It’s time the US talked to Hamas

Posted: September 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The positive reports coming out of the Israeli-American-Palestinian summit in Sharm el Sheikh– like those which came from Washington a week earlier – shouldn’t surprise anyone. There is a strange dynamic to these talks: both sides present an optimistic smile to the world and a hawkish, pessimistic face at home.

As both recent polls and the relative indifference of the Hebrew media reveal, the Israeli public finds it hard to believe that these talks would actually lead to the establishing of a Palestinian state. Even more telling is the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister hasn’t engaged yet in a real effort to prepare the Israeli public to what could be the nation’s most difficult moment in 62 years of independence.

But all this can change, and I guess that’s what keeps the US officials going. The process, they must believe, could influence public opinion and change the political trends. Maybe. The problem is that the US is only trying this approach with the Israelis who refuse compromise. Somehow, the same logic is never applied when the Palestinians are concerned.

While we are being told that a rightwing leader like Netanyahu, with an extreme government like the current one, actually stands a better chance to reach peace because he won’t have to deal with a meaningful opposition from his right flank, when it comes to the Palestinian society, the US will only deal with the equivalence of Meretz, if such an analogy could be made.

When the Israeli public elected again and again a rightwing leaders who never recognized the Palestinians’ right for independence (or for full civil rights within the state of Israel), the world was asked to respect the Israeli democracy and hope that with time, the political process and basic realities of the conflict would change these leaders’ views. To some degree, it’s actually happened. But when the Palestinians elected a political party which wouldn’t recognize Israel, the result of the elections was suspended – though their integrity was never questioned – and new ones weren’t held. No wonder that Hamas took power by force where it could, and than violently made both Jerusalem and Ramallah remember that they can’t ignore it.

Would the Likud have acted differently if it won the elections and was kept out of power through the intervention of foreign powers? The scenario is so hypothetical that it’s not even possible to answer such question. But let’s take it even further: what happens if under these conditions, the losing party – let’s say Labor – signs an agreement in which it is to evacuate settlements and give up East Jerusalem? I think that the only question is when violence will break, not if. The same goes for Hamas and the Palestinian society. Imagine what happens the day President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad give up the right of return, or accept the presence of Jewish settlements blocks.

If we are to be serious about these peace talks, it should be understood that there won’t be an agreement and there won’t be peace without Hamas. It’s something most Israelis and even Americans won’t like to hear, but from a Palestinian perspective, Hamas is no different from Likud. Not because it is an extreme movement, but because it’s a well rooted and legitimate political power, too large to be ignored.

I would have loved things to be different. I think Israel should have made a more generous deal with the PLO in the eighties or nineties, so it wouldn’t have to deal now with an Islamic party which has some very radical elements in it. But that’s water under the bridge. Hamas is here to stay, so better have it as part of the political process than as the worlds’ outcast.

Having Hamas won’t be easy. It might make a “final” agreement much harder to get, but the chances of such an agreement to actually work will be much higher.

Niall O’Dowd, the secret conduit between Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and the White House in the years 92′-94′, wrote last week in the Huffington Post that an American willingness to talk to Hamas might be the out-of-the-box idea that could jump start a real process, much in the way that the Clinton Administration’s decision to grant Gerry Adams a US visa help convince the IRA to call for a complete ceasefire. I might add that it was a US decision to recognize the PLO in 1988 – when talks with the organizations’ officials were still illegal in Israel – that paved the way for the direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the nineties. It’s time for another such bold move.

The positive reports coming out of the Israeli-American-Palestinian summit in Sharm el Sheikh– like those which came from Washington a week earlier – shouldn’t surprise anyone. There is a strange dynamic to these talks: both sides present an optimistic smile to the world and a hawkish, pessimistic face at home.

As both recent polls and the relative indifference of the Hebrew media reveal, the Israeli public finds it hard to believe that these talks would actually lead to the establishing of a Palestinian state. Even more telling is the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister hasn’t engaged yet in a real effort to prepare the Israeli public to what could be the nation’s most difficult moment in 62 years of independence.

But all this can change, and I guess that’s what keeps the US officials going. The process, they must believe, could change public opinion and alter the political trends. Maybe. The problem is that the US is only trying this approach with the Israelis who refuse compromise. Somehow, the same logic is never applied when the Palestinians are concerned.

While we are being told that a rightwing leader like Netanyahu, with an extreme government like the current one, actually stands a better chance to reach peace because he won’t have to deal with a meaningful opposition from his right flank, when it comes to the Palestinian society, the US will only deal with the equivalence of Meretz, if such an analogy could be made.

When the Israeli public elected again and again a rightwing leaders who never recognized the Palestinians’ right for independence (or for full civil rights within the state of Israel), the world was asked to respect the Israeli democracy and hope that with time, the political process and basic realities of the conflict would change these leaders’ views. To some degree, it’s actually happened. But when the Palestinians elected a political party which wouldn’t recognize Israel, the result of the elections was suspended – though their integrity was never questioned – and new ones weren’t held. No wonder that Hamas took power by force where it could, and than violently made both Jerusalem and Ramallah remember that they can’t ignore it.

Would the Likud have acted differently if it won the elections and was kept out of power through the intervention of foreign powers? The scenario is so hypothetical that it’s not even possible to answer such question. But let’s take it even further: what happens if under these conditions, the losing party – let’s say Labor – signs an agreement in which it is to evacuate settlements and give up East Jerusalem? I think that the only question is when violence will break, not if. The same goes for Hamas and the Palestinian society. Imagine what happens the day President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad give up the right of return, or accept the presence of Jewish settlements blocks.

If we are to be serious about these peace talks, it should be understood that there won’t be an agreement and there won’t be peace without Hamas. It’s something most Israelis and even Americans won’t like to hear, but from a Palestinian perspective, Hamas is no different from Likud. Not because it is an extreme movement, but because it’s a well rooted and legitimate political power, too large to be ignored.

I would have loved things to be different. I think Israel should have made a more generous deal with the PLO in the eighties or nineties, so it wouldn’t have to deal now with an Islamic party which has some very radical elements in it. But that’s water under the bridge. Hamas is here to stay, so better have it as part of the political process than as the worlds’ outcast.

Having Hamas won’t be easy. It might make a “final” agreement much harder to get, but the chances of such an agreement to actually work will be much higher.

Niall O’Dowd, the secret conduit between Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and the White House in the years 92′-94′, wrote last week in the Huffington Post that an American willingness to talk to Hamas might be the out-of-the-box idea that could jump start a real process, much in the way that the Clinton Administration’s decision to grant Gerry Adams a US visa help convince the IRA to call for a complete ceasefire. I might add that it was a US decision to recognize the PLO in 1988 that paved the way for the direct Israeli-Palestinian talks in the nineties. Maybe it’s time for another such bold move.


US media more exited about peace talks than Israelis and Palestinians themselves

Posted: September 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Take a look at today’s front pages shown here. The one on the Left is Yedioth Ahronoth’s, Israel’s leading tabloid. On the right is the American NY Post.

yedioth vs. nypost

Yedioth’s top story reads “wave of terrorism”, referring to the two shooting attacks carried out by Hamas militants against settlers in the last 48 hours. On the bottom and on the right side of the page there are health, sports and other magazine stories. The only reference to the peace process is the quote in small print, on the top of the page. It reads: “Netanyahu: I came for an historic compromise.”

The place, the size and the coloring of Netanyahu’s words put his speech in its proper context. But if you get your news from the Post (and let’s hope you don’t), you might actually believe history can be made here.

maariv

This is Maariv, another Israeli tabloid: the front page combines the story of the West Bank attacks and their aftermath, the attempts by settlers to renew construction in the territories and the diplomatic process. The talks themselves don’t get the top story, not even a central image, like they do in the New York Times, shown below. Again, the US papers seem to give the talks a greater importance than the Israeli media. Bizarre, to say the least.

NY_NYT

As part of a research for a story I’m working on, I recently went through the archives of Maariv and Yedioth from 1993-1994, the years the Oslo accord was negotiated and signed. Entire papers, not just the front pages, dealt with the talks. The same goes for the days of the Camp David summit in 2000. Today on the other hand, nobody in the Middle East really cares about the diplomatic process, and I actually wonder how many even know we might be “one year from a final agreement,” as the White House puts it.

It’s easy to tell when things get serious. The settlers make a good litmus test for the intentions of the Israeli leadership. They have good ties with the Israeli administration and army. When the settlers sense danger, they let it show. And while they went after Sharon and Rabin with everything they got, they are awfully quiet now. There wasn’t even a single major protest against Netanyahu, The NRP is still in the government, and the right flank of the Likud has never been more silent. The Israeli tabloids – like all tabloids – reflect their society’s mood: This is clearly not a country on the verge of its most important decision in decades.

The NY Times editorial declared that with optimism and conviction, the talks might lead to an agreement and the administration asked the parties not to give in to cynicism. But the diplomatic process is not a sports competition, and pep talks can’t help when the gap between the parties is too big.

The Palestinian leadership has lost most of its credibility and legitimacy with its own people, and the bleeding gets worse with every picture of Abu-Mazen shaking hands with Netanyahu. Hamas has just given us the first taste of what leaving it out of the process means. Even so, the positions of PM Fayad and President Abbas are incredibly far from those of Barak and Netanyahu. The Israeli leadership – and to be honest, the Israeli public as well – cannot give the Palestinians the minimum they can settle with. Under these circumstances, even if an agreement is reached, it won’t mean a thing.

As I’ve written before, the current stage in the conflict is not just about peace. It’s about ending the occupation and getting the Palestinians their rights. Some people in the American administration understood that, but for their own reasons, they decided to pursue the failed policies of the past two decades. I have a lot of criticism for the way the Israeli media covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this time they got it right: for now, this round of talks is a farce.

UPDATE: The Israeli media finally joined the party. Friday’s top story is the summit in Washington, though most pundits remain very skeptic regarding the chances that the talks will have a meaningful result.

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I will be working and writing from New York in the next three months.


A Palestinian Game-Changer

Posted: November 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off
President Abbas and PM Fayad

President Abbas and PM Fayad

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has an unbalanced nature, as Israel is holding most of the economical and military power in the region, while the Palestinians have only the world’s public opinion to rely on. But lately it seems that the Palestinian Authority is able to take the game to a field in which it has the upper hand – that of public NGOs and multinational bodies. That’s what happened with the Goldstone report, and this is the context, I believe, in which we should understand the Palestinian plan to unilaterally declare independence in a couple of years.

In the last decade, both Yasser Arafat and the Hamas tried to gain political achievements through the use of force (not a new approach in the Middle East; Arab and Israelis have been doing it for a century). This effort didn’t only fail, but also handed Israel the currency it lacks the most: international legitimization for its military actions. Thousands of dead and years of suffering have passed, and all the Palestinians got was the withdrawal from Gaza, and Israel is still making them pay for it through its siege on the strip.

After losing the current military round, the Palestinians are playing a game in which Israel will find it much harder to win.

The basic idea of the Palestinian PM, Salaam Fayad, is this: if Israel will go on refusing to freeze all settlement activities and the peace process won’t reignite, the Palestinians will ask for a UN resolution recognizing their independence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capitol. Such proposal will enjoy an overwhelming majority in the general assembly. Things might get a bit trickier for the Palestinians in the Security Council, where the US holds veto power, but given the new administration’s support of the two states solution, it’s hard to imagine the White House blocking the Palestinian move altogether. More likely, it will push for some sort of compromise.

An Israeli diplomatic counter-attack could have stood some chances with a centrist Israeli government and a neo-conservative US administration like we had a year ago, but with the current world atmosphere and a radical right-wing coalition in Jerusalem, this effort will be doomed from the start. Read the rest of this entry »