A lot is written in the media about the new elected Hamas government and how to deal with them and what to expect from them. On pro-Israel websites and blogs one can find lots of bellicose quotes from Hamas leaders that show clearly that their intention is ongoing 'resistance' until all of 'historical Palestine' is liberated. Also the Hamas Charter
, that is full of the worst anti-Semitic statements, is quoted frequently. Most of the mainstream and liberal press carries a more positive message, cites moderate statements also made by Hamas leaders and believes that Hamas could play an important role in peace if it is only given a little time to transform itself into a responsible political party. Unfortunately, there is a lot of wishful thinking in most of these articles.
In The Australian, Middle East correspondent Martin Chulov
'explains' why Hamas could not do otherwise than support last weeks suicide attack in Tel Aviv, and in fact, didn't really support it.
The bloody chaos in downtown Tel Aviv on Monday was not what the recently elected Hamas Government of the Palestinian territories wanted, and certainly not what it needed. Israel and the West already had Hamas squirming before Monday's suicide bombing. Now they have a choke-hold on the militant group turned Government.
The Tel Aviv attack was a "now what?" moment for Hamas. It chose, for now, to stick to its old ways, with spokespeople and junior ministers describing the bloodshed as "self-defence and a natural response to the Israeli occupation". But the Hamas power base in Gaza was privately saying late in the week that it had no other option.
The strike was carried out in the name of the Palestinian resistance by a West Bank cell of fellow militants, Islamic Jihad. Condemning it would have courted mutiny among the militants and ordinary Palestinians who elected Hamas. Condoning it caused just as much trouble, from a much bigger audience. Israel was quick to turn Hamas's lack of sympathy into a crippling diplomatic blow on two fronts. Israel's cabinet announced it would rescind the Israeli citizenship of four Hamas MPs in the Palestinian Legislative Council, who represent Israeli Arabs and live in Israel.
If Chulov is right, it means that the majority of Palestinians who voted for Hamas did so (besides other motives) because they oppose peace and a two-state solution and that is the real problem. If Hamas' policy is dictated by militants on the street, than there is no reason for optimism anyway.
Hamas doesn't just have 'lack of sympathy for Israel'
. That is a huge understatement. Rather it has advocated indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians. Israel's 'diplomatic blow on two fronts' (this sounds more aggressive than the suicide attack and Hamas' support for it) is presented as quite extremist, whereas the Palestinian reaction in the UN from Riyad Mansour is quoted later in the article without such a negative qualification. The fact that Israel didn't react militarily to the attack, despite Hamas' support for it, is not mentioned at all.
Yet in this paragraph the Hamas is portrayed as the victim that could not act differently, and is in the stranglehold of Israel and the USA. The suicide attack apparently suited them perfectly in their policy against Hamas.
The portrayal of Hamas as a victim goes on throughout the article. Another example:
Hamas's transformation from militant movement to an elected Government has ripped the whip hand from its grasp and placed it at the mercy of Israel and the US, arch antagonists the organisation can no longer ignore. Even traditional sympathisers such as the European Union, the UN and Russia have gone cold on Hamas, joining an international boycott that is quickly crippling its reign, which could lead to voter hostility.
Hamas is hearing one consistent message on all sides: the only way out is to renounce its reason for existence.
And, later on:
Hamas is in an invidious position whichever way it turns. Its coffers are empty. Its benefactors are few and its constituents are suffering.
To renounce its past and recognise Israel within one month of winning office would imperil everything it stood for in the preceding 19 years.
Poor guys. Demanding to recognize Israel is quite too much indeed. The wicked Israelis and Americans should not demand such impossible things. Maybe Hamas should have thought about that before deciding to participate in the elections. I suppose it chose of its free will to participate?! Or is that a trick of Israel to break the Palestinian 'resistance'? The fact that by renouncing violence and recognizing Israel, Hamas has to 'renounce it's reason for existence' is not Israel's fault of course. Hamas could have prepared for that in the previous year, or it could have waited with participation in the elections till the next one.
As the Palestinian government they are accountable for all terror attacks against Israel. Hamas has to make a fundamental choice, whether it wants to be part of the governmental system and take responsibility, which also means acknowledging the very agreements the Palestinian Authority is based on, or remain a liberation movement based on armed struggle. If it chooses the latter, it cannot run the government, and should withdraw from it, as Abdul Rahman Al-Rashad
, general manger of Al Arabiya television, points out.
On a local level, there have been contacts between Hamas members or affiliates and Israelis, as well as international observers and politicians for years. Very probably these contacts exist also today, as it is in the interest of both sides. But as much as the Palestinian public wouldn't accept Hamas talking officially with Israel and recognizing it, the Israeli public, for obvious reasons, would not accept official contacts and cooperation with a government that is ruled by an organization whose 'reason for existence' is the liberation of all of Palestine.
This is not exactly true:
Egyptian officials told Israeli media during the week that they are aiming for Hamas to sign two levels of agreements with Israel, the first aimed at service delivery to the beleaguered Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, many of whom complain they have never had it worse than in the past three months. The second is to strictly maintain the Hamas-led ceasefire of August 2004.
We don't recall - and cannot find any reports of - any ceasefire in 2004, and certainly none that involved the Hamas. In 2005 there was a 'Tahidiyeh'
(lull in the fighting, which is less than a truce), that Mahmoud Abbas engineered, and Hamas agreed to abide by that 'lull' as it was going to enter the election campaign. In fact, Israeli reports
compare the effects of the 2005 truce, with the lack of truce in 2004, and attribute part of the drop in violence to the truce.
On August 31, 2004, the Hamas carried out a suicide attack in Beersheva
that killed 16 people. There was no truce or cease-fire in effect then. On February 8, 2005, President Machmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met in Cairo and announced an end to the violence. In March, Palestinian militant groups met in Cairo and agreed to a Tahidiyeh. Yet there was a suicide attack on February 25 in Tel Aviv, perpetrated by Islamic Jihad. Abbas denounced it and the PA made some arrests. Abbas talked several times to the different armed factions to convince them to abide by the Tahidiyeh and Hamas did so mostly with the reservation that it 'had the right to answer Israeli aggression'. Hamas did carry out one suicide attack on August 28, 2005 (again in Beersheva), and abducted and murdered a Jerusalem business man
in September. It also fired a number of Qassam rockets into Israel and continued to stockpile arms.
Islamic Jihad did not agree to the Tahidiyeh and carried out several suicide attacks in 2005. The amount of terror warnings remained high
, about 40-50 a month, and Israel continued to catch militants planning attacks or smuggling arms during this period, but the Palestinian Authority also spotted and stopped terrorist activities. In the first months of the Tahidiyeh, Israel abided by the calm more or less and stopped its policy of targeted killings and other harsh military responses to terrorism, but continued to arrest terrorist suspects and 'ticking bombs'. As attempted and successful Palestinian attacks continued, and especially after a suicide attack on July 13, Israel returned to its 'normal behavior' of harsh military responses and killed several wanted men and terrorist suspects.
Hamas agreed to the calm because it was not able to carry out many attacks anyway. After Israel assassinated Hamas leaders Yassin and Rantisi in April 2004, it took over four months before Hamas succeeded with the Beersheva bombing to deliver on their promise of revenge. There had been many attempts before that were foiled by Israel. Hamas was seriously weakened by Israel's response to the second intifada and its policy of 'targeted killings'. A period of calm, in which it could reorganize itself, was very welcome. In this situation, obtaining power (and control over the security services) through participation in the elections seemed an attractive option, and also therefore, it had to abide by the Tahidiyeh more or less.
It is strange that so few Middle East correspondents and journalists acknowledge Hamas' self-interest in the calm, or know the difference between a cease-fire, a truce and the Tahidiyeh of 2005, or mention the fact that the radical drop in the amount of successful suicide attacks came well before the calm, because of better Israeli intelligence and other counter-terrorist measures. Without that Israeli achievement, it is very doubtful if the Hamas would have ever agreed to the Tahidiyeh.
The article in the Australian carries a hopeful message at the end:
Earlier this month in Gaza, before he set off on a regional fundraising sweep, al-Zahar again raised the possibility of a two-state solution, suggesting the issue would be put to the Palestinian people in a democratic process such as a referendum.
"First we have to listen to the answers," he said, sounding like a seasoned politician. "We have to understand what is the nature of the two states. What is the offer? What are we going to discuss? If it is very simple, if it is very clear, if it satisfies the Palestinian demands, we can decide. But if it is not, we have to consult, we have to ask the people. We are not the owners of Palestine."
The political novices may be learning fast.
This sounds too good to be true. If this is really true, then why is it such a problem to recognize Israel? If even Al Zahar, a known hardliner, talks about a two-state solution, then what is the problem? "We have to understand the nature of the two states."
That is the point indeed. And, maybe, the devil is in the details. The 'nature of the two states' is of course a Jewish and a Palestinian Arab state, but apparently this is not so clear to Al Zahar, and not what he has in mind.
A real two-state solution means a painful compromise for both sides. It means the Palestinians have to give up the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel, and to accept Israel as a Jewish state. It means Israel has to give up it's claims on the West Bank, and to dismantle most settlements there. Jerusalem has to be divided. This isn't simple and is not satisfying to either people. If it was, it would have been carried out a long time ago and a lot of bloodshed would have been prevented. Consulting the people is great, but peace will only have a chance if they are prepared to the fact that peace means giving up things, not only getting things. It means reconciliation, and acknowledging the grievances of the other side. Maybe this is a bridge too far for the new elected Hamas government. But if the above statement about a two-state solution would be more than just verbiage, I don't understand why it is impossible to denounce a suicide attack carried out by a rival faction. Ratna Pelle
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