17 January 2009

Burying hope in Gaza

By Liam Carroll

Hovering in the background of the current war in Gaza lie the extreme views of the two main opposing camps; hardliners in the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and the hawks in the Israeli national security state.

On the Hamas side, Nizar Rayan, recently assassinated by an Israeli bomb in Gaza, had allegedly proclaimed "we will never recognize Israel. There is nothing called Israel, neither in reality nor in the imagination."

In the opposing Israeli camp Yitzhak Shamir, Israeli prime minister from 1986 to 1992, believed that moderation "should relate to the tactics, but not to the goal (to reestablish Biblical Israel in the remnants of Palestine)".

By contrast the international consensus recognizes the 'the right to existence and security of all states in the region', including Israel, and 'justice for all the people's', which implies the recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people (1980 European declaration).

In view of the failure to achieve these 'rights' for Israel or Palestinians, either through violence or through a political process, the conflict persists. From the Israeli point of view the problem is clearly Hamas which is described by Ron Prosser, an Israeli ambassador as "toxic for Israel, toxic for the Palestinians, toxic for the region and for anyone who really wants to achieve peace."
For Hamas member Dr Naser El-Din Al-Shaer the problem is the inability to achieve Israeli disengagement from the Palestinian West Bank: "If there is any attack on the Israelis, they speak of terrorism and terrorism, and more terrorism. If Hamas and Islamic Jihad and all of these armed groups cease attacking Israel, then Israel will say: 'Look, they've lost their power; and they can do nothing against us, so we are not going to give them anything.' So by which means will Israel give our land back to us?"

For some of Israel's supporters, such as ex-US administration official Barry Rubin, there is really only one long term solution, "the biggest peaceniks—and this is true in Israel—know that Hamas must be defeated if Israel is ever to make peace with the Palestinian Authority (PA)."

Sir Lawrence Freedman however reminds us in his recent book on the Middle East A Choice of Enemies that such talk has been heard before, only then it was about the Palestine Liberation Organisation, "The constant line from Yitzshak Shamir as the PLO sought to render itself respectable was that this was all a sham, a propaganda exercise designed to convince the feebleminded that there was hope for peace, when with such people there could be no peace."

These ruminations beg the question then as to whether or not Israel may be prepared to try and defeat Hamas militarily. Barry Rubin thinks that in the current assault on Gaza "It would be nice to believe that Hamas will be overthrown and less extreme Palestinians will take over," but, he adds, "these are not real options. No one should have any illusions that this conflict is going to go away." Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni concurs, "this is a long war against terror", clearly aligning the policy with outgoing president Bush's 'war on terror.'

Interestingly a recent Pentagon commissioned study by the RAND corporation has just delivered a damning report on the policy, describing it as "at best inadequate, at worst counter productive, and, on the whole, infeasible." Looking at some 90 conflicts since World War II, the report concludes that establishing "representative, competent and honest" local government is the way to defeat 'terror'.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) agrees, though it may be too late they say, "A massive intervention that in effect topples Hamas is looking increasingly possible. But who will take over on the back of Israel's occupation? How could a then discredited PA assume power? Even crushing military victory ultimately might not be that much, or that lasting, of a political win."

The ICG believes that, "Palestinian reconciliation is a priority, more urgent, but also harder, than ever before." They lament the international community's reaction to the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections when it "demanded Hamas turn from militant to political organisation without giving it sufficient incentives to do so," and the subsequent US-Jordanian training and arming of the rival Palestinian group, Fatah, in preparation for a rejection of Hamas rule. "As little of this was secret," claims Sir Lawrence Freedman, "Hamas was alerted to the coming power play" and fighting ensued.

This was the moment which led to the Hamas takeover of Gaza, and the subsequent tragic events of the last few weeks. One can't help but worry about the future prospects too.

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