The Palestinian parliamentary elections that produced a Hamas majority have introduced an international role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is seemingly without precedent. The vacuum created by the refusal on the part of both Israel and Hamas to negotiate with one another on matters of crucial importance is the main feature of this situation, but not the only factor encouraging or perhaps mandating an international role.
Thus far the United States, the European Union and Egypt have all lined up behind a set of tough and logical conditions that Hamas must fulfill if a government it forms is to receive their recognition and assistance. Egypt's General Omar Suleiman, minister of intelligence and President Husni Mubarak's point man on the Palestinian issue, reiterated those conditions last week: recognition of Israel, total cessation of terrorist activity and acceptance of all the agreements signed between Israel and the PLO.
The Olmert government in Israel is generally pleased with this show of unity and determination, which in fact is also reflected in the position taken by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). But Israelis are also beginning to speak out more openly about the negative role Washington played in creating the current impasse--by pressuring for Palestinian elections regardless of the danger that Hamas would win them. Accordingly, there is also concern in Jerusalem that the Bush government, which has given its blessings to the recent enfranchisement of militant Islamists in Iraq and Lebanon, might eventually drop some of its conditions and engage Hamas, ostensibly for the sake of regional stability and the American-sponsored cause of representative democracy at all costs.
This was clearly the premise that informed Hamas Deputy Political Bureau Chief Mousa Abu Marzook's rather extraordinary op-ed piece in the Washington Post last week. In language carefully attuned to American values, Abu Marzook appealed to Americans to accept the Hamas victory: "In recognizing Judeo-Christian traditions, Muslims nobly vie for and have the greatest incentive and stake in preserving the Holy Land for all three Abrahamic faiths. A new breed of Islamic leadership is ready to put into practice faith-based principles in a setting of tolerance and unity." Never mind that Hamas claims the Land of Israel/Palestine as exclusive Islamic ground (waqf); that its charter is an exercise in anti-Semitism; and that Muslims are torching Danish legations because of some cartoons: "faith-based principles" sound good to Bush's Christian evangelical supporters.
One factor that might conceivably impel the West and Egypt to soften their terms could be signs of a more active Iranian and Syrian role in supporting Hamas, and in particular the offer of financial aid to replace western funds. Already Saudi Arabia and Qatar are transferring funds to the PA without conditions, and there are indications that some of the Gulf emirates are prepared to grant financial aid to a Hamas-led Palestinian government as well. Further, additional potential interlocutors between Hamas and Israel are being mentioned: moderate Muslim countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey could, it is suggested by some Palestinians, better work with Hamas to find ways to adapt its positions to political realities.
It now appears that the task of forming a new Palestinian government will take many weeks, if not months. It will be characterized by endless attempts at compromise: fudging Hamas' rejection of its own extremist positions regarding the use of force and acceptance of Israel's existence; introducing non-Hamas Palestinians into the next government in key positions that shield Hamas from the necessity of moderating its views and/or negotiating with Israel; finding creative ways to keep the Palestinian Authority afloat financially without giving international donor funds directly to Hamas-controlled ministries.
Israel, which itself has an interest in maintaining both the ceasefire and PA financial stability, and which will be heavily preoccupied in the coming two months with its own elections, will be hard put to maintain close coordination with Egypt and the West on all these issues. Like it or not, we may eventually have to be flexible too, if only to maintain a semblance of unity with our friends and allies and at least a modicum of coexistence with our Palestinian neighbors.- Published 6/2/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and was a senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Leverage for Abbas
by Ghassan Khatib
The Palestinian government that Hamas is going to form as a result of its victory in recent parliamentary elections is heavily dependent on international aid. As such, the international community could have great influence on how events from here are going to develop.
So far, and while it has to be said that the international community has taken different approaches to dealing with the Palestinian situation, including the internal power struggle between Fateh and Hamas, Israel and the US in particular have been unhelpful.
Throughout last year, the US and Israel consistently avoided empowering the Palestinian leadership, particularly President Mahmoud Abbas, by refusing to engage in a political process with the Palestinian Authority. That in turn has proven very helpful to Hamas.
There are now two possible strategies available to the international community to deal with the next Palestinian government. One is to try to undermine a Hamas-led government in an attempt to bring it down and empower the Palestinian political opposition. The other strategy is to use a carrot-and-stick approach to gradually moderate Hamas' positions.
The international community and the Palestinian opposition share two concerns regarding Hamas' newfound political dominance: whether Hamas will continue its violent strategy against Israel, especially against Israeli civilians inside Israel, and over the political position and attitude of Hamas vis-a-vis Israel, signed agreements with Israel and the relevant resolutions of the United Nations, especially the roadmap. But Palestinians have an additional concern, namely the Islamic movement's social agenda.
Whichever strategy the international community decides on, it is important to understand that while the world has strong leverage, its policies can be a double-edged sword. If a concerted international effort to undermine a Hamas-led government is pursued, the result might simply be greater public sympathy for Hamas in Palestine as well as in other Arab countries. This might allow Hamas room for maneuver: by giving concessions on security to Israel and on political positions it can buy time to consolidate its social and ideological bases in Palestine.
The international community thus has to tread carefully, and one of the early features of the strategy of the international community that already appears in the language used so far is the differentiation stipulated between Hamas on the one hand and the Palestinian government on the other. This might be a signal that the international community will deal with a non-Hamas government that will continue with the same positions and attitudes of the current Palestinian government, and at the same time spare Hamas the pressure it is likely to come under should the movement form a government composed totally or even partially of Hamas members.
The possible stalemate resulting from the conflict between the threats of the outside world not to deal with a Hamas government and the instinct of Hamas to cash in on its victory by forming such a government might in turn give a certain amount of leverage to President Abbas. Abbas could use this leverage to convince Hamas to allow him, in consultation with the movement, to select a government that can survive internally and at the same time be acceptable to the international community as a representation of the will of the president and consistent with his government policies.
That should be possible because the political representation of the Palestinian people, within the internal Palestinian division of labor, falls to the PLO of which Abu Mazen is head, rather than the government that the Hamas majority in parliament is supposed to give a vote of confidence to.- Published 6/2/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
A conditional pardon
by Aluf Benn
The Palestinian legislative election, held on January 25, has attracted global interest well beyond the tiny boundaries of the West Bank and Gaza. Even before the election, the Bush administration determined the timing and scope of the vote, imposing it on reluctant Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the Israeli government. And when the world learned of the Hamas landslide victory, it reacted with swift diplomatic activity.
Despite its quasi-state status, rotten governance and lack of control over most of its territory as well as chronic bankruptcy, the PA enjoys global prominence--for two reasons. First, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been the focus of international attention. Second, the Palestinian election holds important consequences for the Bush-led effort to democratize the Arab world, the cornerstone of current American regional policy. The Palestinians voted out Fateh, which ruled over their national institutions since the late 1960s, in favor of the Palestinian Islamic movement. This peaceful regime change could serve as a precedent for other Arab states like Egypt and Jordan, where Hamas look-alikes are struggling to replace the existing political order.
The Hamas victory took the international community by surprise. Most observers expected a Hamas gain, but not a takeover. According to diplomatic sources, the only one who got it right was UN Special Coordinator Alvaro de Soto. Based on the wide UN deployment among Palestinians, de Soto alerted his colleagues to the expected Hamas win, but they didn't listen. Nevertheless, after learning the election results, the "world" was quick to react. Within a few days the Quartet--the US, EU, UN and Russia, which coordinates policy over Israel-Palestine--reached a two-pillared consensus, at least for the interim, cabinet-forming period.
The first pillar is recognizing the PA election as "free, fair and secure" and therefore respecting its result. The Quartet turned a deaf ear to Israeli complaints, sounded by new Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni, that the election was less than democratic due to the participation of an armed terrorist group like Hamas.
The second, more important, pillar deals with the post-election Palestinian government. The Quartet set three benchmarks for future recognition and financial aid: "members of a future Palestinian government must be committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap." The formula is not entirely new; it has been floating around in recent months. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw proposed back in June that recognition of Hamas be conditioned on its disarming and recognizing Israel. His American counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, recalled the "Irish model" in which political participation preceded the eventual disarmament by several years.
Israeli government analysts sensed differences among Quartet members, with the US adhering as expected to a stronger anti-Hamas stance, the EU hinting at a possible indirect dialogue (imitating the Lebanese Hizballah model) and Russia viewing Hamas as a legitimate political, rather than terrorist, entity. The American position, presented by President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address on January 31, goes beyond the Quartet statement and calls upon the leaders of Hamas to "recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace." Nevertheless the Bush administration joined its transatlantic partners in their blanket policy.
The new international stance includes a tacit prize for Hamas: it implies a pardon for its past atrocities in return for future good behavior. The Quartet is ready to ignore the murderous record of the group if it shelves its ideology of destroying Israel and follows the terrorist-turned-peacemaker path of Yasser Arafat. In other words, terror is a matter of power, not principle. If you're strong enough politically, the world will forgive your suicide bombings.
Israel's government, headed by Acting PM Ehud Olmert, accepted the global dictum and even portrayed the three Quartet benchmarks as a major diplomatic victory. In fact, Israel had to forgo its previous rejection of any dialogue with Hamas. Earlier, Israel had lobbied western governments to put Hamas on their list of designated terrorist groups, and now it has agreed to conditional clemency. There still remain differences between Olmert's position and the Quartet's, mainly over the demand for Hamas to disarm and cancel its 1988 covenant, which calls for Israel's obliteration. But for his political convenience, especially during the Israeli election campaign, Olmert has chosen to ignore these discrepancies.
The global message did not go unnoticed by Hamas, whose exiled leaders Khaled Mashaal and Mousa Abu Marzook reached out to western public opinion through opinion pieces published in major American and British newspapers. Mashaal distinguished between rejection of Zionism and Israel in principle and readiness to negotiate the terms of a "long-term truce" in practice. Which means that the PA election, with its unexpected outcome, has created a new platform for Middle East diplomacy.- Published 6/2/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Aluf Benn is the diplomatic editor of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Sit and talk!
by Ghazi Hamad
The response by the international community to Hamas' parliamentary election victory has unfortunately been hasty and unwise. Before Hamas has even had a chance to form a government and clearly formulate policy, the international community has showered the party with demands and conditions for being deemed acceptable to even talk to.
Essentially, Hamas was exposed to cheap blackmail from day one. The movement was asked to do three things: recognize Israel, accept all previous agreements signed between the PA/PLO and Israel and denounce the armed resistance.
In return, Hamas was expected to accept nothing other than continued development aid for a Palestinian Authority whose status is unclear and whose borders are fluid.
Two things need to be said here. One is practical, the other political.
On a practical level, it is not at all clear to Hamas that the international community's bluster is anything other than that. The point has been made, but it bears repeating: withholding funding and aid to the PA will not harm Hamas, which has its own sources of funding, but will harm the Palestinian people.
What good will that do? The Palestinian people have already made it clear that they are capable of defying the international community--after all they voted Hamas into power in the first place--and Palestinians do not trust the international community's intentions vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. US backing for Israel is seen as one of the fundamental reasons for the failure of the peace process. Should the international community, led by the US, stop funding the PA and thus punish ordinary Palestinians, Palestinians will blame not Hamas but the international community.
Further, there are alternative sources of funding. Countries such as Iran have been suggested. It is not clear that the international community, especially the EU, will want to see their primary source of political influence whither in favor of regional powers.
Then there is the political level. Hamas' position is that the main problem in the last decade of negotiations with Israel has been that Palestinians have been asked to compromise and have gotten nothing in return. That is the mistake Hamas will not repeat. It wants to create a new dynamic.
This is where the conditions of the international community come in. If Hamas is to recognize Israel, will Israel recognize Palestine? If Hamas is to honor previous signed agreements with the PA, will Israel? And if Hamas is to end the armed resistance, will Israel end the belligerent military occupation?
Without any answers to these three questions the position of Hamas is clear and has been voiced already. There is nothing to talk about.
Hamas is not against a political compromise. It is not against a state on the 1967 borders. Israel, it is often said, is a de facto reality. But so are Palestinian refugees. There are 4.1 million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. These people cannot and should not be ignored.
Hamas wants a solution to all of these problems. And it wants it in one package. The previous agreements and negotiations between the PA/PLO and Israel have not led us any closer to a solution on any of these issues. It should be obvious to even the most casual observer that rather than bring us closer to peace, the process based on stages has failed. Israel has not lived up to its commitments under Oslo or under the so-called roadmap plan for peace, and has thus cancelled both. It is time for a new approach to be tried.
The world should, without pre-conditions, at least sit and talk with Hamas to hear what ideas the movement has for resolving the conflict.- Published 6/2/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghazi Hamad is editor-in-chief of Al Resala newspaper and was a parliamentary candidate for Hamas' Change and Reform list in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah.
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