Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why Israel must talk to Hamas

For a country that likes to present itself as the "only democracy in the Middle East", Israel sure has a funny attitude to those elected representatives of which it does not approve. In January 2006, the Palestinian people overwhelmingly elected Hamas in the legislative elections, giving the party 76 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian Authority. Shortly afterwards, the group announced a unilateral ceasefire with Israel. On February 13, 2006, in an interview in Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta,[40] the same Khaled Mashal declared that Hamas would stop armed struggle against Israel if it recognized the 1967 borders, withdrew itself from all Palestinian occupied territories (including the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and recognized Palestinian rights that would include the "right of return". Mashal would not acknowledge the Road map for peace, adopted by the Quartet in June 2003, because "The problem is not Hamas' stance, but Israel's stance. It is in fact not honoring the Road Map".[41] The Road map projected the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in 2005.[42] Despite these hopeful signs, the Olmert government and its surrogates in the US administration, as well as the EU closed ranks against the organisation. Economic sanctions were imposed that have further crippled an already impoverished economy.

Israel is ultimately the loser from such decisions. In May 2006, the outgoing US Envoy to the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and the UN), James Wolfensohn, issued a report criticising the sanctions. He pointed out that the Palestinian Authority was on the verge of collapse, and the $1 billion in aid to assist them in preparing their institutions for statehood was consequently going to waste. His report predicted that by 2008, unemployment would rise to 47% and poverty 74%. Palestinian analyst Bassam Eid agreed with Wolfensohn's assessment that sanctions against Hamas are counterproductive. "Such kind of, let us call it a boycott, I believe that that will push the region for more and more violence," he said. Meanwhile the Bush administration and its Israeli allies continue, ostrich-like, to remain wedded to the strategy of isolation. In fact the American political-establishment persists in defending the indefensible. Even Obama, who was booed at an AIPAC event when sympathising with the "suffering of the Palestinians", has long since been forced to the Right, stating in response to the criminal Israeli bombardment of Lebanon "I don't think there is any nation that would not have reacted the way Israel did after two soldiers had been snatched. I support Israel's response to take some action in protecting themselves.". I would have thought that considering the Lebanese-Israeli 10-1 fatality-ratio, the use of the term "self-defence" can only be viewed as an obscen euphemism in such circumstances. In March 2008 in a speech to Iowa Democrats, Obama said "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people. ...if we could get some movement among Palestinian leadership, what I'd like to see is a loosening up of some of the restrictions on providing aid directly to the Palestinian people.". Hopes this might herald a new dawn in US Middle Easte policy in an Obama administration have since been dealt a blow, with Obama criticising former president Jimmy Carter's talks with Hamas, stating "Hamas is not a state, Hamas is a terrorist organization.". While noone can defend Hamas' long history of targeting Israeli civilians, the precedent of Northern Ireland, together with the democratic mandate Hamas enjoys, cannot be tenably ignored, if Israel is serious in its stated goal of reaching a two-state solution, of Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace.

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