Digesting Hamas -
The Powers That Be
Do Not Get It

By Terrell E. Arnold
Last Friday, the European Community announced that it had cut off all aid to the Palestinian Authority.  Thereby it joined a United States, United Nations, and Israeli cabal designed to starve the Palestinian people into doing what they are told by outsiders. In addition to the West now collectively withholding assistance, in February Israel stopped paying the Palestinians money that Israel collects on transit trade for them at border connections, funds now amounting to more than $100 million dollars. This is Palestine's money; it is needed to meet the Palestinian Authority payroll and other operating costs; withholding it is a travesty of law that would invite screams of bloody murder from the West if anybody but the Israelis did it.  
What is the goal of this cabal?  Stripped of all verbal/diplomatic pretenses, the goal is to cause any Hamas led government to fail.  Specifically, the aim is to squeeze the Palestinian people, actually starve them if necessary, to get them to reject the Hamas government. Everybody admits the election of this government was free and fair.  The problem is that the successful candidates were members of Palestine's present leading insurgency. The West calls them terrorists, because they sometimes target Israeli civilians--that indeed shows poor political judgment, but they do what any red-blooded American would do if his country were under a brutal occupation that threatens either to kill or to expel all of his people and take their property.  
Basically, Hamas can rid itself of this costly and stressful situation simply by recognizing the status quo ante.  What does that mean? 
 Israel has not committed itself to a single word of the accords reached at Camp David in the Carter Administration, at Oslo during the Clinton Administration, or as proposed by the George W. Bush Administration in the so-called Roadmap. Ariel Sharon was verbally non-committal on this, but Bush and the US Congress bought into Sharon's position by letter and Congressional resolution. With or without that blessing, Israel has continued to chip away at the corpus of any Palestinian state.
Even so, the US, UN, EU and Israeli message is that the Palestinians must buy it all, now, without a single commitment from Israel. In this case, Hamas must recognize Israel without knowing what the Palestine/ Israeli borders will be.  It must recognize Israel without knowing where any part of the peace negotiation will go. It must recognize Israel without any of the final status issues (rights of return, compensation for confiscated property, status of Jerusalem) being either stated or decided. In immediate, meaning today terms, it must recognize Israel while the plan of Israel's newly elected leadership is implicitly to reduce the remaining territory available for any Palestinian state to a mere 10% or less of the original territory. In short, the Palestinians must recognize Israel without any commitment of any kind on anything, while the Israelis refuse to recognize either the Palestinian people or their rights. 
For several days academics and political pundits around the West have been debating whether Mearsheimer and Walt, two eminent American scholars, are right in their description of a powerful Israeli lobby in the United States.  Meanwhile, the world's sole superpower, the UN, and the European Community have all jumped dutifully through an Israeli lobby hoop.  Does anyone really fail to understand what is going on here? 
There is nothing in this decision for the United States but future trouble in managing its affairs in the Middle East, and in many other places, and greater future prospects of terrorism at home.  That is true because many people who are not either Palestinians or terrorists find this treatment of the Palestinian people extreme and unjust.  Some of them will be offended and frustrated enough to fight back, by fair means or foul.  
 There is nothing in this decision for the United Nations.  If the Hamas government fails, the UN will have the dubious task of picking up the pieces after the fragile remaining cohesion of Palestine collapses. By taking part in this campaign to cause Hamas to fail, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has made the most careless and inhumane decision of his career, while openly, if perhaps unintentionally, aligning himself with the repressive forces in Israel.  
The European Community has generally been more sensitive to the real injustices of the situation in Palestine. Why the present shift to a hard line is unclear.  What is clear however is that the EC invites greater future terrorism on its soil if the Palestinian situation is forced to come apart.  The negative effects on specific Middle East relations will vary by country, but none will be improved by it. There is literally no advantage in this decision for the EC except possibly some relief from harassment by Israeli lobbies.  
Israel's situation on this matter is very complex. The Israeli lobbies everywhere seem to be promoting a hard anti-Hamas line, but that view is not generally shared in Israel.  While there is virtually no discussion of these issues in the United States, the debate in Israel is open enough to see that the lobbies in the United States and elsewhere are not speaking for the majority of the Israeli people, only for that Zionist leadership cadre and its supporters who are dedicated to ultimate expulsion of the Palestinians from all territory west of the Jordan River.
The US, EU, UN and Israeli moral high dudgeon over the Hamas history of attacks on Israel is arrant hypocrisy alongside their collective tolerance for Israeli occupation, confiscation of lands, assassination, harassment and imprisonment of Palestinians. At minimum, all parties should see the present situation as an opportunity to enduringly shut down the violence from all sides.  
Hamas itself is being put to an acid test.  However, Hamas leadership is taking, at least for now, a cool and reasoned approach.  Dr Mahmoud Zahhar, the newly-designated Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Hamas cabinet, stated the position clearly but softly in a recent letter to Kofi Annan: "We believe in the justice of our cause and the ability of our people to be steadfast in their struggle against military occupation of our land and against Israel's illegal measures. We also believe that justice and law are the basis of the solution and for security and stability in the region" The new Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh also spelled out the terms for Israeli recognition in an article published in the Guardian, starting with an indicated willingness to accept  boundaries that more or less follow the 1967 armistice line, the so called "green" line.  
The irony of this immediate spectacle is that Hamas is simply being more reasonable than anybody else.  None of the positions its spokesmen have taken are contrary either to the negotiating history or to the logic of the Palestine problem.  Reports from Israel, particularly the peace group Gush Shalom, indicate that the Israeli people are by no means solidly behind the hardline posture of the Zionist extremists.  In recognition of that fact, all candidates in Israel's March 28 elections soft-talked and soft-walked around the issues concerning future negotiations.
The unofficial vibes, however, indicate that before Israel arrives at a peace table, there may be a great deal more killing of Palestinians, confiscation of Palestinian lands, harassment of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, and other moves such as targeted assassinations that may begin to eat into the moderate base of Hamas political leadership.  
 Those vibes, plus (a) continuing lack of evidence from the Israeli side that anyone is prepared to talk real peace, (b) continuing occupation by the Israel Defense Force, and (c) growing stresses as well as increasing unrest due to economic hardship simply mean future trouble. The ability of Hamas to keep its members focused on political actions was under strain from the first day due to the already weakened structure of the Palestinian Authority. It has faced further strain due to the hostility of Fatah opponents who simply lost the January election. Fatah failed repeatedly to advance Palestinian interests while becoming virtually totally corrupt, and some do not want to see a Hamas success. 
The ability of Hamas to run the Authority without western funding or its funds from customs receipts is questionable, even though Arab governments have indicated willingness to help. It should be kept in mind, however, that Hamas has operated, that is endured from the beginning, under conditions of financial and physical stress and hostility.  In that set of circumstances, it has shown remarkable solidity.  
The supreme irony of the present situation is that for decades the West, especially the United States, has looked for a way to break the cycle of terrorism not only in the Middle East. In a few instances, such as the PLO, the IRA, and the Sandinistas, a gradual walk to acceptable political behavior of former insurgents (sometimes terrorists) has been achieved.  Such achievements have been possible because the historic pattern of violence has been broken, peace has been achieved, if not declared, and reversion to violence has been avoided.
Hamas has taken the first two critical steps in this direction: It declared a truce more than a year before the January 2006 elections, and that truce still holds despite frequent provocation from the Israelis. Next, Hamas entered the political process seriously, and it won a sweeping victory.  It is positioned to complete the transition to respectable political actor with a popular base.  
The West and the Israeli hardliners simply fail to understand the crucial importance of the steps Hamas has taken toward breaking an historic cycle of violence. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose relationships and intentions respecting this Hamas government are to say the least unclear, is outspokenly pessimistic about prospects.  In an interview with a Guardian writer last week, Abbas said in effect that if Israel does not negotiate by 2010, there will be another war in a decade.  Abbas seems to believe it would take that long to breed another disaffected generation of Palestinians prepared to fight back. 
In this, Abbas seems curiously out of touch with Palestinian reality.  The present generation of Palestinians elected Hamas to govern them because they were fed up with the past.  If progress toward peace is not visible in months, and not too many of them, the people will want action.  If hardships mount as a result of Western and Israeli imposed privation, the people will want action sooner. This generation will again rebel.  Hamas may not have either the will or the inclination to stop a generalized return to violence.  The US, EU, UN and Israel can blame themselves for that outcome if it happens. Hopefully they will get it before the situation goes too far.
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 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, and he invites questions at



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