- There is no process more important to
the future welfare of societies in revolt than the transition from insurgency
to civil governance. That being said, there is no historic example where
the process has been short, simple, without contention, and successful,
all in a tidy sequence. Sometimes, as in the French Revolution, the insurgents
end up being successful, but they fall into conflict about how to proceed,
and the interregnum can be long, unstable and bloody. That is partly because
revolutionaries tend to be poor governors. In the French case, even so,
the end product--several years later--was a republic. The lesson of history
on this is that moving on from rebellion is at best dicey and complicated.
As demonstrated too often in the French case, a corollary lesson is that
outside interference generally makes matters worse, especially for the
society in revolt.
- No two cases appear exactly alike,
because no two human situations ever quite mirror image each other. In
some respects, the pattern resembles the way someone has said penguins
feed the seals: They stand around on the ice, jostling each other, until
somebody falls off. That often works. However, in a century increasingly
saturated with people who are, in turn, increasingly saturated with weapons,
relying on the outcome of an accident appears inordinately high risk.
- A more deliberate procedure is urgently
called for. The United States has advertised for decades that the "more
deliberate procedure", one that is widely approved throughout the
world, is regime change by democratic election. Speaking strictly of what
the people in the affected country or group may want, that procedure is
frequently reliable. The hangup is that protracted insurgencies tend to
delay any trip to the voting booth, either because the powers that be are
reluctant to hold an election because they might lose, or the insurgents
are reluctant to get involved in an election because they do not trust
the outcome, or interested outsiders do not think the timing or players
or agenda are right, or all three. This system actually works best when
all significant contending parties are committed to the process and the
outcome. It is most likely to fail when any of the major contenders or
significant outside interests try to jigger either the rules or the results.
- Palestine's date with this process was
long in coming. For more than three quarters of a century, beginning immediately
after World War I, the Palestinian people have been subjected to assault,
confiscation of their homes and properties, and expulsion from their native
land. Only in the late 1960s did Palestinian advocates begin to spell out
the rights of the Palestinian people and seek voices for them in their
future, especially respecting how and where they lived. But from the beginning,
the usurper of those rights and interests had one or more big brother protectors
who regularly shielded it from the consequences of excess, including mounting
crimes against humanity.
- With no external political sponsor or
direct defender of their rights, the Palestinians began to fight back.
Their first major vehicle was the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO),
founded by Yassir Arafat and led also by the current President Mahmoud
Abbas (PLO name: Abu Mazen). The PLO was closely paced by formation of
the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine--a very active terrorist
group in its early years that eventually merged with the PLO and stopped
exporting terrorism. Beginning with the earliest Camp David meetings during
the Carter Administration, the PLO moved toward a governing body of the
Palestinian people and largely foreswore terrorism.
- Even so, the Palestinian people continued
to lose ground. More lands were confiscated, villages were eradicated.
The refugee population of the West Bank and Gaza grew, while surrounding
countries and the outside world became home to thousands of Palestinian
- Reacting to this continuing pattern of
abuse and repression, Hamas was created by its founder, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin
in 1987. Hamas is said to be an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood,
an Islamic fundamentalist group active in Egypt and other Arab countries.
It is also said to have been promoted by the Israelis as a foil to Fatah
and the PLO. That may have been so, but Yassin was assassinated by the
Israelis in 2004. His successor was assassinated shortly thereafter.
- Hamas means zeal in Arabic, but it is
also an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement. Under Yassin the
group established itself fairly quickly as an insurgency, but even more
so as a provider of human services to many truly downtrodden people in
the refugee camps. Most of the Hamas budget, estimated at $70 million
yearly, has gone for human services.
- Since 1993, Hamas is said to have carried
out more than 350 attacks causing more than 500 deaths. That means however,
that Hamas has conducted small harassment attacks--mortars, short range
rockets, small arms, and suicide bombings--involving usually few casualties
per attack, and sometimes none.
- That compares with Israel Defense Force
operations in the same period that caused thousands of Palestinian casualties
and destroyed much of the Palestinian infrastructure, including the entire
town of Jenin. A particularly bad example was destruction of an entire
apartment building in an effort to eliminate one militant.
- A defacto force in local politics from
its beginning, because of its human services activities, Hamas entered
the political arena slowly, capturing a number of municipal seats in 2004,
but it boycotted the presidential election of 2005 that brought Mahmoud
Abbas to power. Deciding to enter the 2006 parliamentary elections in January
2006, Hamas was predicted to have a good showing, but its win of a solid
majority of seats was a surprise.
- As largely uncontested head of the PLO
and later the Palestinian Authority, Yassir Arafat and his successor Mahmoud
Abbas have been looked to by outsiders, notably the Israelis and the United
States, but also the UN and European governments, to moderate the behavior
of all Palestinians and to shut down the insurgent organizations.
- The Israelis tried to shut them down
by arrests and assassinations--killing at least five leaders of Hamas and
subjecting such leading insurgent figures as Marwan Barghouti, the founder
of the al Aksa Brigades, to long prison sentences. Arafat brought the PFLP
into alliance with the PLO, and over time PFLP terrorist operations ceased
outside the land area of Palestine and Israel.
- Threats, cajolery, arrests and torture
did not serve to shut down Palestinian insurgent activities, because the
Israelis never stopped their programs of confiscation, expulsion, and harassment--efforts
that in other hands have been labeled ethnic cleansing. . Far from
being reduced, the land grab and the repressive treatment of Palestinians
have grown in the past five years. Even so, under mounting pressure from
the Palestinian Authority, Fatah (the PLO translated into a political party)
and outsiders of the Quartet charged with pursuing the Roadmap peace negotiations
(the US, UN, European Community, and Russia), Hamas declared a truce more
than a year ago as part of its preparation to enter the political process.
This truce was the first significant step since reform of the PLO toward
transition of a Palestinian insurgent group toward political participation.
This truce is still in place.
- It is remarkable that the truce has held
despite continuing Israeli targeted assassinations of Palestinian "militants",
continued imprisonment and torture of Hamas, al Aksa Brigade, PIJ and other
Palestinian insurgents, and harassment of Palestinians throughout the West
Bank, Gaza, and increasingly in and around the Jordan River Valley.
- Meanwhile, it is clear that Hamas has
grown in real political terms due to the needs of its members and their
families, as well as other Palestinians. Not only did it have an
insurgency related network, it had a well-developed social services and
welfare network. In effect, Hamas had already transited a great distance
toward non-insurgent and political participation in Palestinian life.
Preparation for and participation in the January 2006 parliamentary elections
were its first concrete public steps toward taking a leading role in governance.
- In public statements in the past few
weeks, notably an interview with a Washington Post reporter, the new Hamas
chosen Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh made it clear that Hamas is thinking
in terms of some combination of the Geneva Accords and the Arab League's
Beirut Declaration of March 2002 as a framework for future negotiations.
Those two together would provide for a two state system following the 1967
truce lines between Israel and Palestine save for some possible trades
of territory in the north for settlements around Jerusalem. That proposal,
as reported, essentially avoided recognition of Israel until the Israelis
declared themselves on the terms of a final settlement.
- It is obvious to close observers of the
situation that the Israeli hardliners do not want to face that solution.
If Hamas sticks to its guns, and is able to bring the majority of the Palestinians
along, the only way out of the situation would be to negotiate. With
an Israeli election a mere three weeks away, no such Israeli commitment
is likely to be forthcoming. The preferred Israeli hardliner remedy
in the meantime is to arrange an accident, something that will discredit
Hamas, and cause the Palestinians to cluster around Fatah and the present
leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, with whom the process can be bent back toward
protracted negotiations under the so-called Roadmap that are intended by
the Israeli hardliners to go nowhere.
- To be brutally frank, given the Israeli
history of hardliner behavior in such circumstances, an "accident"
could be anything from a false flag terrorist event blamed on Hamas, to
further assassinations of Hamas leaders ( Israeli hardliners have now declared
intent to do so), or to a contrived rejection of Hamas by the Palestinian
people. That could be most readily undertaken by trying to starve
the Palestinians, while getting that blamed on Hamas. Israeli resort
to usual dirty tricks could arouse predictable international outrage, but
starving the Palestinians into line appears to have some resonance, especially
with US leadership, the UN and some European governments.
- This choice is remarkably but not unpredictably
dim witted. Getting it done has every Israeli lobby in every capital of
importance working overtime. Trying to bring Arab governments into line
on her trip through the Middle East last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice tried unsuccessfully to get them to go along. Her view, expressed
enroute, was the US will not do business with Hamas because it is a terrorist
group. "It's really that simple" she said. The fact
that the US in the past has done a great deal of business with terrorist
groups such as the Contras in Nicaragua, or the UNITAS group in Angola
(whose leader Jonas Savimbi met with White House officials per arrangements
by Oliver North in the mid 1980s), all in a Republican administration at
that, appears to have escaped her.
- Perhaps the key would be to get the Congress
to starve the Palestinians. Before the House of Representatives at
the moment is House Bill 4681 which, if passed, would deny any US assistance
to a Hamas led government in Palestine. That bill, thanks to the
forceful arm-twisting and lobbying by Israeli supporters, has nearly 90
sponsors, having slowly added new ones over the past few weeks who are
looking anxiously to their upcoming contests in November and want to pocket
the Jewish vote in advance. While the bill is not in the US interest, has
no supporters other than Israeli interest groups, and would further alienate
Islamic societies if enacted, it may well come to pass.
- Yet another solution would be to expel
all Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza and, of course, Israel itself,
to the east bank of the Jordan River. That means literally to take
the remaining properties, lands and orchards of the Palestinians without
compensation, and force the people on the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
As a number of hardline Zionists, including Ariel Sharon, have put it,
Jordan would be Palestine. Already a significant share of the population
of Jordan is Palestinian, many of whom have lived in that region for generations,
but many refugees are from Israel or Palestine west of the Jordan. With
the enormous investment of time and money that Israeli supporters have
made in capturing the American political system, as well as significant
parts of European systems, the hope is that Israel could do this without
rebellion from those countries.
- There is an ironic historical twist in
the pressure on Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist. It is
well worth reciting here the founding document, the Declaration of November
1917 by Lord Balfour of Great Britain that simply reads: "His Majesty's
Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a National
Home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate
the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing
shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing
non-Jewish communities in Palestine,(emphasis added) or the rights and
political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." Providing
land in Palestine for a Palestinian state (about equal to land for Israel)
was a central part of the 1947 UN partition plan. By expelling Palestinians
from their homes and repressing those who stay in Palestine, Israel is
violating the terms of its foundation, in effect violating its right to
exist. The very terms of its existence become thereby a proper subject
- All gambits to avoid facing the Palestinians
fairly and squarely require that the Hamas victory in Palestine somehow
be frustrated. The deepest Israeli hardliner fear, barely buried under
present argument and squirming, is that, if allowed to prosper, Hamas will
stick to its guns, force final settlement negotiations on terms that are
actually consistent with the overall thrust of Oslo, Geneva and related
peace initiatives, as well as the intent of the Balfour Declaration and
UN decisions, and effectively put an end to the conflict. If Hamas proposes
negotiations along the lines of the Geneva Accords and the Arab League
proposal mentioned earlier, everybody but the Israeli hardliners are likely
to be prepared to go along. That would indeed be awkward.
- The immediate victims of any of the Israeli
gambits to frustrate Hamas will be the Palestinian people, but a particularly
disturbing victim would be the effort of Hamas to become a political force
and renounce violence. How serious it is about this transition can
only be tested by giving Hamas room. If given room, Hamas political
leadership, which now has considerable sway over the movement, could prevail
and the truce now in effect would hold for the indefinite future while
negotiations progress. If Fatah and the PLO are encouraged by the US and
Israel or others to undercut or bypass Hamas and go back to a negotiative
process that predictably will lead nowhere, then Hamas political leadership
will lose ground. Along with other terrorist groups, who have been
fairly quiet for some time, the insurgent arm of Hamas will be revived.
The flow of resources from Arab and Palestinian donors around the world
- A few organizations are actively working
to avert this catastrophe, and a large number of Jews in the United States,
European countries and in Israel oppose what Israeli hardliners are doing
to the Palestinians. In Washington, the Council for the National Interest
Foundation, a group of retired diplomats and other former officials, is
seeking to avert passage of HR 4681 while working to avoid cuts in assistance
to Palestine. In Israel, the peace group Gush Shalom is trying to muster
Israeli public opinion around a solution that favors at least a wait and
see Israeli posture. Offering some hope, it appears that European governments
and the UN are reviewing their earlier gut reactions to the Hamas victory.
Washington official reactions are actually more mixed than the knee-jerk
White House early reactions indicated. Arab governments are simply not
signing on to efforts to undercut Hamas, even though they may have their
own worries about the Muslim Brotherhood in their countries. Hamas
itself is proceeding cautiously, avoiding provocation, while not giving
away anything important to future negotiations.
- In Moscow, Putin is said to be exerting
heavy pressure on Hamas visitors to recognize Israel's right to exist.
So far the Hamas visitors have held their ground, because as they and many
outside observers see it, to go back to business as usual means the end
- If efforts to give Hamas some room fail,
the Israeli hardliners and dreamers of a greater Israel will have their
way. Continuing conflict will permit them to do what they have been
doing for virtually half a century: (1) relying on the US to defend their
right to "defend themselves" while (2) arming themselves to the
teeth largely at US expense, (3) by force and intimidation taking the whole
of Palestine away from the Palestinian people, (4) increasing the pressures
of poverty and repression to get Palestinians to leave, and (5) avoiding
any compensation to the four million people or more who will be dispossessed.
Palestine will become a "free country" for the Israelis who occupy
it. As Secretary Rice said in trying to undercut Hamas, "It's really
- The writer is the author of the recently
published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a
regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service
Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions
were as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counterterrorism, and as
Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War
College. He will welcome comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.