Imagine someone grabbed you by the throat, threw you on the ground, and began pummeling you in the head and chest. Would you be inclined to address him serenely saying, “Yes, I recognize your right to exist”?
Of course not. The first thing you would try to do is free yourself from his clutches and get back on your feet.
How different is this from the dispute between Israel and the newly-elected Hamas?
Occupation is a form of violence directed at people to prevent them from controlling their own destiny. It is very similar to a vicious mugging where one party completely dominates the other. It is an attack on the fundamental principles of statehood, sovereignty and self-determination.
The election of Hamas demonstrates the collective will of the Palestinian people to rid themselves of a corrupt regime and stand up to Israeli occupation. What’s wrong with that?
Whether it pleases the Tel Aviv chieftains or their patrons in Washington doesn’t make a bit of difference. Their duty is simply to support democracy wherever it appears in keeping with their rhetoric.
Israel has made the election a referendum on the Hamas Charter, a clearly incendiary document that undermines their struggle for liberation. Hamas’ leaders now have an opportunity to dump the charter and write another based on widely accepted principles of equality and justice. This would be a serious blow to Israel’s public relations campaign that has been so damaging Hamas’ credibility.
Israel is also demanding that Hamas oversee the disarming of its militias. That will never happen, nor should it. Sovereign nations have a right to defend themselves, just as individuals have an “inalienable right” to bear arms. Disarmament may be high on Israel’s “wish list” but it’s a non-starter. Besides, there’s no evidence that hostilities were ever mitigated because people of one country surrendered their weapons to another. If Israel sincerely seeks disarmament, then it should be a reciprocal agreement; each side giving up a proportionate amount of their weaponry to a neutral third party. (ie. The United Nations)
We can be quite certain that Hamas would be more than receptive to any “mutual disarmament” plan as it would only diminish the possibility of future aggressive intrusions on Palestinian land.
On the issue of whether Hamas should accept “Israel’s right to exist or not”; the question is based on a false premise and, as such, intentionally misleading. It is Israel’s ongoing military-presence in the occupied territories that thwarts Palestinian statehood. Therefore, it is incumbent on Israel to honor Palestine’s “right to exist” by respecting UN resolutions and vacating the territories consistent with the demands of international law.
This isn’t rocket-science. Israel knows what is required to meet its obligations to the international community and is shunting that responsibility off on Hamas. Hamas’ Prime Minister-designate, Ismail Haniya, has already said that he would acknowledge Israel’s right to exist when Israel withdraws to the “internationally-recognized” ‘67 borders.
The ball is in Israel’s court.
Regrettably, Israel shows no willingness to comply with UN resolutions or to negotiate with their Palestinian counterparts. Rather, the aggressive strategy to annex more Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem, and the main settlement-blocks is continuing apace.
Sharon and his chief-advisor Dov Weiglass have already consigned the Roadmap to “formaldehyde” and brushed aside any chance for a negotiated settlement. There is no “partner for peace” among the hard-right Israeli leadership. Both Likkud and Kadima parties believe that the Intifada was the last major obstacle between themselves and the dream of Greater Israel.
Even so, its puzzling that Prime Minister Olmert and his right-wing friends wouldn’t celebrate the election results. After all, with Hamas spearheading the government, suicide bombings are bound to decrease or Israel will seek revenge on government officials. This puts Hamas in the troublesome position of being forced to distance themselves from the militant wing of the organization. We are sure to see dramatic changes in Hamas (that should be welcome in Israel) as it transforms itself more and more into a political party divorced from the acts of violence which have always undermined its broader objectives. Suicide bombings have always been a public relations disaster for the Palestinians. Perhaps, this will finally turn the page on that mutually tragic chapter.
We should note, however, that recent research by Robert Pape (“Al Qaida’s Smart Bombs”; NY Times) proves that suicide bombings do not derive from religious fanaticism but, rather, are the direct result of occupation. Pape’s science-based analysis has appeared in the New York Times editorial page and provides detailed statistical evidence of his shocking conclusions. This should dispel the mistaken belief that an aberrant form of Islam somehow fuels the violence. “Islamo-fascism” and “radical Islam” are inventions of western think-tanks which have created the rationale for invading Muslim lands and stealing their resources. Pape’s writing disproves the prevailing myth that animates the current “war on terror”.
The election of Hamas is one of the few positive developments in the Arab-Israeli conflict in years. It is surprising that Israel is responding so irrationally. After all, it was Israel that isolated Arafat for more than two years in his dilapidated hovel, the Muq’tada, refusing to negotiate with him and dismissing him as “irrelevant”. Now, Sharon has refused to deal with his hand-picked, personal favorite Mahmoud Abbas for more than a year.
The message could not be clearer. Israel has no intention of negotiating with Abbas, Arafat, or any other Palestinian leader. It will move ahead with its primary goals regardless of world condemnation, isolation, or war. If Sharon was concerned at all about Abbas’ political future he would have made minor concessions that would have made Abbas look good in front of his own people, but he didn’t. It simply didn’t matter enough to him to do so.
Hamas now faces the same dilemma. They have become the legitimate leaders of a country that doesn’t exist. They do not control their air-space or their borders, their roads or their water. Their sovereign rights as a free people have been savaged and discarded for 38 years of brutal occupation.
Where will they turn for help?
Their tormentors in the United States have already demanded a refund of $50 million given to the PA. And, as Amira Hass reports, Israel is threatening to withhold the “$50 to $65 million per month” that they brazenly extort from “Palestinian tax and customs monies.” This is the moral equivalent of Donald Rumsfeld charging the people of Falluja for the cluster-bombs that were used to decimate their city.
No one is surprised that Israel and America are threatening to cut off vital humanitarian aid to punish the Palestinians for exercising their democratic right as free people. In fact, it would be surprising if they didn’t.
When has it ever mattered in the West whether Arabs were collectively starved to death or simply shot at a checkpoint?
The challenges that Hamas faces do not diminish the magnitude of its electoral victory. Palestine is now a bone-fide member in the community of democratic states. We should be confident that they will make the right choices that best affect the welfare of their people and secure their liberation from foreign occupation.
-Mike Whitney is a writer living in Washington state. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org