Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- The Taliban’s reconquering of Afghanistan has reenergized the global jihad’s war against the West, inspiring other regional Islamist and extremist movements, including those of the Palestinians.
- Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad see the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan as vindicating their longstanding ideological claims that patience pays off and that “resistance” can defeat the American-led Western alliance and dismantle the State of Israel.
- Congratulating the Taliban on August 17, 2021, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said, “The demise of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is a prelude to the demise of the Israeli occupation of the land of Palestine.”
- Palestinian statements of support for the Taliban should be understood in the context of the fundamentalist groups’ ideological rejection of America and Israel as infidels seeking to control the lands of Islam.
- Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian scholar and cleric, is widely considered the “father of the global jihad” and served as a mentor to Osama bin Laden. Azzam laid the groundwork for the establishment of al-Qaeda and the Pakistani jihadist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the deadly Mumbai, India, attack in 2008, killing 175 people.
- Palestinian “human rights” organizations sought to undermine the American mission in Afghanistan, submitting complaints to the International Criminal Court (ICC) charging U.S. military forces in Afghanistan and the CIA with “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity.”
- The Taliban victory in Afghanistan makes it impossible for Palestinian Islamists to agree to any U.S. peace proposal that would require any Palestinian concessions. The Taliban’s takeover and the U.S. withdrawal have legitimized and empowered Hamas as the new standard for “resistance” against Israel.
The Taliban’s reconquering of Afghanistan, followed by the ISIS-K terror bombing that killed 13 U.S. military personnel and scores of civilians, underscores the far-reaching implications of the U.S. withdrawal. The mujahideen’s takeover, following a 20-year, post-9/11, U.S. counter-terror campaign against al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups in Afghanistan, has reenergized the global jihad’s slow and determined war against the West.1
In the Middle East, where symbolism and imagery define reality, the American evacuation represents one of the most significant defeats of what Osama bin Laden had referred to as “the Zionist-Crusader alliance”2 since al-Qaeda’s mass terror attack on September 11, 2001, that killed 4,000 people in New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
The implementation of the American withdrawal reflects an ongoing Western cultural misunderstanding of its fundamentalist foes. In the eyes of Islamists, the Taliban’s seizure of Afghanistan mirrors the collapse of the world’s leading superpower to the forces of the Koran’s “true believers”- the jihadis. In this way, the pullout has emboldened extremists across Asia, the Middle East, and beyond.
The Taliban moment has deep historical roots: the fall of the Shah of Iran – the Shahanshah, the “king of kings” – in 1979 to Iran’s Islamic revolution inspired Islamist revolutions and militancy elsewhere, including the emergence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the late 1980s and early 1990s, respectively. In turn, the Taliban’s past and current successes have inspired other regional Islamist and extremist movements, including those of the Palestinians.
The Biden administration has stated that it wishes to bring “peace, security, and prosperity” to Israelis and Palestinians.3 To do so in the post-Afghanistan pullout context, it is critical to understand both the implications of recent PLO and Hamas statements of sympathy for the Taliban as well as the historical context of Palestinian partnership with Islamist movements.
Hamas as the Palestinian Taliban
The Palestinian Hamas has taken credit for inspiring the Taliban, just as it did for Israel’s unilateral disengagement in 2005. In early 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza, running on a ticket of “change and reform” from the previous PA rule and corruption and Israel’s “expulsion” from Gaza by Hamas.
While the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan was good news for extremists, it was bad news for moderate Arabs amenable to the West. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and their supporters have been vindicated in their longstanding ideological claims that negotiations with Israel are futile. Their conclusion is that patience pays off and that only mukawama or “resistance” can defeat the American-led Western alliance and dismantle the State of Israel.
It, therefore, comes as little surprise that Hamas was the first Islamist group to congratulate the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan publically, saying:
We congratulate the Muslim Afghan people for the defeat of the American occupation…and…the Taliban movement and its brave leadership in this victory, which culminated its long struggle over the past 20 years….[T]he demise of the American occupation and its allies prove that the resistance of the peoples, foremost of which is our struggling Palestinian people, will achieve victory.4
On August 17, 2021, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, “The demise of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is a prelude to the demise of the Israeli occupation of the land of Palestine.”5
Musa Abu Marzouk, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, tweeted: “Today, Taliban has…faced America and its agents, refusing half-solutions with them. The Taliban was not deceived by the slogans of democracy and elections and fake promises. This is a lesson for all oppressed people.”6
Abu Marzouk and Haniyeh emphasize the contradiction between democracy and the vision of an Islamic state shared by both Hamas and the Taliban. Palestinian support for the Islamist rejection of the West in general and Israel explicitly extends beyond Hamas. Since 2001, Palestinian public support for bin Laden and al-Qaeda was on display in Palestinian street celebrations in Gaza and the West Bank immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks.7 Professor Martin Kramer has noted that by the 1990s, Islamism came to play a leading role in the Iranian regime-led influence on the Palestinian “resistance.”8
Following the August 2021 Taliban takeover, the Palestinian Authority also issued a statement that compared the U.S. withdrawal to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: “Israel must absorb the lesson – external protection does not bring security and peace to any country. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land will not last and will end.”9
Arafat’s “Taliban” Strategy
The PA statement demonstrates solidarity with the Islamist cause and rests on historical precedent. PLO founder Yasser Arafat launched the al-Aqsa intifada in summer 2000 following Israel’s overnight withdrawal from southern Lebanon two months earlier under pressure from Iran-backed Hizbullah. Hizbullah’s reaction, voiced by Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, that “Israel…is feebler than a spider’s web,” inspired the “secular” Sunni Arafat to ignite a jihad using the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem as a pretext, making it indistinguishable from other Islamist campaigns.10
Similarly, PLO and PA leader Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) took note of the Hizbullah response in 2000: “Every Palestinian viewed the (Israeli) withdrawal as a strategic defeat of Israel,” which would be interpreted, in his words, as “Kill Israelis, get territory.” Qurei emphasized that “if that is how Hizbullah got Israel to quit Lebanon, sooner or later it would result in Palestinian violence against Israel.”11
Hamas and the PA’s recent statements of support for the Taliban should be understood in the context of the fundamentalist groups’ ideological rejection of America and Israel as infidels seeking to control the lands of Islam. Just as the Taliban routed America from Afghanistan, the PLO, the PA, and Hamas aspire to expel Israel from all of “Arab Muslim Palestine.” In short, Palestinian-Taliban affinity is anchored in ideological rejection, not territorial conflict.
The Taliban, after a 20-year absence of control, has reemerged as the government of the pre-9/11 Islamic Emirate. Hamas, as the ruling government and military power in “Hamastan,” sees itself similarly. In 2007, after Hamas’ violent overthrow of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, Khalid Mashaal, head of the Hamas politburo, declared:
We shall never give up an inch of the fatherland, nor any of our rights, nor any part of our land….We shall go the way of resistance, which is not a straight line, but means blows, clashes, one round after another, attacks, and withdrawals. The course is to Palestine, to cleanse Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa. This is our way against the occupation. Hamas was and always will be strong in jihad (holy war) and istish-had (suicide bombings).12
Bin Laden’s Palestinian Professor
The Palestinian–Taliban–al-Qaeda connection extends back decades. Dr. Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian scholar and cleric from a village near Jenin, is widely considered the “father of the global jihad,”13 having served as a mentor to Osama bin Laden.14 Azzam laid the groundwork for the establishment of al-Qaeda and the Pakistani jihadist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the deadly Mumbai, India attack in 2008, killing 175 people. Azzam influenced some of the world’s most prominent terrorist leaders, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, and Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born operations commander of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.15
Azzam had traveled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even the United States in the 1980s to recruit and train Arabs and other Muslims from around the world, including many Palestinians, to fight the “global jihad” – first against the Soviet Union and subsequently, the United States. These global jihad fighters would come to be known as the “Afghan alumni.”16
Sheikh Azzam is considered an ideological father of Hamas. CIA and Middle East analyst Bruce Reidel has noted that Azzam helped draft Hamas’ 1987 founding charter.17
However, over the years, Hamas and al-Qaeda have maintained an uneasy relationship reflecting various ideological, strategic, and operational differences.18
In the years following the September 11 attacks and parallel to the PLO-Hamas al-Aqsa terror war, bin Laden continued to identify Israel as part of what he called the “Zionist-Crusader alliance.”19 While Palestinian leaders expressed certain dissatisfaction that Azzam dedicated himself to global jihad at the expense of the Palestinian armed struggle, Israel remained al-Qaeda’s third objective of the global jihad, in addition to targeting the American presence in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.20 Bin Laden said, “We will continue, God permitting, the fight against the Israelis and their allies…and will not give up a single inch of Palestine as long as there is one true Muslim on Earth.”21
Palestinian support for bin Laden continued until his death in 2011. Hamas president Ismail Haniyeh condemned his killing by U.S. forces, declaring the operation “the continuation of the American oppression and shedding of blood of Muslims and Arabs,” referring to bin Laden as “an Arab holy warrior.”22
The Palestinian Legal Assault on U.S. Operations in Afghanistan
While Hamas’ ideological affinity with the Taliban reflects Islamic teachings, international, PLO-affiliated, “human rights” organizations have used other means over the past years to undermine the American mission in Afghanistan.
For example, Palestinian operatives, disguising their affiliations under separate non-governmental organizations, appealed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in a strategic effort to undermine the U.S. military’s fight against the Taliban and their al-Qaeda affiliates.23
Beginning in April 2017, Palestinian activists – executive members of two international NGOs: the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) – submitted complaints to the ICC charging U.S. military forces in Afghanistan and the CIA with “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity.”24
This was part of a strategic, political, and legal warfare initiative by FIDH and CCR. These “human rights activists” were also found to be members of several PLO terror-affiliated NGOs – al-Haq, al-Dameer, al-Mazan, and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights – that launched simultaneous legal assaults against the United States and Israel. By November 2017, the ICC prosecutor requested the opening of an investigation against U.S. military forces.
The Palestinian submissions were made by separate front organizations whose executives included Shawan Jabarin, director of the PFLP terror group affiliate al-Haq. Jabarin was referred to as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Israel’s Supreme Court, in line with his past terror and political warfare activities. Jabarin also serves as secretary-general of the anti-American FIDH, which submitted the complaint against the U.S. to the ICC.25
Implications for the Middle East Peace Process
Palestinian sympathy and support for the Taliban has far-reaching implications for the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. The Islamists, according to their own understanding, have humiliated the Americans, making it impossible for the PA to agree to any U.S. peace proposal that would require any Palestinian concessions.
If the PLO’s ruling Fatah faction were to align with moderate Arab regimes that oppose Hamas and Taliban-style Islamism and that have signed peace agreements with Israel, they would be perceived by the Palestinian public as weak, pro-Zionist, and pro-American. In contrast, Hamas takes credit and garners Palestinian public support for emulating the Taliban in shaking off its foreign Western occupier.
Hamas’ support for Taliban also renders the Palestinian Authority’s relative silence on the issue noteworthy. The PA cannot publicly oppose the Taliban Islamists, since Hamas has become a more popular competitor for Palestinian public support in Gaza and the West Bank and has proven to be a more successful alternative as a “liberation movement.” The PLO-PA has also branded itself as an organization that supports mukawama—”resistance,” which precludes it from negotiating with Israel.
Inadvertently, the U.S. administration has tied the hands of the PA, since the Taliban’s takeover and the U.S. withdrawal have legitimized and empowered Hamas as the new standard for “resistance” against Israel’s existence as a democratic, Jewish-majority state in any borders.
Lessons from the American Experience
There are important lessons from the U.S. experience in Afghanistan that can be applied to the Palestinian issue. As analyst Lee Smith notes, in 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a secret visit to Afghanistan to show him that the “model the United States employed for Afghanistan would work for the Palestinians, too.” Smith writes that “Netanyahu declined the invitation and correctly surmised that as soon as the United States withdrew forces, Afghanistan would come under the control of the Taliban. And the West Bank would also fall to an Islamist regime if Washington imposed the Afghanistan model there, too.”26
Netanyahu’s prognosis notwithstanding, Kerry’s assessment provides a teachable moment. But it is one that proves the opposite of what he had intended. Afghanistan under the Taliban serves as an excellent model for the Palestinian cause. Hamas’ model of persistent, “self-sacrificing,” armed resistance, now reenergized by the Taliban’s reemergence and success, has placed a concrete barrier across the path of local legitimacy and international negotiations of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority.
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1 In June 2021, the United Nations reported that al-Qaeda “is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces,” and that its affiliate in the Indian subcontinent “operates under Taliban protection from Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz provinces. See https://undocs.org/en/S/2021/486, as quoted in https://besacenter.org/taliban-conquered-afghanistan/
The PA statement on occupation in the PLO National Covenant, mirrors Hamas’s position. “Occupation” does not mean the territorial dispute in the West Bank, rather it mirrors Hamas’ view of “occupation” – Israel’s existence in any borders as the nation state of Jewish people.
Ironically, in 2006, the Palestinian Authority welcomed the financial backing and military training provided by U.S. security coordinator American Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, who worked directly with Mohammed Dahlan, the PA’s then-security chief in Gaza. Dahlan ended up absconding with several million dollars in American aid during the Hamas takeover. This marked the end of the U.S. assistance program. See https://www.jpost.com/opinion/from-taliban-to-hamas-middle-east-vacuums-never-end-well-opinion-677197
10 See Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speech at Bint J’bail: http://breakingthespidersweb.blogspot.com/2011/05/nasrallahs-spider-web-speech.html; also Hagai Segal , “Tzava Chatzi Ha’Am,” Makor Rishon, May 28, 2021. Arafat’s declared intentions to launch the intifada were known to both his close PLO associates and Israeli PLO-Israeli government liaison Yossi Ginosar at the time.
12 Reported by Al-Jazeera on April 6, 2007, at a rally marking the third anniversary of the death of Sheikh Yassin. See https://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/terrorism/palestinian/pages/anti-israel%20statements%20by%20hamas%20leaders%20after%20palestinian%20government%2015-apr-2007.aspx
18 https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/al-qaeda-west-bank-and-gaza MAtheww Levitt notes that, “In the mid-1990s, Hamas spiritual founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin stated repeatedly that the group was not part of al-Qaeda’s movement, though it admired Usama bin Laden and his followers for carrying out jihad.”
It should be noted that Israeli targets have not been an operational priority for al-Qaeda, although attacks were attempted both before and after 9/11. Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber,” scouted Israeli cities for potential targets in early 2001, and in 2002, al-Qaeda affiliates fired a missile at an Israeli airplane in Kenya. Since the mid-1990s, al-Qaeda has pursued an “America first” strategy designed to coerce the United States into withdrawing its troops from the region and ending its support for Israel and pro-West Arab regimes.
25 Jabarin has been denied exit visas by Jordan. Leaders of other Palestinian NGOs include Raji Sourani, Director General of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a former director of FIDH. Anti-Israel operatives Nada Kiswanson and Katheryn van Hooydonk, who represented CCR and FIDH in the case against the U.S., were part of the delegation that submitted the Palestinian NGO petition to then-ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. On March 5, 2020, the ICC and Chief Prosecutor Bensouda authorized the opening of an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity against U.S. military forces, the CIA, and others, in Afghanistan.