Hamas' conditions for a long-term hudna or ceasefire, as relayed by a few Israelis who have met with relatively low-ranking Hamas officials, are almost too good to be true. Refugee right of return and Jerusalem can wait for some other process; Hamas will suffice with the 1967 borders, more or less, and in return will guarantee peace and quiet for ten, 25 or 30 years of good neighborly relations and confidence-building.
While these reports are thought-provoking, they are also significant for what they don't say. What about the Hamas charter with its rampant anti-Semitism and its militant Islamist commitment to Israel's destruction? Will the Hamas-led Palestinian state be allowed to continue importing weapons and explosives, building up an army and preaching the ultimate destruction of Israel, as it has in recent months? And when will the Hamas senior leadership, both in Gaza and Damascus, openly reiterate these favorable conditions instead of insisting publicly that Israel give it everything that the PLO wants in exchange for peace, including Jerusalem and the right of return--in return for a ceasefire?
A recent New York Times op-ed by a senior Hamas leader promised a virtual Garden of Eden of advantages and benefits for both sides in a hudna, but failed to deal with these troublesome questions. One gets the impression that Hamas believes a good PR campaign will yield the lifting of international sanctions without the need to make any real and immediate concessions.
The price for talking to Hamas face-to-face about the possibility of a long-term hudna appears to be a short-term hudna, or ceasefire, first. At some point in the not too distant future, that may end up as the only viable course of action. But the price we would pay is heavy: bestowing a degree of legitimization on a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that seeks our disappearance; de-legitimizing those Palestinians, led by Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas), who declare they seek a viable two-state solution; and opening the door to international pressures to make additional concessions to Hamas.
At this point in time, Abu Mazen is striving to gain Hamas' agreement to dismantle its government and replace it with a seemingly "non-political" one that Hamas would nevertheless control through its trusted proxies. In the event that he succeeds, Abu Mazen's status as a negotiating partner might be strengthened and we might confront the prospect of negotiating the next step with a more united and more moderate Palestinian leadership. Abu Mazen's chances of success are slim. Still, it is worth our while to wait another month or two and give him a chance.
If he fails, we face three alternative courses of action: negotiating with him anyway despite his weakness and lack of authority; escalating our military response to Hamas in Gaza; or dropping two of our and the Quartet's three conditions (recognition of our existence and acceptance of past agreements) and sufficing with a Hamas ceasefire (the third condition) in order to begin cautiously exploring the possibilities of a hudna, long- and short-term.
If we opt for the third course, we must seek prior coordination of the loosening of the Quartet's conditions, particularly with the United States and the European Union as well as with our Arab neighbors. We must demand that Hamas revise its charter. And we must insist on meaningful negotiations with the most senior Hamas leadership (no third party emissaries) in order to test its commitment to a set of reasonable demands that would make a hudna, with all its limitations, more attractive than the other options.
One way or another, the Olmert government does not have much time to waste. There are growing indications that if it doesn't take the political initiative, various international actors will. In this regard, yet another option that should be weighed in Jerusalem is accepting Syrian President Bashar Assad's invitation to renew negotiations, and testing his intentions. A successful Syrian-Israeli track would place the problematic Palestinian issue on the back burner--where it really belongs until an authoritative and moderate leadership emerges.
Meanwhile, Israel has its own problems with leadership. Olmert appears to have failed to exploit his recent US trip to discuss new departures with President George W. Bush, an obvious prerequisite to a new initiative. Based on his performance thus far, the Israeli prime minister seems singularly unsuited for sifting out the options and proceeding with the best one, whether a hudna or something else. - Published 20/11/2006 © bitterlemons.org
There are two ways to understand Hamas' long-term hudna proposal, the only political proposal Hamas has offered vis-a-vis Palestinian-Israeli relations since its election in January. One is that this is a tactical proposal whose aim is to avoid serious involvement in any meaningful political process and the mutual recognition that such a process entails.
The other is that Hamas is interested in being part of a political process but has drawn certain conclusions from the experience of failure so far in the political and peace processes between Israel and the Fateh-led PLO and Palestinian Authority.
The two main lessons that Hamas could have drawn from studying the previous experience is either that a final comprehensive peace agreement is not possible or that the security issue is the make or break issue. The first case would explain why, in all previous processes, final status issues were postponed until the end and when they were touched upon, like at Camp David in 2000, it led to the breakdown of the whole process and the resumption of confrontations.
The second case is an area where Hamas itself made it difficult for the previous Fateh-led PA to give the impression that it could fulfill its security commitments, in particular with regard to any kind of interim arrangement.
Judging by the details of the hudna proposal, and the limited but significant indirect exchange of views and ideas between the Israeli side and the Hamas government, it would appear that Hamas is trying to use its comparative advantage on the security level--as the party mostly involved in violent confrontations in spite of arrangements and agreements to the contrary by the PA--to convince Israel that if security really is the priority, then a PA dominated by Hamas in an official and legitimate way stands a better chance of fulfilling security obligations on the Palestinian side in future agreements.
The main reason Hamas cannot be part of any final and comprehensive deal is that it is not prepared to pay the political price. Recognizing Israel contradicts one of the cornerstones of its popularity and victory in elections.
But it seems that this is also correct as far as Israel is concerned. This Israeli government, like the previous one, is not prepared for any mutual recognition. In fact, this Israeli government is not prepared to accept the two-state solution and all it entails: recognizing the right of Palestinians to self-determination and independence in a state based on the 1967 borders.
Israel was willing to reach interim agreements with the previous Fateh-led PA without any commitment to a future Palestinian state. Since these failed, from the Israeli perspective, as a result of security problems, Israel might be attracted to more or less the same deal with a Hamas-led PA, if such a deal promises better guarantees on the security level.
The main question then remains whether Israel, within the context of Hamas' hudna proposal, is prepared to do what it has not so far been prepared to do: freeze its continuing illegal settlement expansion in occupied territory. That is the single most pertinent reason, from a Palestinian perspective, that interim agreements failed before, and without such a freeze no calm can prevail regardless of who is in charge of the PA. - Published 20/11/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
Israel's tough choice
by Nimrod Novik
Washington may soon replace its failed regional policy of isolation and confrontation with a renewed policy of engagement. Correspondingly, Israel's policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians is about to change as well.
Here, Israel is faced with two dilemmas. First, whether to await an initiative designed by others or to preempt with its own ideas. And second, whether to reoccupy the territories or seek tranquility with a Hamas-dominated government. What follows is a suggestion for the latter option on both dilemmas.
Following the Hamas electoral victory, both Washington and Jerusalem were convinced that an international financial and diplomatic boycott coupled with Israeli military pressure would force Hamas to make a choice: either accept the terms of the Quartet or be forced out of office. The implied assumption was that if Hamas did fail the test, Fateh would return to power.
As Fateh showed no sign of rejuvenation, Jerusalem and Washington later sought refuge in the empty rhetoric of "strengthening Abu Mazen". Yet, neither Jerusalem nor Washington did much to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when this was doable: when he was prime minister under President Yasser Arafat or when he was president with both the legislative and executive branches controlled by Fateh.
Absent a Fateh alternative--at least for now--the choice for Israel is between resigning itself to a Hamas-dominated position within the Palestinian government and forcing Hamas' failure. As the latter option spells ensuing chaos, which seems bound to force an Israeli reoccupation, the former may hold surprising promise.
While some on the Israeli extreme right are rooting for a reoccupation, few if any in the civil and military decision-making circles wish to see that option materialize. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is certainly hostile to the idea.
Partner to the Sharon Gaza disengagement plan and committed to executing a sequel in the West Bank, Olmert was forced to shelve his realignment plan as violence in Lebanon and Gaza yielded Israeli public hostility to further unilateral steps.
Ironically, it is acceptance of the Hamas electoral victory that can resurrect his plan, and under improved terms at that.
The almost universal "all-or-nothing" approach to the Quartet's three conditions for accepting a Hamas-led government stuck a cork in the bottleneck of possible progress. By conditioning non-violence, which Hamas may be able to provide, on recognition of Israel's right to exist, which it cannot, the Quartet has forsaken the prospect of needed tranquility in exchange for a form of official recognition that Israel does not need until a permanent status agreement is on the agenda.
By "bench-marking" those conditions, Israel can remove the main obstacle to a deal whereby Hamas is allowed to govern provided it declares and implements a comprehensive ceasefire. It is only in such a context that Hamas may empower Abu Mazen to enter into meaningful negotiations with Israel.
For such negotiations to focus on a permanent status agreement, this must be the objective of both parties. As this is not the case in the current Palestinian political reality, negotiations should focus on the convergence between the Hamas offer of "a framework for long term coexistence" and a non-unilateral version of the Olmert "realignment".
Contrary to some media reports, since taking office Hamas has repeatedly presented a vision that conditions implementation neither on an Israeli return to the pre-1967 border nor on the acceptance of the right of return. That vision comprises two "packages":
after several weeks of Hamas delivery on these steps, a gradual Israeli release of withheld taxes and gradual relaxation of security measures (roadblocks, VIP transit, etc.).
- an immediate cessation of all hostile acts by Hamas;
- a commitment to enforce the cessation on others within weeks;
- an immediate cessation of all hostile acts by Israel;
- reopening of all passages;
long term framework for coexistence: an understanding that will be in effect for 25 years and will involve:
The Hamas leadership seems to have designed its message with the Israeli context in mind. Thus the "stabilization package" offers an opportunity to test both intentions and capacity to implement without much risk, as within weeks Israel can reverse its gestures.
- a complete mutual ceasefire constituting an end of the armed conflict;
- the eventual establishment of the independent state of Palestine and resolution of all permanent status issues with the exception of refugees and Jerusalem (which are to be left for future generations);
- the border shall be delineated on the basis of the 1967 boundary;
- an expectation that Israel will remove settlers and settlements;
- an expectation that the Palestinians will acquire a foothold in areas related to Jerusalem.
This is even more the case with the second "package". Here, the language on border delineation implies acquiescence in land swaps. As for the last two "expectations", the first suggests Hamas' cooperation in the implementation of Olmert's realignment plan, thus addressing the concern of many Israelis with unilateralism, while the second echoes Olmert's long-held position that the Palestinians can have a foothold in the outer neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
By leaving the matter of recognition to a relevant future and by taking the short-term risk of enabling Hamas to govern via any version of a national unity government, Olmert can provide the residents of Sderot, Ashkelon and the rest of the country with the opportunity to experience a Qassam-free, far less violent environment, all within weeks. By so doing he may yet have a partner with whom to implement his election commitment for realignment, and with it change regional dynamics as well as revive his and Kadima's prospects with the Israeli public.
The option of reoccupation may become a necessity if Hamas fails the test. Isn't it worth leaving it as the option of last resort?- Published 20/11/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Nimrod Novik, a businessman, is chairman of the Economic Cooperation Fund, an Israeli NGO that has been involved in all phases of the peace process. He was chief foreign policy adviser to Shimon Peres during his tenure as prime minister and foreign minister in the 1980s and early 1990s.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
For present and future generations
an interview with Salah al-Bardawil
bitterlemons: Hamas' long term hudna proposal asks for a full Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders in return for a long-term ceasefire. Does this mean there will be no ceasefire until such a withdrawal has occurred, or does Hamas' proposal include the possibility that a hudna can start once a cast-iron Israeli commitment to such a withdrawal and a clear timetable has been given and a process has started?
al-Bardawil: The hudna was suggested at a specific period. The Israelis rejected it, so it is no longer under consideration and European initiatives are being explored instead.
But the truce was based on establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital as a temporary solution that did not entail recognition of Israel. The idea is to reach a state of quiet in the region and avoid the state of perpetual war and that way give the present generations a chance to live in safety and security.
bitterlemons: Why would Israel consider this proposal? What does it offer Israel that the PLO's position does not?
al-Bardawil: The truce would give Israelis a chance to live in peace and safety for a significant period of time. The timeframe is not definite but the alternative is to live only with war.
When the Oslo agreement was signed, it was done after international and regional pressure. Most Palestinians were not satisfied with the agreement, which didn't meet even a minimum of Palestinian rights, and that's why since 1994 many uprisings have broken out. What the Israelis offered at Oslo were worthless bubbles that quickly burst.
Hamas has since won a majority in elections indicating that a majority of Palestinians agree with its political program. Hamas, in other words, is the only party in the Palestinian arena that can guarantee security and stability. We offer Palestinian consensus.
bitterlemons: What would the status of the areas Israel leaves be and how would that affect the overall political picture?
al-Bardawil: In the case that such an independent Palestinian state is created, it will be independent in all respects, with full sovereignty over land, sea and air space and with full control over its borders. There can be no settlements and no wall. Relations will be conducted in much the same way as relations are now between Arab countries that border but do not recognize Israel.
bitterlemons: How would border arrangements work?
al-Bardawil: There are many examples in the world, as Khalid Meshaal said, where countries antagonistic to each other live calmly as neighbors, e.g., China and Taiwan. The Palestinian state created by this arrangement will not recognize Israel, but in reality both will live in quiet beside the other. We want to give the opportunity to the next generations to decide their future, whatever that may be.
bitterlemons: What would happen should either side, or elements on either side, fail to respect the ceasefire?
al-Bardawil: We won't have such a truce without international and regional guarantees and commitments to ensure that any violation by either party is punished. The international community's role will be to supervise and monitor the truce.
bitterlemons: What would happen at the end of the period of the ceasefire? Would negotiations commence on outstanding issues, and if they fail, what then?
al-Bardawil: That will be for future generations to decide. - Published 20/11/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Salah al-Bardawil is a Hamas legislator.
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