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Hamas-Fatah: Looking for the Red Lines

Mahmoud Abbas, Khaled Meshal.

Things can always get worse, and in the Middle East they usually will.  That was made depressingly clear once again with the April 27 announcement in Cairo of a reconciliation agreement between the rival Palestinian organizations of Fatah and Hamas.

Relevant Links
Where is the Outrage?  David Horovitz, Jerusalem Post. So far, Mahmoud Abbas’s capitulation to the Islamic extremists of Hamas has been met by the international community with doublespeak, disingenuousness, and indulgence.
Has Hamas Changed Its Spots?  Guy Deutsch, Publications in Contemporary Affairs. Contrary to academic and diplomatic opinion, there are severe limits to the “pragmatism” of the terrorist movement, whose basic strategic vision and goals have remained unchanged.

This is very bad news for those governments, preeminent among them the United States, that have until now insisted on dealing only with Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party and have refused to recognize the intransigently rejectionist and terroristic Hamas. It is bad news for Israel's security forces, which at a minimum will now need to rethink their coordination with their Palestinian counterparts in what has been one of the more promising developments of the past few years. It is bad news for supporters of Israel's settlement policies in Judea and Samaria, where before long Hamas will become a significant official presence; for opponents of those policies who are nevertheless concerned with the fate of Israelis living there; and indeed for all who hope for a sustainable peace. It is bad news for Palestinians who would rather not live under an Islamist tyranny. And it is bad news for the prospect that the revolutions now coursing through the Arab world will foster liberal regimes and decent social and political orders.

Whether the bad news could have been averted by sounder action on the part of Jerusalem and Washington is an open question. The Netanyahu government has assuredly made its share of mistakes. But the Obama administration, with its fixation on the Israeli prime minister, has made one mistake after another, outflanking and embarrassing Abbas and then rewarding him for refusing to negotiate with Netanyahu, and in the end creating a situation in which the only country or group in the region that had cause to fear American wrath was Israel.

For whom is it good news? In the case of Abbas, who reportedly offered a reconciliation deal to Hamas back in October 2009, the agreement seems, on its face, a humiliation: a pact with mortal foes, brought about by his own inability to exercise convincing leadership at home. Externally, however, things look different. Abbas's campaign for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, like his perversely stubborn refusal to negotiate with Israel, has already garnered sufficient international approval, whether tacit or explicit, to permit him to enter into Hamas's embrace without fear of overly negative consequences abroad.  To the contrary, acting as the "moderate" fig leaf to Hamas's revanchist intransigence may well ensure him the protection he needs to survive.

As for Hamas, although the weakening of its Syrian patron has been a problem, it has now won a commanding role within the Palestinian Authority (PA), solidified its relationship with the emerging regime in Egypt, and positioned itself to enter the good graces of the international community—all without having had to forswear an iota of its sworn determination to eliminate the state of Israel.  

Might a fair share of power moderate Hamas? The argument, a perennial one in such situations, is already being voiced by wistful observers.  To be sure, since assuming power in Gaza, Hamas has shown a decided aversion to losing it, and in order to maintain itself has recently been willing to curb some of the violence directed at Israel from its territory. But that is not moderation; it is realpolitik. As a well-traveled analyst once pointed out to me, Hamas, like Islamists elsewhere, has moved through recognizable stages: from ideological incubation, to power by ballot, to governance through bullets.  Indeed, the belief that power necessarily moderates illiberal groups is shallow, condescending, and self-defeating. Say what you will about Hamas, it has convictions. 

In this respect, the nature of the Palestinian regime in-the-making has already been clarified by the near-certain and almost casual disposal of Salam Fayyad, the one Palestinian political figure who up until yesterday was the West's (and Israel's) favorite potential partner in a meaningful peace agreement.  Fayyad's good-government strategy on the West Bank, stressing institutional development from the bottom up, has certainly been welcome. But the fact that this was taken by outside observers as an innovative stroke of genius rather than what the PA should have been doing all along was itself a disturbing sign of the fundamentally elitist nature of the "peace process" and of the acceptance of corrupt authoritarianism as the preferred form of Palestinian and Arab governance. 

During my term in the human-rights bureau of the Clinton administration, in the heyday of Oslo, the issuance of a "get out of jail free" card to Yasir Arafat and his secular Fatah dictatorship was seen as, among other things, a means of preventing the accession to power of the feared Islamic extremists of Hamas. It hasn't worked out that way.

Disastrous as Hamas's new lease on political life undoubtedly is, it does underline—if, at this late stage, underlining is still necessary—the real choices facing Israel and the West, and particularly so in this moment of unprecedented and roiling popular revolution in the Arab world.   It has long been obvious that the long-term interests of Israel, of the community of peaceful nations, and of the masses of Arabs themselves would best be served by the adoption of representative government and open societies—in a word, democracy.

Yet democratization is a patently messy process, and the meaning of the term itself needs to be clarified. What no one should be promoting or rewarding is the brand of Jacobinism touted with conviction by Hamas and now welcomed with half-hearted cynicism by Fatah, let alone the calling of elections, à la Gaza 2006, in the absence of a civil society that will guarantee that the first meaningful election is not the last.

Equally clear by now is that no one-size-fits-all formula exists for cultivating the growth of civil society and fostering governments accountable to their publics and respecting the rule of law. Every country has its own history and contours, and should be left to pursue its own path to democracy. What outsiders can do is keep a clear eye and attentive ear to local realities while trying to stave off the worst. 

Toward that end, there are certain elemental red lines that should mark the outer boundaries of what can be deemed legitimate progress on the part of democratizing societies. These include non-belligerence; a fundamental respect for human rights; the demonstrated will to implement the basics of republican government and the institutions of civil society; the acceptance of existing states' right to exist and the willingness to negotiate territorial and other disputes in good faith. All these are of a piece with the oft-stated requirements of the so-called Middle East Quartet (made up of the U.S., the European Union, the UN, and Russia): namely, commitments by both Fatah and Hamas to previous agreements, renunciation of terror and violence, and recognition of Israel.

If, in the emerging coalescence of Hamas and Fatah, the Quartet as well as individual Western and other governments were to insist on these red lines, they would at least show, to Israel and above all to themselves, what they stand for and what they will neither tolerate nor subsidize. The awful question raised by this latest development, and by the awaited response to it of the Western democracies, is whether any red lines remain at all.

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marcelK on May 3, 2011 at 7:58 am (Reply)
Very lucid. Unfortunately, you're right... things will get worse for many people on both sides
Ellen on May 3, 2011 at 12:28 pm (Reply)
The Hamas-PLO pact has finally buried the useless and self-deluding peace process for good. I view that as a positive. I fervently hope that Abbas will declare a Palestinian state on paper in September at the equally useless UN, as this will give Israel the impetus and motivation finally to annex 40-50% of the West Bank, including the settlement blocks and the Jordan Valley.

Once again, the Arabs are overplaying their hand, and Israel should utilize the opportunity, as in the past, to forge ahead.

The Palestinians have become the least important group of people in the Middle East with the overthrow of the Arab political order that created this problem in the first place. Just deserts for all of them.
d. feith on May 3, 2011 at 1:58 pm (Reply)
Uri Avineri disagrees:

"Netanyahu and his band of peace saboteurs want to prevent Palestinian unity at all costs. They do not want peace, because peace would prevent Israel from achieving the Zionist goals, as they conceive them: a Jewish state in all of historical Palestine, from the sea to the Jordan River (at least). The conflict is going to last for a long, long time to come, and the more divided the enemy, the better.

As a matter of fact, the very emergence of Hamas was influenced by this calculation. The Israeli occupation authorities deliberately encouraged the Islamic movement, which later became Hamas, as a counterweight to the secular nationalist Fatah, which was then conceived as the main enemy."

Check and mate!
Dovid K on May 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm (Reply)
I have to imagine that Mr. Mirsky's piece was written before the leader of Hamas issued his statements regarding the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Indeed, for anyone who needed it (and who really needed it?) this shows the nature of the "unified" Palestinian entity which will be asking/demanding recognition as a nation-state come September.

As our sages say, "all for the best". Anyone who encourages dealing with such a "unity" government has been duly warned. Again.
PJW5552 on May 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm (Reply)
Change brings new opportunity. Do nothing, continue with the present situation and things will get worse. Instead of thinking of Hamas as a radicalization of Fatah, consider how Fatah can serve as a pacification of a more radical Hamas. That can not happen if Israel insists on ostracizing them both for daring to speak of unity.

What would you rather do -- isolate all Palestinians and punish them for talk of unity and cohesion? Cutting off payments to Fatah does what exactly -- convinces Palestinians Israel is interested in peace? Try to work with Palestinians to find a peaceful resolution, or you will find just the opposite.

Egypt sits on the border of Gaza and has decided to open up its border crossing with Gaza. Turkey is sending an even larger ship flotilla to Gaza this month. Southern Lebanon's Hezbollah remains hostile toward Israel and should Assad fall in Syria, the Syrian people will not replace him with someone more friendly to Israel.

Start working to solve the Palestinian issue now, or live with the consequences of failing to exploit this opportunity when it was presented. Tensions are slowly building on all sides. If nothing is done to relieve that tension it will find the only outlet that remains --war. Is that what Israel wants?
NN on May 3, 2011 at 4:11 pm (Reply)
@d. feith, Uri Avnery has appeared in these pages before:
Don on May 3, 2011 at 5:45 pm (Reply)
Excellent, clear argument. Thanks.
McQueen on May 3, 2011 at 9:14 pm (Reply)
What is beyond a red line is someone quoting Uri Avneri admiringly for a pro-Israel audience.
Luke Weyland on May 3, 2011 at 11:04 pm (Reply)
Give peace a chance.
Engage with the Palestinian leadership.

Whether you agree with them or not.
They are the voice of the Palestinian people.
Ellen on May 4, 2011 at 9:51 am (Reply)
The whole peace process was invented as a distraction from the true modus operandi of the Middle East and everywhere else in the world, throughout human history. Borders that are determined at conferences are typically ill-conceived and nonviable in real-life. The only borders that correspond to demographic and power-based realities are those that emerge out of warfare and economic forces. Sorry to introduce a little reality into this fantasy world.

The Arab political order is finally coming undone after one century of artificial life support precisely because the borders of these countries were drawn up at the Sykes-Picot conference after WWI, by European colonialists, and did not reflect the demographic realities on the ground. A peace process supervised by, among others, these same ex-colonial powers (responsible for the murder of European Jews, one might add) would be adding one crime to another, at just the point in history when this type of activity should have been discredited once and for all.

Let the Palestinians try to win their Palestine through violence, as Hamas clearly wants, and let's see what the outcome will be. Forget about peace processes. Land for peace has produced nothing but missiles and warfare, and will produce more of the same when a democratically elected Egyptian government repudiates the Camp David accords. Then, Jimmy Carter might do us the favor of shutting his mouth, along with the Europeans.
SW on May 4, 2011 at 11:28 am (Reply)
"Give peace a chance." Ah there it is again, the old sloganeering. Forty years of "engage" with the Palestinians has gone on, and apparently some have not yet noticed this plain truth of history.

If the "voice" of the Palestinian people wishes the destruction of Israel as their end game, what part of "give peace a chance" sounds just plain suicidal? All of it. The "voice" of the Palestinian people is not one voice, any more than the "voice" of the Jewish people is one voice. Wishful thinking never lit a fire nor quenched a blaze.
PJW5552 on May 4, 2011 at 11:58 am (Reply)
The concept you "win" anything by war and conflict is the distraction. The "belief" power and force can be used to facilitate anything other than more conflict is a gross misrepresentation of reality. WWII arose out the unaddressed issues at the end of WWI, much as the conflicts in the ME continue because the basic issues that produce them are not addressed at the end of each conflict.

What Ellen fails to understand is the conflict is larger than just the Palestinians who sit in Gaza and the West Bank and may soon include those other players in the region as well. Is Israel prepared to fight 200+ million angry neighbors?

There is a saying, "what are you going to do, fight the whole world?" Apparently, Ellen does not realize Israel has lost virtually all its support throughout the world and its support even in the US dwindles rapidly. Will Israel still claim its right to impose its own solutions when it finds itself completely alone?

It was not Jimmy Carter that failed with the Camp David Peace Accords. It was the Israeli government that repeatedly placed its own interests before peace for decades until tolerance and patience in the region ran out. If you want an Armageddon, keep it up Ellen. You are not far now from getting your wish. Blind faith is driven by what one wants to believe, not the truth. Blind faith has no place in politics or political discussions. By the way, read a David Rose article on the Gaza problem ( maybe it will open your eyes. This is the outcome when a country decides what it wants is more important than what the people want. Even God knows absolute power and force are not the way when free will defines human behavior.
Ellen on May 4, 2011 at 2:07 pm (Reply)

Your propaganda might be intoxicating to the likes of you but rings hollow after all these years. Israel's 340 million neighbors living in 18 Arab states are now more than preoccupied with their own internal quarrels and civil wars. The Arab world, and in fact, the Islamic world (Dar al Islam, if you prefer) were also inventions of the pseudoanalysts who were convinced that Arabs and Muslims would unite to destroy Israel. It never happened, and is ever less likely to happen today, when they seem intent on killing each other.

WWII arose, please consult the history books, because of the unenforceable peace agreements that were concluded at Versailles, after the war. German irrendentism was not stopped by a worthless piece of paper, any more than Arab armies will be stopped by anything other than the threat of superior force by the IDF. That is what guarantees peace.

The Arab world is disintegrating. I would recommend that Israel continue building settlements and wait for the dust to settle in about 10-20 years, when the landscape surrounding Israel will look quite a bit different, with entirely new players.
Dovid K on May 4, 2011 at 3:42 pm (Reply)
So, Jews should "engage" people who've incorporated into their charter "Jews [will] hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: Oh Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!”?

Hey, I have an idea. Why not let the leadership of Israel's democratically elected government sort this out.
PJW5552 on May 4, 2011 at 4:57 pm (Reply)
Engage yes. Treat all people equally and with respect, yes. Encourage trust and cooperation, yes. That isn't the present policy of the Israeli government. Netanyahu is the Donald Trump of Israel -- "do what I tell you or else". That is not a smart way to deal with ones neighbors. It matters more what others do than what they say. If you want to change the actions of others, you will never do it by emulating their worst behavior. That lowers you to their standard, it doesn't place you above it.

The more you inflame passions and encourage hate, anger and fear, the more you encourage the inevitable conflict and war. If you want to live in peace, you must encourage peace. Saying you want peace and then doing nothing to facilitate it or even taking actions that hinder it as Netanyahu has done makes Israel the problem not the Palestinians.

Ellen is totally irrational. The Arab world is changing, but it isn't changing in Israel's favor. In Turkey the people grow less friendly toward Israel with each passing month due to its treatment of Palestinians. In Egypt, its people dislike Israel, dislike its policies toward Palestinians and now promise to just open the border to Rafah. Meanwhile, southern Lebanon remains openly hostile and Syria has always been a staunch supporter of Palestinians and foe of Israel. The Arab world is not disintegrating, it is realigning its leadership so that leadership is more in tune with the interests of its people. A people who see Israeli actions toward Gaza and the West Bank Palestinians as hostile and openly demeaning. You go right ahead and do whatever you want. That message is read loud and clear in the US and throughout the world.

I caution you, the longer you persist the less help you can expect to see from any quarter in the world. You think 7.5 million people can do whatever they want, kill whomever they like and impose their will on all who disagree with their actions? Well go ahead and dream. The Germans dreamed that way in the late 1930 and early 1940's, and they had a far more significant military advantage than Israel or its IDF does today.

Time is running out and if you think time is on Israel's side, you are very, very mistaken. Forces are congealing against Israel precisely because of Israeli attitude and actions. The outcome of Israel's posture is what happens any time a nation over extends itself believing it is better than everyone else and can do no wrong. It is a nice fairy tale to believe conflict is always the fault of someone else. Enjoy it while you can, for fairy tales don't last long. I give it 2 years, 3 at best before it all falls apart. You are hallucinating if you think this situation can continue another 10-20 years. You haven't anywhere near that much time.
Ellen on May 4, 2011 at 7:17 pm (Reply)
Israel's strategic position in the world has never been better. It has the support of the only military super power in the world, and a de facto alliance with the #3 military power in the world, which is India. Europe is in terminal decline, and the Arabs - contrary to your delusionary thinking - ARE disintegrating.

Of the 18 Arab states, only 3 are at present viable, economically and demographically. Those 3 are Kuwait,
Qatar (probably) and Tunisia, once it gets its house in order. Egypt is facing famine within a short period of time without massive external aid, and Syria is about to break up into 4-6 pieces. Those were Israel's most formidable Arab enemies. Saudi Arabia is living on borrowed time. The 18 Arab states combined export less than Finland, if you subtract their oil output. They are developmental failures, par excellence. How do you think 340 million people can support themselves with no industrial revolution in sight and rising expectations among the young? The last thing they are going to be thinking about in the next 20 years is Israel. Trust me. The prospect of starvation has a way of focusing the mind.
SW on May 5, 2011 at 4:30 am (Reply)
PJW5552 writes, "Treat all people equally and with respect, yes," and then proceeds to address someone he likely does not know as "totally irrational," not to mention "very, very mistaken," probably for his diagnosis that she is "hallucinating."

Moreover this individual writes with denigration about those who would say, "do what I tell you or else". PJW5552 follows this fine characterization of others with phrases addressed to someone like "you must" and "I caution you."

What a fine example of double standards raging in only a few short, ugly and polemic-driven paragraphs. In a dialogue about Jewish ideas -- as is the name of this site -- what about PJW5552's opinion is particularly Jewish?

Equating the Israeli government with the Nazis by writing that "Germans dreamed that way in the late 1930 and early 1940's," one sees that old and well-worn attack against Jews which anti-Semitism has trumped up repeatedly as does PJW5552 in his screed.

The foundation of the Baath Party, the alignment of Palestinians during the war and more demonstrate that the alignment of National Socialism with Arabs was an historical fact. Alas, PJW5552 either would ignore history, or join the enemies of Israel in repeating the impossible moral equivalence argument -- Jews to Nazis -- as yet furthering the lie. Schande!

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