example people like Yasin al-Qadi, a senior Saudi financer who has been designated by the United Nations for his financing of Al Qaeda and Hamas both; he has gone to great lengths to fight his designation, he has lost time and again, in Italy and now in Turkey. But he is very upset by this and it seems to have had some effect. Fateh Hatib did not have any thing to deter him from engaging this attack and in fact he taped a suicide bombers' living will even though the intent was not for him to be a suicide bomber and the explanation as Abbas al-Sayed, the master of was trying to explain it to me was such that in the event that they were caught in a road block or something happened, they would be able to detonate the bomb in the car and claim success and claim that both had intended in fact to be suicide bombers, which is important for propaganda purposes; to be able to tell people that you are successful. Abbas al-Sayed was a very different interview. Fateh Hatib was not very smart, not very well educated. Abbas al-Sayed it turns out, was highly educated including doing some post graduate studies in Bioengineering at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, something that I later found out when I told them that neither Israeli Shin Between, nor the American FBI was aware of at the time. Well there are a lot of people out there and the FBI I certainly got their attention when I read from my notes and quoted him saying "Yes I took the opportunity in the 12 months I was in the United States to travel all over. I have friends in probably over 30 states in the United States." This is a man who again like Jamaal Tawil was the overt political head of Hamas in the Northern West Bank. I believe he was in Qalqilyah. This the operation was carried out by jointly between Qalqilyah and Tulkarem. He was either at Qalqilyah or Tulkarem. He was on the television cameras he was the Hamas the face of Hamas at rallies etc. At the same time he was the head on a covert nature of the Qassam Brigades in the Northern West bank. He is very open about the fact that he did have regular email and telephonic contact with Hamas leadership in Damascus, but maintained that that was strictly about political activities. And he also admitted that he received money from the Hamas office in Damascus but insisted that that, totaling as much as $13,000 a month, into his accounts was for political purposes. When the Israelis approached him with the fact that they found out that he was also receiving money covertly from Damascus into accounts that he controlled, but they were under a fictitious American sounding name, it became more difficult for him to have this fiction that he was solely involved in overt activities. If in fact he has been involved only in overt activity that he claimed he had no interest in hiding, why then was he receiving thousands of dollars into this hidden account as well. There was much, much more evidence of course as well; the vast majority of the cell was arrested fairly quickly. Some of the operative section turned on some of the others. The the key here is to understand that it's impossible to separate the political and military of Hamas. If we take this understanding of Hamas and we apply it to today; let's do that and I will take one step back once more then will open it to questions. I think we need to understand a little bit more about Hamas and what it has done and what it hasn't done since it came to power, because coming to power is not enough. There are of course the three basic pre conditions of the Quartet, none of which have been met. But I would argue that that isn't either even the most egregious of Hamas's activities. It's if I were Hamas, I would very willingly say that I would consider may be on a temporary basis, a cessation of violence. I would find some creative formula as a former diplomat to not necessarily say that I supported passed agreements, but that I didn't necessarily impose them. I think that all of three of those things could be met if Hamas was a little bit more diplomatic. The real issue to me is not what they say or what they don't say, but what they do and what they don't do. It is certainly the fact that Hamas as the government in power has taken no action whatsoever to stop attacks by the other groups targeting Israeli civilians. That should be the very first issue. It's also the case as Israeli authorities made clear just last week that they have been providing material to other groups specifically Qassam rockets, not just technology but actual Qassam rockets, to Islamic Jihad Palestinian Islamic Jihad. So there is this dichotomy where they are claiming that they haven't engaged in an actual attack since 2004 and yet they are providing material to others to engage in those attacks. In fact it's two faced to argue when Hamas argues itself that it hasn't carried out attack since 2004, because it has attempted several attacks since then, including an attack by a grandmother, the oldest woman to ever been deployed by Hamas an attack her living will included her with Hamas vendetta and the whole thing she was thwarted in her attack, but that's just the latest. One thing; it's important to be recognize that we should not be judging Hamas and it's decision making about when it conducts attacks solely based on when it conducts successful attacks, because the number attacks that Hamas doesn't carry out for whatever reason separate from the fact that it wants to carry them out. The wall or fence that the Israelis are putting up makes it difficult or they don't have the right explosive expert and the right bomber in the right place at the right time, or the Israelis have captured somebody etc. Those have to be factored in too and it's very difficult to do so. There have been several studies that tried to explain Hamas decision making, why does Hamas carry out attacks at a certain time. They all look at when Hamas has had successful attacks and that methodologically they are off load. Hamas has put together its own executive force parallel and in competition with the Palestinian Security Services that have been in existence. The Mecca Accord was in large part a sign of the success of the executive force which in pitched battles in the streets of Gaza in particular beat the forces under the control of Mahmoud Abbas. These forces were originally supposed to be about 1500, they quickly grew to 3000. Hamas claims that it now is on rout. This is Hamas's claim to double that within next two months to 6000. That would be a very, very significant problem. Most recently and perhaps on the military terrorist side most disturbing, just before Passover again in this March, the Israelis arrested a cell of 19 people again in Qalqilyah. Parenthetically I don't know that there is any direct connection. But since we have established that there is a trend of connections between the military and political activities in Qalqilyah in particular, it is noteworthy that in Qalqilyah Hamas did better than anywhere else. The Mayor in Qalqilyah is Hamas the majority of the City Council is Hamas. In March, 19 people were arrested and the Israeli say that they found information about several plots. The one that they have made public is in some ways very embarrassing to them despite their fence, despite their security efforts, Hamas succeeded in infiltrating a van with what would have been the largest explosive device ever deployed; 220 pounds, about 100 kilograms. For reasons unclear I don't know if it's because it's too embarrassing or what not, the Israelis didn't make clear why, but the operation didn't go through. The van was driven back into the West Bank and what the Israelis are saying; it was a work accident, exploded there. The point is Hamas still has intents to conduct very, very serious attacks. Now that Hamas has become part of this Unity Government, it's interesting to think about with who should people talk and under what conditions. The first thing to understand is that Hamas is no unitary entity of course. It's like saying what does the United States feel about X or what does Europe feel about Y. But it is important to understand that there is a general consensus at the core of Hamas, centered around people who are more to the right than center or left and it is among that core the where decisions are made. Members of the executive force have rallied in the past few days making clear that their loyalties are to the former foreign minister Mahmoud Al-Zahaar and his side kick Syed Sayaam, not to members of the Hamas moving toward now participants in the National Unity Government. In fact just last Friday Zahaar gave an interview in which he made it clear that the Qur'an forbids recognizing Israel. And it should be clear that for Hamas a primary goal is to Islamize this conflict. This shouldn't be simply a nationalist conflict; which is why by the way though Hamas is not part of Al Qaeda; it is not part of the global Jihadist movement. It does grow from the same Muslim brotherhood roots and it's why we should not be surprised when we hear Hamas leaders making supporting insurgence in Iraq and supporting fighters in Chechnya; conflicts in which they do not participate at all but have some methodological [0:24:04] sucker spokesman. The official spokes for Hamas Ismail Radwan; broadcast parenthetically on Palestinian television, not Hamas's Al-Aqsa television, but on the Palestinian television, in which he called for jihad, mocked negotiations under Unity government and declared that Palestine should be liberated by the rifle, by force, by jihad, by resistance and I quote, "As told by Allah in the Qur'an." Now all that is important. But it's also not the entire picture. In 2003 long before Hamas participated in elections, long before this Unity Government, there was a very serious discussion in the Gaza strip among Hamas members there, about whether or not it was time to "Go Muslim brotherhood", to go the relative Muslim brotherhood in each of the Islamic Action Front in Jordan, and other brotherhood movements especially in North Africa, where they may not oppose Jihad, they may even support it among others but they themselves are not actively engaged in Jihad the kind that is against Israel. That is extremely significant. Opinions, I have heard about it from Israelis, I have not seen the document that was written, myself, but I have interviewed several people who have, as an academic none of this is as a government official or the sort of forum. The Quartet was voted down very strongly and very quickly. But the competition was had is extremely telling. You believe that there are Hamas members and there are Hamas members. It is certainly the case that those who support Hamas form into a very broad spectrum. There are those who support Hamas for ideological reasons and we will not shake them. The vast majority of people for example who voted for Hamas did not vote for suicide terrorism, most did not I don't believe, actually vote for Hamas, they voted against Fatah. And in Qalqilyah in particular in general many Fatah members ran for one post and Hamas ran one candidate and Qalqilyah is the worst example of all, where these among the several candidates who run under the Fatah banner in Qalqilyah, the most prominent was the long standing, most notoriously corrupt Fatah official in the West Bank. No one had any doubt that the mayoralship of Qalqilyah was not going to be one by Fatah. So among the supporters of Hamas there is a spectrum, but I believe even within the actual members of Hamas there is a spectrum. I think there are those for whom recognition of Israel, a two state solution is anathema and impossible. And there will always be those if there were to be a two state solution, there will be some component that would continue to fight. How big that is, we don't know. How much larger it has become because of the extremely robust radicalization campaign the Hamas overseas in the West Bank and Gaza we don't know. There is at the other end of the spectrum, members of Hamas who believe for religious and ideological reasons in Hamas, don't have a problem with the kind of suicide terrorism it conducts by describing as resistance not terrorism, but could agree to a certainly a long term a long term truce, even as long as say 50 years, and some of those I believe probably could be moderated over the course of that time. I happen to think that for Israel giving up still more tangibles is an increasingly difficult thing. I think most Israelis now were it was not the case when Israel withdrew from Gaza, most Israelis supported it. I think now most Israelis are very uncomfortable with what has happened since the withdrawal from Gaza, both in Gaza and in terms of the July war with Hezbollah. But it does mean that there are factions within Hamas, there is the outside leadership and the inside leadership. There is the leadership that grew up in the West Bank in Gaza like Mousa Abu Marzook and his crew and there is a leadership that grew outside, primarily in the Gulf, primarily in Kuwait, in fact they are describe that the co idea, the Kuwaiti group led by Khalid Meshaal. And so there is within Hamas, fissures that we can play up on. When I look at Hamas today in some ways I am even more concerned if you will allow me by their radicalization efforts than by their terrorist attacks. I don't think any body should be surprised that at least certain factions within Hamas are going to continue to conduct terrorist attacks, sometimes those are carried out with the knowledge of the leaders of Hamas at the highest levels and sometimes not. I go into that in the book. But what should be even less surprising and more disturbing is the extreme extent of Hamas's radicalization campaign. If you are a child growing up in the West Bank and Gaza today, you have very little chance of not being radicalized. There are kindergartens, there are summer camps, clinics, hospitals, universities I don't know how much time any of you have spent in the West Bank and Gaza, I have spent a considerable amount of time. It's difficult to find leadership figures. We are not saying it in an office but somewhere in the office, in the waiting room, there is a picture of a suicide bomber described as a martyr. If we look at the members of the Hamas faction in Parliament today, it is lead by some of the most egregious radical people who have been doing this for many years. People like Sheikh Bahar, who describe how wonderful Hamas summer camps are for teaching Palestinian children what demons Jews are, how horrible Israel is? This is not my language, it's his. And all it's in the book. We are talking about people like Muin Farhat who got on camera and described her great pride and pleasure, that her son took a gun, went into an Israeli community and shot up women and children children literally in their beds, before he was killed and then had her younger sons sleep in the older son's bed with his gun so that they could then follow in his foot steps. These are some of the people we are dealing with. And that said I do not think that there is no body that we should talk to today. I think that one of the biggest mistakes I can now say now that I am a free man and simply an academic, that the administration the Bush Administration has made is that when my good friend, colleague and mentor Dennis Ross retired, and all cards in the table he is in the same thing as I am, I think very highly of him, he wrote the introduction to the book, the foreword he was not replaced. And when he was replaced it was on a temporary basis by people who are extremely accomplished in their fields but were not Middle East experts or negotiators. I gave respect for General Zinni, but he was not Dennis Ross. And where it was certainly the case that there was nobody in the person of Arafat with him to talk; certainly not after 2000, we should have made it more clear that we are always there ready to talk if there is someone to talk to. When I look at the make up of the National Unity Government today, I believe more strongly than ever that we need to isolate Hamas. It cannot be acceptable for Hamas to carry out its radicalization and military activities on the one hand and simultaneously be accepted by the international community. That said Salam Fayaad, the current Finance Minister and the current minister of Foreign Affairs, Ziad Abu Amr are not Hamas. They have relationships with Hamas that I think should not be held against them. I think they can be useful to us and we should be talking should maintain the financial sanction of the Hamas regime even as we continue to pump in money mostly for the temporary international mechanism that is run through the EU in Brussels. And we need to do more, because while on the one hand more money has been pumped into the West Bank and Gaza for humanitarian purposes in the year since Hamas came to power than in the two years prior combined, more Palestinians are finding themselves living below the poverty level because salaries are not being paid. So there is more we need to do. And I think there are creative ways to do it. But it cannot be okay for Hamas to continue plans like the one that was just thwarted, deploying a 100 kilogram bomb into the centre of Israel, for Hamas to continue to make statements on Palestinian television, in the mosques, in the kindergartens etc that are being documented everyday and for there to be no cost. There has got to be a cost for participation in the international system that we hold so dear. It should be democracy in some ways with a capital D, not just with a lower case d. I want to thank Emmanuel again for bringing together this lovely spread and for inviting me and for all of you for taking the time. I am very to answer all your questions with the one caveat; that while you should be feel free to ask any question you like. If it is a question that is in detail about my time either at the FBI or at Treasuries Intelligence stuff; because we are on the record I will feel equally free to tell you when I cannot answer.