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After Moscow: Israel and Hamas must make a deal


Hamas's Moscow visit was a good lesson in international diplomacy. Politically the visit was a failure. Despite Israeli objections to the visit, which should have made it a triumph for Hamas, Hamas inexperience and its adherence to an outdated ideology prevented it from saying the right things.
Hamas should have seized this unique occasion to announce its readiness for peace talks and recognition of Israel. It has failed to do so, thus giving Israel the perfect pretext to avoid making concessions. One is tempted to say that Hamas has shot itself in the foot.

However Israel cannot ignore Hamas as it ignored Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. It is in Israel's interest to have a dialogue with Hamas.

Mistakes of the American and Israeli governments, as well as Fatah corruption led to the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian elections. Thirty eight years of occupation radicalized the population. Ten years of the Oslo process did not lead to a Palestinian state. Israel continued expanding settlements, adding outposts, and building a separation wall or a security fence, call it what you will.

Israel refused to negotiate with the secular Arafat, saying he fomented terrorism, but then failed to negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The Road Map is leading to nowhere. The policy of unilateral steps on the ground by Israel further undermined Abbas, the most pragmatic and accommodating politician in the Middle East. Many Palestinians concluded with reason that the PA's approach did not work. The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza boosted Hamas, who claimed credit for the withdrawal.

Israel is now resorting to the same old tactics. It will not deal with Hamas, which in Israel's view is a terrorist organization. Let us suppose that Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist, renounces violence and agrees to disarm. Would Israel agree to enter into serious negotiations on all matters of substance such as final borders, status of Jerusalem, and the future of settlements? Many observers believe that Israel would procrastinate as it did with Arafat and Abbas.

In answer to a question from a journalist in the summer of 2004 in London, Saeb Erekat the former Palestinian Chief negotiator said "even if the Palestinians are led by Mother Theresa of Calcutta, She would be vilified by Ariel Sharon".

Common sense would require that Hamas adopts a more conciliatory approach. As I stated above the opportunity was missed in Moscow. Hamas should not rely on Iran for economic aid or spiritual guidance. Iran is facing sanctions over its nuclear program and it cannot fund Hamas indefinitely. Recognizing Israel without preconditions would put the ball in the Israeli court.

Equally, Israel should respect the results of the democratic elections and declare its readiness to negotiate peace. No one should have a veto on who is elected by the people.

The U.S. with the help of the EU, Russia and the UN must play a more active role in getting both sides fully engaged in the search for a peace formula that meets most of the demands of both sides. The U.S. has a special role to play. It cannot declare to the world that it is committed to freedom, and at the same time remain silent about Israel's continued illegal occupation of Palestine territories. How can Washington support democracy, while encouraging Arab states to sanction the democratically elected Hamas?

The most recent announcements coming out of Israel indicate that the Kadima Party is contemplating unilateral withdrawals from 17 small settlements in the West Bank, if it wins the next election due to be held later this month. Withdrawals are always welcome, provided they are the outcome of negotiations and mutual agreement. Saeb Erekat, the former chief Palestinian negotiator, has described the unilateral withdrawal decision as a "policy of dictation rather than negotiations."

Unilateral actions leave many issues unresolved such as security, access, borders, check-points, free movement of the people, control of the roads leading to the evacuated area and the future of the infrastructure and installations. Piecemeal steps are not real peace and would make the establishment of a viable Palestinian state even more difficult.

There is no alternative to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, regardless of who runs the PA. However, the question remains: Would Hamas transform itself into a pragmatic political movement? The Moscow visit proved that it has a long way to go.

Nehad Ismail
commentator on Middle East Affairs, (London)
Camberley, England
079 41912 114

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Replies: 13 comments

Give Hamas a chance. There has been very little progress made in the last number of years. Before anyone judges Hamas, they should look at what was done before they came to power. The Israelis elected Sharon who is considered by many to be a cold blooded murderer. He actually made some progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Maybe Hamas and whoever the Israelis elect soon can come to a full settlement, and maybe the Israeli arab conflict could come to an end. The ball is in the Israeli's court now, lets hope that they bring in someone who can bring about lasting peace.

Posted by Mike Jebara @ 03/06/2006 08:44 PM CST

It is almost as though Hamas really held out no hope of winning the election and never considered how to deal with the prospect of forming a government. But I cannot believe this is true. I have been around politicians too long to believe this. All politicians, no matter how small or hopeless their party, dream of power and what they would do with it. Politicians are egotists who paint mental pictures of themselves in the glare of media lights, and sharing the stage with international figures of repute. They want the seal of approval so much they could almost taste it. If the leaders of Hamas saw themselves leading the Palestinian people into a final peace agreement, they would have mapped the paths out a thousand times over in their heads.
If Hamas does not have a strategy to engage with Israel to hand, then it has no intention of engaging with Israel. And from the statements I hear in the media, this seems to be the case. Perhaps it can be forced to do so, but it will always be a source of rancour.
But perhaps none of us should be surprised, Hamas has always maintained a policy that entailed a return to 1947/8, and the continuation of war. Hamas's objective is not just the eradication of Israel, but the eradication of Firman Khatt I-Shariff and Tanzimat, and a return to the beginning of the 19th C.
I would remind everyone that in 1933 European politicians repeatedly sought to convince themselves that Herr Hitler would be reasonable and come round to the "right" way of thinking. He didn't. It seems that we are in danger of doing the same, wanting & hoping so much for peace ,that we perceive the potential for pacifism in the eyes of the psychopath.
Sorry to be so negative & cynical, I would it were otherwise.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 03/06/2006 10:24 PM CST

It is in Israel's interest to have a dialogue with Hamas? Upon reading this one sentence of Mr. Nehad Ismail, a scene from Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" came immediately to mind. The machine gunner, who is Jewish, is in need of ammunition. The American ammunition bearer is paralyzed with fear. Without any ammunition, the Jewish-American soldier is confronted with death by stabbing. He tries to carry on a dialogue with the German soldier as the dagger hangs over his chest. The German soldier presses down. The Jewish-American soldier tries to reason with him. Slowly, the dagger presses deep into the Jewish-American soldier's chest, killing him. This could be a reference to Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Adolf Hitler, or... to Mr.Nehad Ismail's Chamberlain-like approach to appeasing Hamas. Both would fit nicely. Have we learned nothing from the past? Mr. Ismail's approach would lead to an "Ever Again" approach to documented genocidal intent as opposed to a "Never Again" approach to the Holocaust.

Dan Hennessy

Posted by Dan Hennessy @ 03/07/2006 12:08 AM CST

Arial Sharon didn't commit to dialogue with the Palestinians so why should Hamas commit to dialogue with the Israelis? I don't blame Hamas for not recognizing Israel, Hamas is saying that why not bring recognition back to the negotiating table. I highly doubt Hamas will disarm at least not until after a negotiate settlement.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 03/07/2006 07:43 PM CST

Dear Butros,
I think you are wrong here. From what I am hearing Hamas is not indicating that it wants to bring recognition back to the negotiation table. Hamas is saying no recognition. It is of course plausible that Hamas is saying different things to different groups of people - Fatah did exactly the same. Unfortunately unless Hamas does commit itself to the formal recognition of Israel as a legitimate state, it is highly likely that Israel will progressively disengage at all levels. Once that happens the Palestinian economy will go into terminal nosedive.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 03/07/2006 09:04 PM CST

I think Hamas has stated that they would accept a return to the 1967 border. The 1967 borders are the only solution to ending the problem of the middle east. As I stated in a previous area, the arab offer made in Beirut can be the real solution. I was told by someone who responded to my comments that the Israeli's have a problem with the "return of refugees". I truly feel that once Israel commits to return to the 1967 border, the refugee issue would be resolved. Hamas like any other political party made promises before the election and once elected, they will face the facts and accept them. I know that many arabs would welcome a return to the 1967 border, and I know that most if not all hostilities between the arabs and Israel will disappear. The Israeli's hold the key to the solution. Although it seems some Israel's want a just and lasting peace, the majority appear to be content to live in an uncertain future. Maybe people believe that war is the only way that Israel remains a strong military power, or maybe they fear that if peace comes to the area that the billions of dollars received from the USA and other countries will end. I don't know what the reasons are for staying on this course that has brought nothing but hatred and killing and destruction. To use the reason of fear of the arabs is not valid in my opinion because Israel has one of the strongest military in the world. Fears of major attacks are very limited if any. I can think of when Israel was occupied the south of Lebanon. Many attacks against Israel's occured every single day. When Israel left, the attacks against the Israeli's ended instantly. The very few attacks between the Israeli's and Hizballah occured in disputed areas that Israel did not withdraw back to the real border.

Posted by Mike Jebara @ 03/08/2006 05:21 PM CST

From my understanding what Hamas is currently saying is that as an interim solution it would accept a return to the pre-1967 lines and in response some form of cease-fire would come into being. However it is my understanding from what they are saying that this would not constitute a permanent peace settlement with Israel in which Hamas accepts Israel's right to exist as legitimate state. Thus it occurs to me that they are asking the Israelis to agree to return to the period 1948 - 1967, and reserving for themselves the right to continue the conflict when it suits them. From Israel's perspective it would be absurd to accept this situation.
However if Israel is compelled due to internal or external pressure to withdraw to the 1967 lines with Hamas as the government of "Palestine" then Israel would be entirely within it's rights to apply the same notion of a return to '67. This would entail the absolute closure of the border to any movement of goods or people, and the cessation of any & all inter-governmental contacts with "Palestine".
This situation actually may prove to be highly beneficial to Israel in a number of ways. Immediately a reduction in the levels of military expenditure, reduction in call-up by IDF and thus release of manpower to civil economy, the facilitation of inward investment into high value areas of the Israeli economy, opportunity to address domistic issues such as poverty & social exclusion. By withdrawing entirely from OT's Israel would be free to respond to any attacks in a manner that it cannot as an occupying power. The down side would be the potential for the Israeli economy to overheat.
For the Palestinians this situation would be cataclysmic. Immediately a loss of income from Israel via tax fund transfers and absolute dependence upon states seeking to execute proxy wars with Israel, increased cost of imported goods, increased distribution costs for their exports & thus loss of export markets or reduced profit, increase in difficulties for humanitarian aid agencies to gain access to needy Palestinians, increased unemployment, likely increased internal violence & oppression, and internal pressure within Hamas to seek a resumption of the conflict as a means to diverting public attention and attracting more funding from patron states. We can all speculate as to the outcome of a war between Israel and Palestine, and the likely consequences for the Israelis & Palestinians

Posted by R. Davies @ 03/09/2006 10:48 AM CST

Dear Mr. Davies. If you were made king for a day over Palestine and Israel, how would you solve this problem??
Would you make one country out of the two and give it a name which contains both countries?
Would you make two countries with borders and make sure Palestine can exist as a real country?
Would you leave things as they are and keep all of the middle east in uncertainty?
Would you come up with a different solution?

Posted by Mike Jebara @ 03/10/2006 03:33 PM CST

Dear Mr. Jebara,
I see myself less as king than court jester, but I shall answer your question.

There must be 2 separate states and for a period they must be totally separate. The rationale for this is that both Israel and Palestine must tend their wounds and spend some time on introspection. Also they both must concentrate upon internal issues. In truth both have been the dupes of other interest groups, and their lives and interests have been squandered carelessly.

There must be a corridor highway constructed between Gaza & the West Bank. But all other links have to be negotiated for between governments. That means that the Palestinians need to create a credible government and control the armed factions.

The Israelis must use the time to get their economy on a peace time footing, and thereby attract inward investment, and reuce their dependency on the USA. The Palestinians must address civil government and set up systems which accord to the best international standards, so that they can deliver both to their own people and to their neighbours.
The net effect of this would be that "older" industries in Israel would need to relocate into less competitive environments, and Palestine would be a very much more attractive place to relocate to. Thus real wealth creation opportunities and the investment funding would provide work in Palestine. The investors would feel confident because the systems would be transparent.

In the longer term I would like to establish an economic union of Palestine encompassing Israel, Palestine & Jordan (the old Mandate) similar to the Benelux arrangements. I believe that this grouping would be a positive force for good in the region. It may be desirable to extend this to include Lebanon. The inhabitants in each of these countries have much to contribute and a loose union could facilitate that. Due to Israel's massive military power, bith Jordan & Palestine could rely on it for territorial integrity in the early stages, and ensure that all available civil resources be directed into civil development.

I believe that as wealth and democracy grew, interest in extremism would die away.

I first started contributing to this site when it bravely tried to get both sides to admit their faults. It was very brave, but to failed because the Palestinian side was not ready. This still needs to happen on both sides & until both sides are honest about their roles in this conflict then there will be little progress towards peace.

Finally IMO - the Palestinians have it within their gift to create peace, and the Israelis have it within the gift to teach nation building. No matter what any of us thinks about Israel, the Zionists have shown themselves to be very adept at building a country out of virtually nothing. They have much to teach the region if only the region is willing to listen. The Palestinians are amongst the best educated in the Arab world, and have the capacity to exploit the opportunities that peace can bring.

Sadly I see no alternative to the above except perpetual war.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 03/10/2006 10:53 PM CST

Thank you guys for a lively debate. Dan Hennessy and Butrus Dahu made interesting points which are valid in their own rights.
The lively debate going on between Mike Jebara and Rod Davies is riveting. Despite the diametrically opposing views, the solution would be somewhere in the middle.
Israelis and Palestinians are destined to share this land. Common sense says let us find a formula to work together for the sake of our children. Extremists on both sides hijacked the agenda and the ordinary people are paying the price.

nehad ismail

Posted by nehad ismail @ 03/11/2006 10:47 AM CST

Dear Nehad Ismail,
First thank you for your kind words - it's encouraging for us all that someone actually reads the contributions.
Second, we are not actually on opposing sides. We are all on the side of peace and trying to explore the very dark road toward our goal of peace.
I hope you keep checking this site out, it is certainly the best in my opinion. It has always been constructive and positive, even at the darkest of hours. It certainly has never descended into the vile racist sectarian diatribes present in many so-called "respectable" sites.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 03/13/2006 10:12 AM CST

Dear Nehad. I can say the same as Rod Davies. I am new to this site. I have found this place good for putting my opinions up for discussion as well as try to learn more about the opionions of others. As for opposing views, that is not something bad when everyone is trying to come up with a soultion that can help a region as a whole. I don't know if anything said on this site or any other site helps in resolving the middle east problem, but it's good to know that we have a place for our voice to be hears no matter how small the chances of them doing much good.

Posted by Mike Jebara @ 03/13/2006 07:15 PM CST

Many thanks Rod and Mike, we all agree that real lasting peace is what the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want. Let us hope our debate is a helpful step, however small, in the right direction. nehad

Posted by nehad ismail @ 03/13/2006 10:03 PM CST

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