- Diplomacy is usually a two-sided, mutual
exercise of parties of equal standing to achieve mutually agreed outcomes.
A new government that comes to power in a country that has been a party
to such an exchange is normally expected by the international community--and
the other party--to honor such arrangements. So far so good. But what if
the new government is made up of players who have always resisted the allegedly
agreed outcomes? And what if that resistance is due to the fact that
the other party to such agreements has not only failed to live up to the
agreements, but has actively violated the understandings at virtually every
turn? Just what should be the posture of a new government in these
circumstances? Herein lie the subject and the context of today's
stiff-arming effort of Israel and supportive foreign objectors against
the coming Hamas government in Palestine.
- What are the facts? The key documents
being waved at Hamas are the Oslo Accords that established principles for
an interim Palestinian government. With the principles, Letters of Mutual
Recognition were signed under which Israel recognized the PLO as the legitimate
representative of the Palestinian people, while the PLO (a) recognized
the right of the state of Israel to exist, (b) renounced terrorist violence,
and (c) renounced any desire for destruction of Israel.
- While the Oslo Accords were progress
of sorts, the Israelis recognized the PLO only as representative of the
Palestinians; that was not recognition of a Palestinian state. Moreover,
all of the final status issues (status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements
in the West Bank and Gaza, the right of Palestinians to return to their
homeland, compensation for Israeli-confiscated lands and property, security
in Palestine, and borders between Palestine and Israel) were left for later
decision. In short, the Accords were long on atmospherics and short on
- Three main official addenda to the Oslo
Accords were accomplished in meetings at Wye River, Maryland ( October
1998), plus sessions at the Sinai towns of Sharm el Sheikh
(September 1999) and Taba (January 2001). Wye yielded an agreement to pursue
final status negotiations with a view to reaching agreement before the
end of 1999, but nothing came of that agreement. Talks at Sharm el
Sheikh were meant to get the process back on track, essentially to keep
things moving. The two sides agreed that neither would initiate nor take
any step that would change the status of the West Bank or Gaza. Readers
can judge for themselves how that went. Taba was convened to pursue final
status negotiations but ultimately led nowhere, possibly because it occurred
too close to an Israeli election for any contending Israeli politician
to sign a commitment. In any event, the Israelis started building
the infamous wall shortly thereafter, while continuing to add settlement
areas in the West Bank and taking harassment actions to reduce the Palestinian
population of the Jordan River valley.
- A break in the standoff appeared to occur--at
the unofficial level--with the Geneva Accords of 2003. If enacted,
the Accords would have given Palestine virtually all of the West Bank,
the Gaza Strip and part of Jerusalem. They would have adopted the 1967
green line as the device to determine how much territory the Palestinians
would receive through a scheme of tradeoffs for certain settlements the
Israelis would keep. It would also have limited any right of return--the
right of expelled Palestinians to return to their homeland. However, these
were accords in name only, because they were not documents attested to
by either the PLO or the Israeli government.
- While those accords injected a short
term burst of hope into the Palestinian situation, that hope was short-lived
in Palestine. Rather, Palestinians have seen continued building of the
meandering wall, Israeli harassment of Palestinians at countless check
points, Israeli construction of Israeli-use only roads, continuing targeted
assassinations, and the steady shrinkage through new settlement activity
of any territory for a Palestinian state. The Palestinian counters
to these assaults have been sporadic attacks, including suicide bombings.
- In the dicey environment of stalled negotiations
and steady Israeli incursions on Palestinian territory, the increasingly
ill Yassir Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas could offer the Palestinian
people little hope. Moreover, neither Arafat nor his successor--assuming
that they really wanted to stop them-- could totally eliminate insurgent
attacks against the Israelis.
- Palestinians could see that the apparent
acceptance of Abbas by the United States and the Israelis had yielded no
improvement in their situation and no limitation of the Israeli land grab.
Unilateral withdrawal of the Israelis from the Gaza Strip--not a concession
to Palestinians, but Israeli rejection of an appendage that was costly
and difficult to defend--only emphasized the declining control and credibility
of Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas. Meanwhile, members of the group Hamas worked
diligently at providing the only extensive human services that were available
in Palestine. That climate yielded the Hamas victory.
- The truth before the January 25 parliamentary
election was that outside the realm of third-party rhetoric, a peaceful
settlement of the Palestine-Israeli relationship was increasingly unlikely.
And none of the Roadmap managers (the Quartet made up of the US, the UN,
the European Community, and Russia) appeared uncomfortable enough with
that outlook to do much about it. The situation resembled the fumaroles
around a sleeping volcano; no one was moved to do something unless one
of the pots bubbled over.
- Palestinian patience with this situation
has been truly remarkable. Mainstream Jewish sufferance of it has
been equally so. The problem needed a shock. The pot indeed bubbled
over. But the most remarkable feature of it is the pot boiled over at the
political not the insurgent level.
- US, European, Israeli and even some Arab
reactions to the Hamas victory have been a remarkable study in narrow self-interested
squirming. All of them clearly had grown too comfortable with a peace
process that was going nowhere and a Palestinian leadership that could
not do anything about it. The mere fact that "peace" had become
an open-ended "process" said about all that could be said about
the players' state of mind. In fact, the only bulldozers anywhere
near the Middle East peace Roadmap were Israeli ones busily destroying
Palestinian homes, villages and orchards, while building a wall to fragment
- What, sensibly, should Hamas do with
this situation? The outraged noises from Israel and outside say "Do
what Fatah was doing before the election". That is, stop resisting,
recognize Israel's right to exist, and get back to the Roadmap. But Hamas
leaders know that any more of the same is a dead end, and so do serious
observers of the situation. The Hamas opportunity lies with unhooking at
least temporarily from the past, while seeking to define a new set of rules
for the future. Their immediate task is to avoid losing ground while
they maneuver to take charge of Palestine's future. That exposes Hamas
and the Palestinians to being made miserable by the combination of Israel
and the cabal Israeli supporters have put together to oppose Hamas.
- This is an enormous challenge for the
outsiders, especially the Quartet. It is essential for them to have
in mind and try to keep the key things accomplished at Oslo and in subsequent
sessions. But it is vital for the Quartet to face squarely the flaws
in this process that can be attributed largely, if not entirely to Israeli
hardliner unwillingness to complete a peace agreement. While the view promoted
by Israel and its supporters is that they have made numerous concessions,
Israel has made none on the status issues, except possibly the land tradeoff
unofficially agreed in Geneva.
- As usual, however, the Quartet is focusing
entirely on what the Palestinians are supposed to be doing--Quartet definition--versus
what Hamas has to do if it is to salvage any real prospect of a Palestinian
homeland. The Roadmap simply does not lead there.
- The effort of the Israelis is to make
the struggle as unequal as possible. Israel now has more or less
aligned with it the United States, parts of the European community, and
the UN. However, the Russians, the French and a growing number of Arab
states are looking for ways to help Hamas and the Palestinians. Most
opponents are insisting that Hamas accept as given all that has gone before.
But that trail is littered with accumulating Palestinian concessions for
which there have been no real--that is final status--Israeli ones.
The language is one-sided and pre-emptive. Israel wants its right
to exist to be recognized, but it has yet to recognize Palestine as an
entity. Israel wants the Palestinians to accept all of the accomplishments
and the framework of the Oslo accords and subsequent talks, but accepting
all of that only circumscribes anything the Palestinians may ask for, and
as facts on the ground demonstrate, the Palestinians have lost ground at
- The Israeli tactics are neat. Without
ever promising anything, in the past three weeks they have aligned the
governments of over half a billion people on the side of making the Palestinians
concede major diplomatic points to Israel for which there is no quid pro
quo offered or suggested. The Israelis have used the United States
and a few others in that manner for half a century, never presenting themselves
as the principal party to a negotiation in which they had to be prepared
to make concessions in exchange for concessions and live with outcomes
in exchange for like responses from the other party.
- People may argue with that judgment,
but the real issues--the final status questions of right of return, compensation
for confiscated lands and property, access to Jerusalem, territorial definitions
and boundary determinations--always have been reserved to the future. Palestinian
negotiators regularly have lost in these uneven matches, because no concessions
have been made on the key issues.
- Israel's present gambit is to keep its
support structure well-oiled and never present itself for negotiation,
merely wait for Hamas to collapse under the extreme pressure of the Israeli
support group. Then things can get comfortably back to the "peace
process" which, as of now, is not designed to go anywhere, because
the key issues of interest to the Palestinians are not on the table, and
the Israelis keep accumulating facts on the ground to distort the eventual
outcome more in their favor. Immediate Israeli targets are all lands of
the Jordan River Valley.
- Israel knows, however, that their neat
situation won't endure if Palestinian negotiators are given any room to
maneuver. The first gambits sound reasonable: Honor the Oslo
accords, recognize Israel's right to exist, and give up terrorism.
However, Fatah and Palestinian Authority accession to those rules have
virtually enabled the disassembly of any future Palestinian state. Palestinians
have been giving ground regularly, if not steadily, since World War II,
and many of them have been on the run since the massacre of Deir Yassin
village in 1948 and subsequent destruction of more than 400 hundred other
Palestinian communities. That process continues in the West Bank
while Israel's supporters look on silently or pursue the so-called "quiet
diplomacy" that never openly confronts Israeli excesses, and has led
to the present debacle.
- The present tactic is to beat the Palestinians
into retreat from their electoral decision. It is a diplomacy of sticks
and stones: Stop passing revenues to the Palestinian Authority that legally
belong to them--even though collected as an agreed procedure by the Israelis.
Retrieve $50 million in US assistance that was promised by Bush to
Abbas during the latter's "state" visit. Withhold other US funds.
Re-examine UN funding of support and infrastructure programs. In short,
starve enough Palestinians, and make life miserable for them so that they,
in turn, will withdraw their support for Hamas, or prevent that support
from evolving into the kind of national unity government that Hamas seems
to prefer. All of this is being undertaken without any real public pressure
in the US, the UN or Western Europe except from Israeli lobbies.
- The net effect of these gambits is to
(a) assume the worst about Hamas performance, and then (b) do everything
possible to make that outcome inevitable. Some of the side effects
are pretty horrendous: (1) the Palestine problem is actively being recast
as a struggle between the West and Islam; (2) countries whose support for
terrorism has consisted largely of aid to the Palestinian insurgencies--Syria
and Iran most obviously--will enhance their support; (3) increased support
by any Islamic country for Hamas will be viewed by the US and Israel particularly
as further promotion of Islamic terrorism, no matter what a Hamas government
does with the support; (4) active terrorist groups in Islam and the rest
of the world as well will respond in variously sympathetic ways to the
repression of the Palestinians by a collective "West"; (5) the
US-led War on Terrorism will receive a wholly gratuitous boost from this
attempt to nullify a free and fair Palestinian election; and (6) the US-promoted
democratization effort will be confirmed by its critics as the misbegotten
propaganda gimmick they already thought it was.
- There are a comparative few compelling
voices on the side of a more honorable and likely to be constructive approach.
One is former President Jimmy Carter; another is an American attorney,
John Whitbeck, who has provided legal advice to the Palestinians for a
number of years. In the past few days, Egypt's President Mubarak has said
no to a US request to deny assistance to Palestine. Iran has publicly
promised assistance in a meeting between Ahmadinjad and Khaled Mashaal,
an exiled Hamas leader in Tehran.
- In a Washington Post op-ed of February
20, President Carter observes that the election of Hamas cannot harm "genuine
peace talks", since such talks "have been nonexistent for more
than five years". He also notes that on behalf of the PLO Mahmoud
Abbas has sought peace talks for the past year (he does not note that there
was no Israeli response). President Carter basically concludes that the
Palestinians should not be punished for their electoral decision and Hamas
should be given room to transit from insurgency to a position of political
- Whitbeck steps right into the middle
of the negotiative process, a space he has occupied periodically for nearly
two decades. His suggestion, as published widely in the Arab press, is
that Hamas should take the initiative now and "publicly announce its
support for the Arab League's Beirut Declaration of March 2002". In
that declaration, all Arab states (including Palestine) offered Israel
permanent peace and normal diplomatic and economic relations in return
for Israel's returning to pre-1967 borders. Note that by this declaration
Palestine accepted the existence of Israel and if Hamas issued a statement
of public support for that declaration, it would be de-facto accepting
the existence of Israel, without necessarily saying so.
- Whitbeck's next point is pretty pithy.
Under Hamas, he says Palestinian leadership "should make clear that,
after 39 years of foreign military occupation, the Palestinian people can
no longer tolerate the cynical series of never-ending peace plans (including
the current Roadmap) designed by others simply to postpone the necessary
and obvious choices and to string out forever a perpetual "peace process"
while further entrenching the occupation with new "facts on the ground".
- As Whitbeck summarizes the situation,
over the years the Israelis have been offered many carrots, and they have
not reacted favorably to any of them, and they should now be shown a stick.
To this end, "the new Palestinian leadership should simultaneously
declare (preferably with the concurrence of President Mahmoud Abbas and
Fatah) that, if Israel does not publicly agree to proceed toward a two-state
solution in accordance with the Beirut Declaration by a reasonable date
(say, three months hence), the Palestinian people will consider that Israel
has definitively rejected a two-state solution in favor of a one-state
solution and, accordingly, will thereafter seek their liberation and self-determination
through citizenship in a single democratic state in all of pre-1948 Palestine,
free of all forms of discrimination and with equal rights for all who live
- The choice, states Whitbeck, should be
for the Israelis to choose between a two-state solution based on the Arab
League's Beirut Declaration of 2002, or "a one-state solution in accordance
with fundamental democratic principles". He says the key would
be "to let the Israeli people choose whichever of those two alternatives
Israelis prefer and to accept Israel's choice." However, he
is well aware that many Palestinians prefer the one-state solution, because
it preserves for them the rights of citizenship in their native Palestine,
would eliminate refugee status for several million Palestinians, and would
restore their status as people of equal worth with the Israelis.
- If such a proposal were to lead to an
Israeli response that shows genuine will to negotiate and resolve the long-standing
issues, Hamas would have tools to restrain, and eventually tame the Palestinian
hardliners, not only those in Hamas, but in other groups such as the al
Aksa Brigades and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The vehicle for that, some
indicate, would be an old trick of Mohammad the Prophet, to declare a truce
of indeterminate length--even unto a generation--that would create and
sustain the climate for constructive talks.
- If that approach yields no results,
it will be reprehensible for the Israeli support group to insist that the
Palestinians come to heel, while the Israelis do nothing to deserve their
consideration. It is time for the "West" to adopt a posture toward
this situation that makes sense in terms of its realities. The Palestinians
will not endure continuing repression and confiscation of their remaining
homeland without fighting back. The cure for terrorism in this case
is insistence on fairness and actual movement toward conditions for a decent
life for both Palestinians and Israelis. The Israeli promoted effort to
suppress Hamas, if it were to succeed, would guarantee a future of terrorism
and warfare for both.
- 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 email@example.com.