Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Washington to Hamas: no peace talk

It's International Peace Day and the self-proclaimed Middle East 'peace-makers' show no willingness to take the real and necessary steps towards a just solution. The lack of good intent and proper authority is most clearly evident in the decisive exclusion of Hamas, a glaring feature of the peace-denying process.

Further confirmation has emerged of past Hamas assurances to the US that it would accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 Green Line. But this inconvenient truth doesn't suit the Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas game plan of keeping Hamas isolated.

It's a staggering irony that the very party most immediately able to deliver any semblance of a serious peace - at least on the Palestinian side - is being consciously prohibited from doing so. It's all part of the same game plan to paint Hamas as nothing other than a vengeful terrorist entity, thus denying the true range of diverse and pragmatic discourse within its evolving ranks. Yet, whatever these policy issues, one doesn't have to endorse Hamas perspectives or practices to recognise their primary right to speak for the Palestinians they govern.

This most basic democratic principle has been rejected by Washington with curt, monosyllabic efficiency. As Sunday Herald journalist David Pratt notes:
"Asked just before the current talks began what role Hamas would have in the process, George J Mitchell, United States special envoy for Middle East Peace, replied with one word: “None.” How unbelievably redundant is such thinking. Is this as far as joined-up thinking goes among diplomats when it comes to breaking the deadlock on building a Middle East peace process?

Already, based on that one last remark, I can hear the clamour of response from some quarters insisting that it is impossible to talk to Hamas because they don’t want to talk, or recognise the state of Israel and would rather just “sweep it into the sea”. The fact is a way has to be found to engage with Hamas – not on the basis of liking or disliking them, but simply because, in pragmatic terms, Hamas, not Mahmoud Abbas, are the people who can deliver.

As Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah put it recently: “No serious analyst believes that peace can be made between Palestinians and Israelis without Hamas on board, any more than could have been the case in Northern Ireland without Sinn Fein and the IRA.”"

All true. But, for Hamas itself, there's also strategic reasons not to be at these talks. These relate to the clear understanding within Hamas that, even with good Palestinian will, Israel has no serious intention of agreeing a deal even on the basic 1967 line.

Thus, why would Hamas want to be anywhere near these 'negotiations' when they indicate a balance of power unlikely to yield any useful results for the Palestinians?

Chief Hamas spokesman Khaled Mesh’al has laid out this thinking in a new policy statement:

"In all honesty and courage I say: negotiation is not absolutely prohibited or forbidden, be it from a legal or political perspective, or in view of the experiences of the nation and humanity, or the practices of the resistance movements and revolutions throughout history. However, it must be subject to equations, regulations, calculations, circumstances, contexts and proper management, for without these it becomes a negative and destructive tool.

Regarding the Palestinian case, we say that negotiation with Israel today is a wrong choice. A proposal was put forward to Hamas directly to negotiate with Israel but we refused. Some from among the Hamas leadership received a proposal to meet with a number of Israeli leaders, some of them in power, such as [Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Shas Party leader] Eli Yishai, and others belonging to the peace camp. Hamas has rejected these offers.

Negotiations today – under the current balance of power – is in the service of the enemy, and does not serve the Palestinian side. The conflict on the ground has not developed in a manner that has forced the Zionist enemy to resort to negotiation; it refuses to this day to withdraw from the land, and does not recognise Palestinian rights. Thus negotiation in such conditions is a kind of fruitless gamble.

In light of our weakness and the imbalance of power, Israel is using negotiations as a tool to improve its relations and polish its image before the international community, and using it to gain time so as to create new facts on the ground through settlement-building, expelling people, Judaising of Jerusalem and the demolition of its neighbourhoods. It also uses negotiations as a cover to distract attention from its crimes and to water down Palestinian demands. Israel is exploiting negotiations to normalise its relations with the Arab and Islamic world and to penetrate it, and to distort the nature of the conflict; Israel is the sole beneficiary of the negotiations as they stand.

Negotiations under the existing imbalance of power is a subjugation of the Palestinian side to the requirements, conditions and dictates of the Israeli occupation; this is not an equal process, for just as there is currently no parity in the field of confrontation, there is also no parity around the negotiating table."
Obama, Netanyahu and, most particularly, Abbas all privately recognise the truth of Hamas's prudent calculations. But they can't have Hamas at the table because that would require genuine signals to them that there's something worth coming to the table for. And that, of course, is contrary to the three-sided artifice of 'difficult-but-dutiful engagement' - with nothing at the end - currently going on.

All this, in turn, is well understood on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank. Laila El-Haddad illustrates the point neatly regarding Gaza:
"Ask any resident of Gaza what their thoughts are on the US-sponsored "direct talks" between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas's Ramallah government, and you're likely to hear one of three responses:

1) Surely, you jest;

2) Something's rotten in Ramallah;

3) Negotiations?

There is very little patience in Gaza for this latest set of talks. They are not only being conducted without a national consensus by what is broadly considered an illegitimate government, but they also completely marginalise the Gaza Strip and overlook the blockade and asphyxiation it has suffered for more than four years."

A rather more punitive political denial prevails in the PA-controlled West Bank where Abbas's forces have resorted to increased repression. Senior Al Quds Al Arabi journalist Abdel Bari Atwan contextualises the PA's violent crackdowns on groups protesting against the Abbas talks agenda:

"The problem is not confined to a group of thugs within the security forces who stormed the headquarters of the Forum, tore down banners and logos, and caused absolute chaos in the room. The problem is in the policies pursued by the Authority in recent years, particularly the confiscation of freedoms, control of Palestinian representation, and speaking on behalf of the people without any legitimacy or authority or both. This section of the security forces, whose members carried out this scandalous act hooliganism belongs to an apparatus whose members have been selected very carefully under the supervision of four intelligence agencies. Two of them are Arabs (Jordanian and Palestinian) and the other two are foreign (the Israeli Shin Bet and American CIA) and this was recorded in a lecture delivered by the principal Godfather, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, at an institute in Washington, when he said that the main objective of the current scheme was the creation of a new Palestinian; one who is devoid of national dignity and self-pride.

This group, therefore, has been raised on values, principles, ethics and morals that are alien to us and which we do not want to know. They have no relationship to the values, ethics and principles of the Palestinian people, and for which thousands of Palestinian, Arab and Muslims sacrificed their lives."
The repression is perhaps most acute inside some of the West Bank refugee camps, with PA forces purging activists and a younger generation drawn to more leftist ideals, such as those of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Meanwhile, the 20 percent of Palestinians comprising Israel's population, notes Ben White, remain firmly under Israel's apartheid grip, a seemingly invisible community for most of the media and present 'peace-talkers':
"This is the question that many Western media outlets won’t touch, and most politicians dismiss with platitudes. The Palestinians in Israel are forgotten, particularly in terms of the international community’s peace process, despite — or realistically, because of — the way in which their struggles relate to what happened in 1948 and the meaning of creating a Jewish state in Palestine. This is the conversation that needs to take place, and increasingly is, from academia to activists."
Beyond the 'still hopeful' posture being cultivated by Obama/Clinton/Mitchell - a way of preparing the Palestinians and wider world for Netanyahu's rejections and the inevitable 'heroic collapse' of the talks - the gathering realisation of the Washington charade is serving to build an invigorated Palestinian resistance. Electronic Intifada editor Matthew Cassell:
"Although not invited to the White House, the numerous grassroots movements across the Middle East present the best hope for bringing peace and justice to this region. And it's those increasingly popular movements that people around the world concerned with the fate of the Middle East should support. In the meantime, let the puppets and their masters walk on red carpets in Washington while the real change is made by those with their feet on the ground."
In sum, we're seeing a promising new bloom of political awareness and civil mobilisation pushing out and away from the contradiction of Washington's tired and deceitful 'diplomacy'. This is all contrary to the 'learned' readings of 'seasoned' media observers who only ever focus, obediently, on the 'latest talks round' or the 'critical issue' of the settlement freeze extension or Washington's sanctimonious promise to 'go-the-extra-mile-for-peace.' Rarely, if ever, do they take the trouble to consider - like Cassell and Abdel Bari Atwan - the real political dynamics on the ground, developments which, unlike the same old peace show now on tour, suggests encouraging signs of something useful in the making.

John Hilley


Rosie said...

In case you missed this article from the Sydney Morning Herald:


Rosie Young

John Hilley said...

Many thanks, Rosie. It's a fine piece. I've flagged it up at the Media Lens message board:


Keep blogging!