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Israel's plan to eradicate Hamas is an impossible goal, Hamas expert says

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: One of Israel's stated goals for its invasion of Gaza is to eliminate Hamas to prevent it from ever committing another attack like the one on October 7 that Israel says killed some 1,200 people and saw gunmen take some 240 hostages. Since then, Israel's offensive has killed more than 12,000 people, according to Gaza health officials. And the fighting continues. But is that aim - to eliminate Hamas - even possible?

Tareq Baconi is the author of "Hamas Contained: The Rise And Pacification Of Palestinian Resistance," and he's president of the board of the think tank Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He has also worked with the International Crisis Group in Ramallah and is known for his expertise on how Hamas works and thinks. I started by asking him what eradicating Hamas would look like.

TAREQ BACONI: Well, it looks like an impossible goal and one that enables Israel to put forward quite violent plans towards the Palestinian people more broadly. So just to explain this - Hamas is fundamentally a social movement and a political movement with a military wing, so it has a vast social infrastructure embedded in charities and health care and educational facilities and a whole host of communal and welfare practices. So the idea that Hamas can be decimated is really saying that this vast social infrastructure and political movement can be dismantled.

FADEL: In Baconi's view, Israel's stated goal could mean targeting of anyone - from a low-level bureaucrat in Hamas to a person who voted for the organization back in 2006. He says using force to get rid of Hamas won't work because it doesn't answer key Palestinian aspirations - statehood and freedom.

BACONI: Hamas is an ideology. It's a movement that's committed to the liberation of Palestine. That ideology within Hamas is cloaked in an Islamist garb, but that ideology is not limited to Hamas. So even if Hamas militarily is severely hit by Israeli actions now, that ideology will reemerge because that's grounded in the political principles of the Palestinian struggle. So this military approach is really just a way to avoid dealing with the root cause of the problem.

FADEL: Many Israelis will tell you Hamas is simply an ideology of violence aimed at killing Israelis. They point to last month's attack as proof. Now, Hamas claims to be fighting for liberation, and that resonates for Palestinians, although the group's stated goal remains the elimination of Israel, but it also presents itself as the resistance against Israel.

October 7 was an atrocity - many, many civilians killed, and so Israeli political leadership will say this is the proper response to an atrocity that we saw in the south.

BACONI: Look. It's important to talk about what happened on October 7. This didn't begin on October 7. The idea that Israelis and Israeli political leaders can pretend that they are allowed and have their rights to a life of full freedom and full liberty, while maintaining an apartheid regime against Palestinians, is nonsensical. There is a daily structural form of violence that is killing Palestinians, including civilians, day in and day out.

FADEL: Rights groups inside and outside of Israel accuse the government of an apartheid system. They point to the Israeli government's policies on land access, restriction of movement, unlawful killings, and limitations on the right to vote for Palestinians as examples of one group trying to dominate the other. Hamas has capitalized on that misery. And although most Palestinians are not Hamas, they're desperate for anything that might change their reality. I asked Baconi how Palestinians view Hamas in Gaza, where a blockade by Israel with Egypt has led to widespread deprivation.

I'm wondering that pre-October 7 and post. I mean, they must have known what type of response they would get with killing this level of civilians.

BACONI: I have no illusion that they didn't expect a ferocious response to whatever they had planned on October 7. Now, Hamas' governance in the Gaza Strip obviously has not been ideal. The movement has been accused of corruption. It has carried out pretty authoritarian tactics against Palestinians in Gaza, including stamping down on freedom of speech and political plurality. But also, because of the nature of the blockade which Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip in its current format since 2007, many Palestinians in Gaza put the blame for their impoverishment or the lack of economic opportunities that they might have on Hamas.

But in the past, historically, whenever Hamas engaged in military activities or armed resistance or unarmed resistance, its popularity increased before eventually sort of dropping off again when the reality of the blockade comes crashing back. And now, in the context of October 7 specifically, I would struggle very much to believe that its popularity had dropped. But at the same time, given the scale of the destruction, I would imagine that a lot of Palestinians in Gaza are quite fearful at the moment and questioning where Hamas wanted to go with this.

FADEL: So now what? The stated goal of this war, supported by the United States, is to get rid of Hamas. What happens after?

BACONI: The truth is that on October 7, something shattered that's not going to be put back together that easily. For Israeli Jews, it's clear that there is no security in Israel for its citizens unless the Palestinian question is dealt with. And for Palestinians, it's clear that even if Hamas is militarily weakened, their resistance will be ongoing until their rights are achieved. So I think the only thing that can get us out of this bloodshed is to finally reckon with this reality as a political problem, not a military one. Unfortunately, the leaders, especially the Western leaders - so the EU and the current administration - seem unable or unwilling to contend with their failures in getting us here.

FADEL: Tareq Baconi is the author of "Hamas Contained: The Rise And Pacification Of Palestinian Resistance." Thank you so much for your time.

BACONI: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORIGAMIBIRO'S "TINDER")

FADEL: Now, this is just one voice. For differing views and analysis, go to npr.org/mideastupdates. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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