US Ignores Hamas Olive Branch


As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Hamas Chief Khaled Meshaal has stated his willingness to co-operate with the US in achieving a peaceful resolution to the ongoing Palestine-Israel conflict. If the US can convince Israel to freeze its settlement expansion into occupied territory and repeal the economic and military blockade of the Gaza Strip, then Hamas will be willing to come to the table and accept a peace agreement. All too predictably, however, the official White House response was to restate its refusal to engage with Hamas in diplomatic negotiations, which it views as a terrorist organisation.

This announcement comes on the back of Israel – once again – stepping up its aggressive settlement program and contingent territorial grab. In recent days, some 53 Palestinians have been evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem to make way for the construction of a block of apartments, intended to house Jewish settlers. The evictions have attracted worldwide condemnation and a stern rebuke from Barack Obama’s White House, dismissed with contempt by the Israeli administration. 

Meshaal’s announcement does represent a fairly dramatic softening of Hamas’ previous hardline stance. The group’s militant 1988 charter calls for the complete disbanding of the state of Israel and a return of all Israeli territory to Palestine. Now, Hamas have stated a willingness to accept the terms of a two state agreement, which would obviously involve a tacit recognition of Israel’s existence. 

The two state proposal Meshaal refers to involves Israel’s withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders. During the Six Day War of 1967, Israel seized control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and continues to occupy the territories to this day, gradually marginalising the Palestinian inhabitants with a series of settlement programs. Programs that involve mass civilian displacement and brutal methods of repression. 

For Israel to cede control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Palestinians would involve no more than compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 242, recognising the illegitimacy of Israel’s occupation and the right to territorial sovereignty of ethnic groups in the region (which obviously includes Palestinians as much as it does Jews). Then, as is very much the case now, however, Israel persists in treating the dictates of international law with total contempt. 

The US ostensibly refuses to engage in diplomacy with Hamas for two reasons: 

A)    Negotiation with Hamas might undermine the Palestinian National Authority.

B)     The US Department of State lists Hamas as a terrorist organisation. 

The Palestinian National Authority is ostensibly a Palestinian administrative body in the West Bank. Although it is recognised by the US, the PNA does not necessarily represent the majority of ordinary Palestinians. In the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas won 76 of the 132 available seats, effectively giving them a majority in the government. The ruling Fatah party (backed by the US, Israel and Egypt against Hamas) objected, and the simmering tensions resulted in 2007’s Battle of Gaza, a low scale civil war fought for control of Palestinian representation in the Gaza Strip. 

Although Hamas emerged victorious from the conflict, the group was stripped of its parliamentary seats by the PNA. Nonetheless, Hamas effectively remain in control of the Gaza Strip’s Palestinian areas. This remains the case whether or not the US, Israel and other outside agencies choose to recognise the authority of Hamas in the region. It’s all well and good for the US to maintain diplomatic communication with the PNA, but it’s essentially meaningless when you consider that Hamas are much the more influential Palestinian faction, and maintain a greater support base among the general Palestinian population. Unless the US is willing to engage with Hamas, then it is not really engaging with the Palestinian population at all. 

Is Hamas a terrorist organisation? In 1993, some 6 years after its initial formation, Hamas instituted a suicide bombing campaign against both military and civilian targets in Israel. The campaign was a desperate response to repeated Israeli military incursions and settlement expansion into the Gaza Strip with recourse to force, resulting in the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians. By 2005, however, the suicide attacks had ceased, and Hamas officially renounced the campaign in 2006, announcing that: 

The suicide bombings happened in an exceptional period and they have now stopped. They came to an end as a change of belief.”

Israel’s response was to step up its campaign of air strikes and artillery bombardment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas continues to resort to force (although not suicide bombings) as a method of resistance to the Israeli occupation. However, Hamas has always been far more than a militant organisation. As much as 90% of Hamas revenue is used in social welfare projects, such as the construction of schools, mosques, orphanages and health care facilities vital in providing aid relief to the impoverished and suffering Palestinian population. It’s this commitment to social reform, along with a reputation for incorruptibility, that has won Hamas so much support among Palestinian civilians.

Even accepting that Hamas has committed its fair share of repugnant deeds, it has certainly been nothing on the scale of the Israeli administration’s wholesale campaign of mass terror waged against the Palestinian population. Yet Israel, as a committed ally of the US, receives not only diplomatic support but monetary aid and access to choice military hardware with which to wage its campaign of terror, while Hamas is condemned as a “terrorist” organisation and ignored. Quite clearly, however, any serious peace process will have to involve Hamas somewhere along the line. The group is far too influential and far too well established to simply be dismissed out of hand.

It’s both interesting and revealing to examine Meshaal’s conditional pledge to commit to a two state peace solution and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s response:

We along with other Palestinian factions in consensus agreed upon accepting a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines. This is the national program. This is our program. This is a position we stand by and respect.

MESHAAL: We along with other Palestinian factions in consensus agreed upon accepting a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines. This is the national program. This is our program. This is a position we stand by and respect.

Anyone who has been following Khaled Meshaal's comments over the last few months sees clearly that despite some attempts to play with language in a cosmetic way to give the impression of possible policy moderation, he remains rooted in an extremist theology which fundamentally opposes peace and reconciliation.

NETANYAHU: Anyone who has been following Khaled Meshaal's comments over the last few months sees clearly that despite some attempts to play with language in a cosmetic way to give the impression of possible policy moderation, he remains rooted in an extremist theology which fundamentally opposes peace and reconciliation.

But why shouldn’t Meshaal’s comments be recognised as the “language of moderation?” Is this not a very promising shift in Hamas’ previously stated commitment to see Israel destroyed? But to acknowledge the rationality of Meshaal’s proposals, Netanyahu would be forced to recognise the crimes of his own administration and its forebears, and to accept a fair peace arrangement by ceding some of Israel’s illegally occupied territory back to Palestinians. Unthinkable under Israel’s presently avowed policy of territorial expansion, in other words. But the biggest threat to “possible policy moderation” and “peace and reconciliation” remains Israel’s commitment to aggressive expansion of Jewish settlement into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with the resulting displacement of Palestinian civilians, often by means of violence. 

Barack Obama’s public challenge to Israel’s continued settlement plan may appear, at least on the surface of things, to be evidence of a new, tough stance on the part of the White House to bring Netanyahu’s Israel to heel and into a peace agreement. The New York Times describes Obama’s challenge as a “dose of tough love”. However, it’s difficult to countenance how this could actually be the case, since Obama’s challenge consists merely of words, not action. Netanyahu simply dismissed Obama’s comments with derision and proceeded with his construction plans in East Jerusalem. If the US was really serious about administering a “dose of tough love” to Israel, then perhaps Obama’s words ought to have been backed by threats to remove the US military and monetary aid on which Israel’s continued existence is dependent. However, Netanyahu knows well enough that Obama is virtually powerless to act; a powerful network of pro-Israel political lobby groups with links stretching into the uppermost echelons of the White House ensures that US foreign policy always remains committed to the support of Israel whatever the circumstances. Netanyahu can proceed in confidence with his settlement program, knowing that he faces no serious consequences for doing so. 

This has always been the case. In 2005, then Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, merely described Israel’s settlement program as “unhelpful [to the peace process]” as opposed to recognising it for what it is – a brutal and illegal act of occupation that is resulting in mass civilian displacement, oppression and violence. 

Quite clearly, Israel will never abandon its settlement programs or concede the territory necessary to create a viable two state solution while it still has US support. And the US continues to take a stance of soft disapproval of Israel’s settlement program while condemning the much less destructive Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Hamas has declared its intent to shift towards a more reasonable and conciliatory stance. Where is the shift on the part of the US and Israel? Far from being willing to come to the table, they are not even prepared to recognise Hamas’ legitimacy, and hence, the legitimacy of the Palestinian people. Branding Hamas as a terrorist organisation provides them with a convenient excuse to treat the legitimate concerns of Palestinians with contempt, thereby allowing Israel’s territorial grab to proceed unhindered.


5 Responses to US Ignores Hamas Olive Branch

  1. robertod says:

    What Dershowitz implies in the first article is dreadful. If one Arab leader was complicit in Nazi war crimes, then of course, all Arabs are Nazis by implication. Never mind the thousands of Arabs who fought and died against Germany in World War II.

    In his headline, Dershowitz asks if Hamas will “acknowledge its historical ties to Nazism”. What historical ties? Hamas was formed in 1987, 42 years after the Nazis had been deposed. That would be like asking the current German President, Horst Kohler, to acknowledge ties to Nazism, because decades ago, his countrymen supported the Nazis. To claim that Hamas is linked with Nazism is laughable. Hamas has never cited Hitler as a model for any of its activities or goals.

    As far as al-Husayni goes, his Nazi sympathies are indeed regrettable. But prior to World War II, admiration for Hitler was commonly expressed throughout Europe and the United States, as well as in the Arab World. The question is whether al-Husayni was actually complicit in Nazi war crimes. This is by no means a clear cut case. It does appear quite possible. But admiration for al-Husayni in the Arab World is generally based on his efforts to achieve Arabian independence, the arena to which he devoted most of his energies. If al-Husayni was opposed to the establishment of a Jewish state on Palestinian land, then we should hardly be surprised. He understood well enough what this would mean for his people.

    There’s been a serious effort over the last few years on the part of hardline Zionists to link Arabs to Nazism, thereby legitimising the violence Israel is using to subjugate its occupied territories. As if ordinary Palestinians today merit retribution for the actions or beliefs of one of their past leaders. Or more accurately, for the actions of a foreign power that one of their leaders happened to support. Perhaps a Chinese occupation of Mongolia would be justifiable on the basis of the past misdeeds of Ghenghis Kahn.

    There’s no doubt that Jews suffered horrendous persecution under the Nazi regime. Just as many peoples in the past have suffered persecution, and continue to suffer from persecution today. But the crimes of the Holocaust do not grant Jews special privileges to commit crimes of their own.

    We would not grant the Irish permission to commit crimes against the Welsh, on the basis that the Irish were at one time persecuted by the English. If that comparison sounds ridiculous, then we should also acknowledge that the moral justifications offered up by Israel for its crimes against the Palestinians are ridiculous.
    The Guardian commentary is correct to mention that the issue of non-payment of rent ought to be investigated with regards to the Palestinian evictions. But only with reference to its proper context, which has been completely ignored by the author. As was pointed out by several readers in the comments section.

  2. Rik says:

    Good article Rob – really shows how hypocritical the US are being in claiming Hamas to be a terrorist group while supporting Israel.

    By the way, what do you think of Aquilani’s move to Liverpool? You think he can fill Alonso’s boots? I’ve not watched much of him due to the lack of Serie A coverage in England. Thanks for any insight.

  3. robertod says:

    Thanks Rik.

    Aquilani is a good player and a smart aquisition. However, he won’t be able to replace Xabi Alonso. Losing Alonso is a serious blow to Liverpool’s title challenge this season in my view. It’s also a crucial boost for Real Madrid. Maybe more important than Ronaldo or Kaka in some respects, because Real Madrid have really been missing a midfield fulcrum to knit the side together in recent seasons. Alonso will give them that. They immediately look like being a more well balanced team with Alonso in the side, but it could take some time for all these new players to gel.

    While most of the talk is about Torres and Gerrard at Anfield, I maintain that Alonso was (arguably) the more important player. Alonso aside, there really isn’t anybody who can provide that kind of precision passing in the Liverpool squad. The position of deep lying playmaker has become crucial in the modern game, but there’s not many players around who can really do that role. Alonso is one of them.

    Aquilani is a different sort of player. He plays a bit further up the pitch. He’s less specialised, maybe a bit more well rounded in all aspects of his game. He’s comfortable on the ball and can play a bit, and he’s probably more combative than Alonso. But while his delivery is good, he doesn’t appear to have the long range passing ability of Alonso.

    Liverpool will be a different side this season with Aquilani replacing Alonso. It will be interesting to see how it works out. You can never tell how long it will take for a foreign player to adapt to a new league. I think Aquilani will play well and prove popular with the fans, but the question is whether he will be as invaluable a player as Alonso was and whether he can really take Liverpool’s game to another level. And I’ve got my doubts that he can do that. I’m not expecting Liverpool to do as well this season as they did last, but it’s difficult to be certain about these things.

  4. Rik says:

    Thanks mate, that’s excellent. From what I’ve seen of him on Youtube, he certainly does seem more dynamic than Xabi and as you mention, there are no clips displaying an extravagent long passing range. I just hope this does not turn into another Lucas Leiva scenario – he arrived from Brazil with a huge reputation for providing a dominant, box-to-box force within the midfield. However, he simply has not been allowed to fulfil such a role at Liverpool – Rafa consistently deploys him in the ‘regista’ role – and in all honesty, it has only been to the detriment of Lucas’ career – he clearly is not suited to such a role, and this is causing heckling amongsst the Anfield faithful towards the lad – grossly unfair for a young, raw talent who has yet to play in his preferred position.

    If Rafa does similar with Aquilani, it could again be to the detriment of his game – Aqua – from your description and from video – seems to be a man who needs to express himself on the field, who flourishes, in a dynamic, energetic role in which he can affect play centrally and further a field. Saying this, Rafa has told of how he sees Aquilani as a man to play in between the Xabi role and Gerrard’s position – this insinuates a tactical change is in order – yet as you say, this could seriously dent our title hopes, as it was 4-2-3-1 which provided such solidity within midfield and allowed us to compete with practically any side in the middle of the park, while also utilising a potent front pairing to their fullest extent.

    Anyway mate, thanks for the insight – greatly appreciated.

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