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Misconception 2:
Building Up Hamas

The strategy followed by the right-wing governments of the last 15 years has been to strengthen Hamas—a fundamentalist terrorist organization—at the expense of the Palestinian Authority and moderate forces. On October 7 we paid an inconceivable price for this strategy.

June 2007

  Hamas seizes control of the Gaza Strip

March 2009

 Netanyahu returns to power and launches a policy of strengthening Hamas and weakening the Palestinian Authority

September 2010

  Netanyahu holds policy talks with Abu Mazen; it is their last meeting for 13 years

October 2011

 In a deal with Hamas, Gilad Shalit is exchanged for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners

2012

 With Netanyahu’s approval, Qatar begins funneling $1.5 billion to Hamas

April 2014

 The negotiations with the Palestinian Authority are suspended and have not been renewed since

May 2015

  Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen: “Netanyahu has made Hamas his closest associate.”

October 2015

  Smotrich: “Abu Mazen is a burden; Hamas is an asset” 

2018

In the next four years,  Netanyahu prevents the killing of Hamas leaders on four separate occasions

March 2019

  Netanyahu: “If you want to frustrate the establishment of a Palestinian state you have to support strengthening Hamas.”

October 2023

 More than 1,200 Israelis are killed in the Hamas assault on the Gaza periphery settlements

In 2009, Netanyahu won the election in part thanks to an explicit promise to liquidate Hamas’s control of Gaza. “We will overthrow the Hamas terrorist government,” he proclaimed during his campaign stops that year. In practice, the right-wing governments he led did precisely the opposite: with one hand they built up Hamas and with the other hand they weakened the Palestinian Authority—all this in order to diminish the odds of the establishment of a Palestinian state and evacuation of the settlements on the West Bank.

For most of his years in power, Netanyahu has refused to hold talks with the Palestinian Authority. Since 2010 he has not had a single working meeting with the chairman of PA, Abu Mazen. Meanwhile, he has avoided steps that might have enhanced its status and done everything he could to weaken it instead. Even though the cooperation between Israeli security forces and those of the Palestinian Authority has become a major asset for Israel—preventing many terror attacks over the last decade—the Netanyahu governments have repeatedly depicted the PA as an extremist element whose diplomatic maneuvers against Israel are “political terrorism.”

The former head of the General Security Service (the Shin Bet), Yuval Diskin: “If we look at it over the years, one of the main contributors to the strengthening of Hamas is Bibi Netanyahu.”

Back in 2013, the outgoing head of the General Security Service (the Shin Bet), Yuval Diskin, said: “Day by day we are making Abu Mazen weaker and weaker and thinking that is a success… We hardly talk to Abu Mazen. Most of the time we humiliate him. If we look at it over the years, Bibi Netanyahu is one of the main key people who contributed to strengthening Hamas.”

During his 14 years in power Netanyahu treated Hamas as a responsible agent with whom negotiations and agreements are possible. After every round of violence in Gaza Netanyahu reached an understanding with the Hamas government—which heightened its prestige among the Palestinians and undermined the status of moderate elements. Time and again Netanyahu chose to grant rewards—relaxation of restrictions, work permits, money, and equipment—to a fundamentalist terrorist organization. He did this while turning his back on nonviolent Palestinian groups, especially the Palestinian Authority. According to various journalistic accounts, he even granted Hamas leaders personal immunity. In 2022, for example, it was reported that between 2018 and 2020 Israel had several opportunities to assassinate Yahya Sinwar and the rest of the Hamas leadership and that “security agencies wanted to do it,” but “the political echelon would not approve.”

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen: “Netanyahu’s strategy is to prevent the two-state option, so he made Hamas his closest associate.”

A similar picture emerges from remarks by Maj. Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni. “I was OC Central Command in 2009, when Netanyahu returned as prime minister”. Shamni testified.  “At the time, we were conducting an all-out campaign against Hamas—Netanyahu stopped it all.” Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, with undoubted right-wing credentials, offered a similar diagnosis: “Netanyahu’s strategy is to prevent the two-state option, so he made Hamas his closest associate. On the outside Hamas is the enemy, but in the hidden dimension it’s an ally.”

Netanyahu in 2019: “If you want to frustrate the establishment of a Palestinian state you have to support strengthening Hamas and providing money to Hamas. That’s part of our strategy.”

In 2019, Netanyahu himself acknowledged that his strategy was to strengthen Hamas, not to eliminate it. “Those who want to thwart the possibility of a Palestinian state should support the strengthening of Hamas and the transfer of money to Hamas”, he said. “That’s part of our strategy, to separate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.” That same year the Likud spokesperson, Jonatan Urich, confirmed that this was indeed the government’s policy and boasted that “Netanyahu has been able to sever Gaza from Judea and Samaria and basically to shatter the vision of a Palestinian state in those two regions. Some of this success has to do with the money from Qatar that reaches Hamas every month.” Two years later, Netanyahu’s confidant Erel Segal confirmed that this is the prime minister’s policy: “Yes, Netanyahu prefers Hamas in power. And it works for him.” And two years later, another Netanyahu crony, Galit Distel-Atbaryan confessed: “You have to say this candidly—Netanyahu wants Hamas on its feet.”

But Netanyahu was not the only one plumping up Hamas. His partners on the settler Right, too, preferred to strengthen the murderous terrorist organization and to weaken the Palestinian Authority, in the name of its messianic worldview that the entire Land of Israel was promised to the Jewish people and that it is forbidden to negotiate over it. In other words, all for the settlements. This position was enunciated by the chairman of the Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich, who said in 2015 that “Abu Mazen is a burden and Hamas is an asset.”

In the Shalit deal, Netanyahu turned Hamas into an organization that provides the goods the Palestinians are interested in. Among those freed in the deal were Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in Gaza and architect of the October 7 operation, and Ali Kachi, the commander of the Hamas commando force that spearheaded the assault on the Gaza periphery.

The deal to free captured soldier Gilad Shalit, in which Netanyahu released 1,027 security prisoners – including 280 serving life terms for their involvement in terrorism and murder – was a seminal moment in the building up Hamas. The Palestinian public attaches great importance to the issue of prisoners, and the Palestinian Authority even has a senior minister in charge of their welfare. And then, in the Shalit deal, Netanyahu turned Hamas into an organization that provides the goods the Palestinians are interested in. Among those freed in the deal were Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in Gaza and architect of the October 7 operation, and Ali Kachi, the commander of the Hamas commando force (the Nukhba) that spearheaded that operation.

Since the Shalit deal, the right-wing governments have formalized the mechanism that rewards Hamas with money after each round of violence. According to an estimate in 2019, Israel allowed Qatar to transfer more than $1 billion to the Gaza Strip, some of it in cash, in the notorious money-filled suitcases. This money made it possible for Hamas to invest in military equipment as well as to bolster its support among the population of Gaza. At the same time, Israel squeezed the Palestinian Authority economically and brought it to the brink of collapse. Netanyahu’s choice to strengthen Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian Authority supported the idea that Israel understands only force: violent resistance is rewarded, whereas negotiations with Israel lead to nothing.

Netanyahu’s choice to strengthen Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian Authority supported the idea that Israel understands only force: violent resistance is rewarded, whereas negotiations with Israel lead to nothing.

On October 7, Hamas made good use of the power it had built up thanks to the largesse of the right-wing Governments. Now those who strengthened Hamas with their own efforts are again calling for dismantling it. For many Israelis, alas, it’s too late.