Excluding Hamas Won’t Bring Peace!

Recent policies to bring Middle East peace, were pushing Palestinians apart and peace further away.

By Liam Bailey

The latest push for Middle East peace focused on strengthening moderates against “the extremists”. Fatah’s Abbas was the policy’s patron saint, well, a patron anyway. The policy exacerbated a rift that worsened when talks collapsed to create a unity Palestinian Authority government. A rift that quickly escalated in an environment under the pressure of extreme poverty caused by the western government boycott of the January elected Hamas government.

It was an unworkable policy, to the Palestinian people Fatah has sold itself time and time again, first and foremost by accepting Israel’s right to exist. To Palestinians this means accepting that Israel had the right to expel their Arab brethren in 1948. Something they will never do. Hamas in government gave the PA a shred of credibility in the eyes of the Palestinian people. Now Fatah have united under this credibility I hope they can use their moderate status to push for Palestinian rights peacefully. If not any deals made and agreements reached will not bring peace. What’s more Israel and the west know this; one reason for the Hamas boycott was their refusal to renounce violence.

I believe that Hamas joining democratic proceedings and adhering to two ceasefires, one for almost a year, proves they are willing to renounce violence if it is reciprocated and leading to an independent Palestinian state within the 67 borders. The right of return and other final status issues could be settled in further negotiations in –a new concept for both states–, peacetime. Hamas certainly won’t renounce violence to adhere to an agreement reached on the basis of –Fatah–succumbing to Israeli demands and putting self-importance and greed before Palestinian rights. Hamas remaining outside the process that led to the Oslo accord and attempting to sabotage the process through terrorism showed this. However neither Israel nor the PLO adhered to their commitments under the accord anyway.The Palestinian people showed their displeasure for Fatah by electing Hamas. Therefore an agreement between Israel and Fatah would not have been appreciated or adhered to by the Palestinian population at large either, including Islamic Jihad. Palestinians will not support any peace that will not change their lives for the better. In the conditions they live a fair and just deal would be a complete turnaround in their lives. Only Hamas looked capable of sustaining its commitment to Palestinian rights and achieving such a deal. Israel may deal with Hamas now they have formed a coalition with the –supposedly– more moderate Fatah. So, the big push for peace, by worsening PA division to crisis point, and beyond, was actually pushing us away from peace.

The policy started late Dec. 2006, with Abbas meeting Olmert, who promised to free $100 million of withheld Palestinian tax revenues. He made good on his promise a few days later. His other concessions however agreeing to take away some West Bank checkpoints and ease the strangulation of there and Gaza, followed the history of such concessions in being much easier said than done. As Israeli analyst Gershon Bashkin put it in the Jerusalem Post Feb. 5: “the proof is in the pudding, and so far the pudding is rotten.” The meeting was followed by a massive arms transfer from Egypt, allowed to reach Fatah security forces by Israel. The U.S recently pledged $84 billion to Abbas as part of the large and multilateral campaign to arm and fund Fatah against a militarily stronger, –certainly in Gaza– Hamas.

The other arm of the policy was a new peace process involving the Quartet, but completely excluding Hamas. If Hamas were to be ignored politically, all they had left was violence. This and the program of funding and arming Fatah militias was always going to make Hamas feel threatened and angry, which of course was going to escalate the fighting.

The rift between the Palestinian factions started just weeks before the Abbas/Olmert meeting, shortly after unity government talks collapsed three sons of a Fatah allied security guard were gunned down. Hamas were blamed but denied the attack. A Hamas judge was killed in a reprisal attack, for which Fatah denied responsibility. Things escalated again when the Hamas leader and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, returning because of the fighting, was held at the Gaza border by Israel. Hamas militants went to the border, which was being patrolled by Fatah security forces at the time. Fierce fighting broke out between the two factions. After a few hours Haniyeh was allowed to pass and in the chaos, bullets entered the car. Crossfire or not it was taken as an attempt on the Prime Ministers life. Haniyeh’s bodyguard was killed in the attack and his son wounded. Again Fatah were blamed but denied the attack.

Both Abbas and Haniyeh agreed many truces to end the infighting and called for all gunmen to leave the streets. Unfortunately the Hamas military wing is controlled from Syria by Kaleed Meshal. The push for peace presented the appearance that they [the U.S. and Israel] intended to arm and fund Fatah until Hamas was defeated or forced into submission and accepted the –unacceptable– demands laid on them by the west. With Hamas under such a threat and felt to be militarily stronger, Khaled Meshaal sought to ensure Hamas’ survival by defeating Fatah once and for all. At the same time ensuring Hamas’ survival in the political arena and therefore ensuring the Palestinian people will not be willingly led into an agreement of subdifuge.

Hamas and Fatah reached agreement for a power sharing government Feb. 8. Israel officials are casting doubt on whether the planned peace summit Feb. 19 with Abbas, U.S secretary of state Condoleeza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will go ahead with an Abbas now sharing power with Hamas. They are also talking about a reduced likelihood of Olmert making any concessions to Abbas if the meeting does go ahead. Whether it goes ahead or not will likely depend on the rhetoric from the new government towards Israel, and whether the U.S. pressures for it to go ahead under the facade that they are committed to a peace deal. If their commitment to peace was a strong as their commitment to Israel peace wouldn’t look such a far off prospect.

The unity agreement makes no mention of recognizing Israel or the other demand to renounce violence, only stipulating that Hamas will “respect” previous agreements made between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. Abbas had held out for a commitment to adhere to previous agreements, but Hamas held firm and the wording was watered down.

Both Meshal and Abbas have stated their commitment to the deal and their desire for no further internal fighting in the PA, and that they hope the international siege of the PA will be lifted because of the new government. While U.S allies in the region, and the other three members of the quartet (Russia, the E.U. and the U.N.), who have been pressuring the U.S. to end the siege may reinstate diplomatic relations with the PA as a first step to making pledges of aid, the U.S. state department has already reiterated that the new government is required to meet international demands.

Just days after the latest push was started by the Abbas/Olmert meeting, the Israeli government approved a new settlement in the West Bank, one which was nearly completed before government approval. The settlement has now been “frozen” because of U.S pressure. The settlements approval, has recently been followed by another Jerusalem home demolition as part of the campaign to keep Jerusalem’s Arab population low and an extension to the planned route of the separation wall. The new route annexes even more land from the final Palestinian state.

This all happened while Palestinian infighting was diverting attention, as well as freeing Israeli security forces to carry out the operations. All are operations that help toward the Zionist dream of a pure, or at least remaining predominantly Jewish, Israel.

Therefore, even people adverse to conspiracies can see that Israel was the main beneficiary of the Palestinian infighting. Their policies after it began proved, at the very least, that they weighed capitalizing on it above creating a suitable environment for a lasting peace.

Meanwhile the U.S is still treating Israel as an ally in the war on terror and Hamas as an enemy in it. This conflict was going on before Osama Bin Laden could trouble anyone, Hamas were attacking Israel before Al Qaeda were attacking the West, Hamas could have jumped on the Al Qaeda band wagon but, despite Zawahiri’s best attempts, they haven’t.

If the solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict was strengthening moderates against extremists, it would have been over years ago. The only push that will bring peace is all parties pushing the desire for peace to number 1 on the agenda. After nearly a century of conflict isn’t it about time they did?

 <i>I wrote this article two days before the PA unity deal was signed.  An example of how fast things can change in this conflict.</i>

This article has also been published, along with my new articles on War Pages on Blogspot

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