Monday, November 06, 2006


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Is Hamas Hopeless? Who is Really Responsible For The Impasse In Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks?
By Thomas Riggins [PA Archives]

The answers to the questions posed above are pretty obvious if all you read or see or listen to are the reports from the mass media in this country. Israel wants peace but the way is blocked due to the election of a terrorist group (Hamas) which now runs the government of Palestine and is devoted to the destruction of Israel. But what if this presentation of the current situation is false?

That is the only conclusion that can be reached after reading "Hamas: The Last Chance for Peace?" by Henry Siegman (The New York Review of Books, April 27, 2006). Siegman (HS) is a former head of the American Jewish Congress and a Senior Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations. I intend to review this article and then draw some, to me, obvious conclusions.

HS lists four main reasons why the "Muslim world" is angry at "the West." These are the occupation of Palestine, the occupation of Iraq, the treatment of prisoners in US military (and CIA) prisons, and, finally, US hypocrisy with regard to "democracy." It is in this context that we have to look at the rise of Hamas and its relation to "terrorism."

One thing we must not confuse is al-Qaeda's use of Islam, and Hamas' views. HS quotes an Hamas spokesman as saying that "Hamas believes that Islam is completely different" from the al-Qaeda view and that its "battle is against the Israeli occupation and [its] only concern is to restore our rights and serve our people." And, it should be noted, no serious person thinks Hamas won the elections in the Palestinian Authority, because of its religious doctrines. HS says "Palestinian society is among the most secular in the Arab world." Iraq was also a very secular society, unlike our ally Saudi Arabia which is closer to the Taliban. Polls taken after the election showed that 73% of Palestinians favor peace with Israel and the two state formula.

This means there is a real possibility for a negotiated peace, at least from the Palestinian point of view. But what does Hamas want? HS discussed this with a senior Hamas leader and came up with six points that Hamas was willing to let guide its program: recognition of Israel, negotiations with Israel, belief that God gave Palestine to the Muslims [ many Zionists think he really gave it to the Jews-- he should make up his mind] but "temporal realities" must not be ignored so both international law and the state of Israel can be lived with, a cease-fire, reforming Palestine (to get rid of corruption and build the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and the separation of powers), and lastly, not to impose religious behavior or observances on the people. So far this doesn't sound so bad.

HS, however, reminds us that this moderate position contrasts with Hamas' previous "odiousness" with respect to it founding documents (August 1988) which were anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish. He also points out that the PLO originally used the same type of language until they engaged in negotiations and learned about the real world. This type of language is also found in the positions of "official Israeli political parties" some of whom advocate ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. It seems all sides have to step back from these types of extreme views. HS' point is that Hamas is doing so, or at least is ready to do so, as a result of its new found responsibilities as a governing power. It is in the best interests of Israel and the US to encourage this evolution, not discourage it.

So what about all the current talk about not dealing with Hamas, punishing the Palestinians for voting for them, etc., (US democratic values at work-- vote only the way we tell you to). Is this a good tactic?

HS quotes the former head of Mossad (the CIA of Israel), Efraim Halevy: "Hamas constitutes about a fifth of Palestinian society... Anyone who thinks Hamas will one day evaporate is [simply] mistaken... [I]n the end there will be no way around Hamas being a partner in the Palestinian government." That was said several years ago, now they are the Palestinian government.

Halevy also said "if they take a moderate approach... we will not view that as a negative development." So-- is the Hamas victory the "end of the peace process"? No, says HS. The peace process was ended in 2000 when Sharon became prime minister of Israel. "More correctly, it was killed-- with malice aforethought--- by Sharon's 'unilateralism'."

Sharon never had any intentions of being a peace partner with the Palestinians. He and his party found, and finds, fault with whomever the Palestinians put forth as leaders. Nor did Sharon even really want a two "state" solution. His West Bank policies, according to the Israeli paper Haaretz, as quoted by HS, mean "the Palestinians are left with no territory on which to establish a state."

All the blather about Hamas having to renounce terrorism, etc., is just a smoke screen. It is also hypocritical since Israel used raw terror itself to set up the state and to enlarge it. In fact, HS references Righteous Victims by Benny Morris (Vintage, 1999) to the effect that the Palestinians learned the "art" of mass terrorism against civilian targets from the Jewish resistance movement in Palestine dating back to 1937. This is not meant to validate the immoral and odious use of suicide bombers and other acts of violence against peaceful civilians by Hamas, but to put things in perspective. The behavior of some of Israel's founding fathers also shows that "terrorists can transform themselves if they have reason to believe that legitimate national goals can be achieved by political means." The US and Israel must, if they really want peace, and that is questionable, show the Palestinians that their legitimate demands can be realized without the use of violence. If they won't do that, who then is responsible for the consequences?

It seems that the US and Israel are talking about peace and fairness only for public consumption, and in reality are doing just the opposite. The real reason for the hostility to Hamas is that it demands real fairness and real negotiations on the grounds of an "uncompromising demand for reciprocity." What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Israel wants to be recognized but, as Hamas asked "Which Israel?" The Israel of the 1967 borders or the Israel which wants to keep large sections of the West Bank and East Jerusalem? As HS says, "If its the latter, Hamas will not recognize Israel." And why should it. If its the latter that means Israel is insincere about peace and only wants more of another people's land.

The bitter truth is, as HS affirms, "that if Hamas were to recognize Israel tomorrow and dismantled its 'terrorist infrastructure,' there would still not be the slightest prospect for a resumption of a peace process..." unless the US forced it (which it won't) on Israel. The sad fact is the present government of Israel has no intention of treating the Palestinians as equal partners in peace. It is building its wall of separation and making off with as much land as it thinks it can. You reap what you sow, and the Israeli government "threatens to foreclose what prospects for Hamas moderation may in fact exist."

POSTSCRIPT: Since the above was written there has been a war crime committed against the Israeli civilian population by Islamic Jihad (New York Times, 4-18-06, "Suicide Bombing In Israel Kills 9". The fact that Israeli state terrorism and war crimes have been committed against the Palestinian people in a far more extensive manner in no way excuses Islamic Jihad for its subhuman moronic attacks on innocent civilians. It puts them on the same level as those who killed Rachel Corrie in cold blood.

The President of the Palestinian authority, Mahmoud Abbas, quite rightly condemned this inhumane attack, it was unworthy of the Palestinian people who were not responsible for the actions of a small faction of fanatics. The Times pointed out Islamic Jihad is the only one of nine Palestinian resistance groups that has refused to engage in a ceasefire currently in effect by the other eight, including Hamas.

Unfortunately, Hamas has endorsed the actions of Islamic Jihad. It is not insignificant that the bombing took place in a working-class neighborhood and that the victims were mostly working people. It shows the immaturity of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad that terror against civilians is lauded in the first place. The fact that neither group sees the difference between the ruling elite and its military and the working people of Israel, potential allies in the struggle for the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and the peace process, shows that neither group is fit to assume a leadership role. Hamas, however, does have a leadership role and the enemies of peace will be using its incautious and foolish endorsement of the senseless killing of innocent people to further isolate and hurt the people of Palestine.

Already an Israeli government official is blaming Hamas for the attack: "They are responsible because their leaders are encouraging these attacks. It doesn't matter which group did this; it all comes from the same school of terrorism." It of course is never mentioned that the real School of Terrorism is the Occupation. Hamas should realize that the struggle of Palestinian people is both a national struggle and part of a world struggle against imperialism and oppression of all peoples. International solidarity is vital and may well be lost by the immoral endorsements of murderous acts of terrorism committed against working people and other innocent civilians.

Finally, for those who put all the blame for these acts on the Palestinians, they must be reminded, Its the Occupation stupid!

Thomas Riggins in the Book Review Editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

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