Hamas speaks


On 31 January 2006, just after the election victory by Hamas, Khalid Mish’al, the head of its political bureau, wrote in The Guardian [1]:


“The day Hamas won the Palestinian democratic elections the world's leading democracies failed the test of democracy. Rather than recognise the legitimacy of Hamas as a freely elected representative of the Palestinian people, seize the opportunity created by the result to support the development of good governance in Palestine and search for a means of ending the bloodshed, the US and EU threatened the Palestinian people with collective punishment for exercising their right to choose their parliamentary representatives.”


Absolutely true.  Since Hamas won the election, the universal demand from the West (and Israel) has been that Hamas renounce violence and recognise Israel’s right to exist, in whatever borders it chooses presumably.  In other words, the victors in the election must abandon the platform they stood on and adopt the platform of Fatah, the party they defeated in the election.


The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah naturally agrees: Hamas must sign up to everything that the Palestinian Authority has already signed up to – the Oslo agreement and the so-called Roadmap – in order to be suitable to serve in his government, though he says he is prepared to give  them time to come round.    


The purpose of all this is to produce a suitable Palestinian partner for Israel to negotiate with.  You would think the last 15 fruitless years since the Oslo accords were signed had never happened.  As Khalid Mish’al said on the Today programme on 8 February 2006 (see transcript [2]):


Previous Israeli governments had the chance to negotiate with Yasser Arafat and then with Mahmoud Abbas.  What did Israel do?  Israel welcomed the coming of Mahmoud Abbas to power a year ago.  In spite of that, it did not negotiate with him. It didn’t take one step towards achieving of Palestinian rights.  Do you think that the upcoming Israeli government after the elections will take a step towards Hamas and to recognise the rights of the Palestinian people?”


Israel refused to negotiate with Abbas before Hamas was in government, on the grounds that the Palestinians refused to abandon the “path of terror”, so it’s certainly not going to negotiate with him now that the “terrorists” are in his government – even if the “terrorists” declare themselves to be no longer “terrorists”.


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Israel has no intention of engaging in negotiations about returning to its 1967 borders at the moment, no matter how much Palestinians abase themselves in order to become Israeli “partners for peace”.  There is no point in pleading with Israel to negotiate, or pleading with the US to make Israel negotiate.


The Oslo agreement in 1992 left all the cards in Israel’s hands.  Fatah agreed to recognise Israel and to give up the right of the Palestinians to resist Israeli occupation militarily.  In return, Israel didn’t have to do anything: it didn’t have to withdraw from one square inch of the territory it occupied in 1967, nor stop settlement building, let alone remove existing settlements, as required by Security Council resolutions; it didn’t have to undo the annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, again as required by Security Council resolutions.


All Fatah got was promises, with no means of ensuring that Israel deliver on them.  Territorial withdrawals that were made were reversed at Israel’s whim.  Any armed resistance to occupation was treated by Israel as an excuse to halt implementation.  The honest broker in Washington that Fatah relied upon to make Israel deliver always sided with Israel when it mattered, even when Clinton was in the White House.  In the last five years, with Bush in the White House, Washington has openly sided with Israel.  Yet, in a triumph of hope over experience, Mahmoud Abbas seems to retain his faith that Washington will eventually make Israel deliver a Palestinian state.


The Oslo agreement has another fundamental flaw in it.  It accepted the principle that the occupier had a right to negotiate with the occupied about ending its occupation, instead of being forced to withdraw forthwith.  When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the West told it to leave and, when it didn’t, a half a million troops were assembled within a few months to make it leave.  When Israel invaded the West Bank and Gaza, the West did nothing for 25 years and then a process was established which allowed Israel to negotiate about how much of the territory it had occupied for over 25 years it had to leave, and when – and no force was assembled to make it negotiate about leaving, let alone leave.  It’s no surprise that the occupation is still ongoing – and that half the world doesn’t realise that Israel is the occupier and the Palestinians are the occupied.


Happily, Hamas is going to have no truck with the principle that Israel has a right to negotiate about ending its occupation.  Hamas makes the straightforward demand that Israel end its occupation of the West Bank and go back to its 1967 borders and, until it does, Hamas reserves the right to resist Israeli occupation by military means.  And then, maybe, Hamas will be prepared to make a truce with Israel. 


As Mish’al told Today:


“If Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders and recognised rights of Palestinian people, with the right of return to those in diaspora, to return to their land, and to East Jerusalem, and to dismantle settlements, Hamas can then say its position and possibly give a long term truce with Israel, as Ahmed Yassin said.  This is a position that Hamas could take, but not now.  Only after Israel recognises the rights of the Palestinians, to show and confirm its willingness to withdraw to the 1967 borders.”


What is more, on the evidence so far, Hamas is going to take every opportunity to make sure that the world knows that the Palestinian problem is not of Arab making, but that Arabs are the victims in this conflict.  Its roots lie in the decision by Britain to establish a homeland for Jews in Palestine in 1917 and the theft of Arab land that flowed from this.  It is a political conflict imposed on Arabs from outside, to which the “international community” has a duty to find a comprehensive solution.


Mish’al continued in his Today interview:


“… there is a Palestinian reality that the international community must deal with.  There are those kicked out of their land in 1948 – the international community must find a solution for those people.  The international community now speaks of lasting and just peace, but how can we achieve such a peace if there are Palestinians who feel that they did not get their rights.  There’s a problem that happened to the Palestinians: they were a people that used to live on their land, but did not find justice from the international community.  There are roots to the problem.”


And as he wrote in The Guardian:


“Our message to the Israelis is this: we do not fight you because you belong to a certain faith or culture. Jews have lived in the Muslim world for 13 centuries in peace and harmony; they are in our religion "the people of the book" who have a covenant from God and His Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) to be respected and protected. Our conflict with you is not religious but political. We have no problem with Jews who have not attacked us - our problem is with those who came to our land, imposed themselves on us by force, destroyed our society and banished our people.”


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Meanwhile, there is an Israeli election.  Assuming Sharon’s party, Kadima, wins under its new leader, Ehud Olmert, and can form a coalition government without Likud, there is likely to be further disengagement from Palestinian territory.


In a speech on 24 January 2006 [3], just before the Palestinian elections, standing in for Sharon, Olmert set out Kadima’s strategy.  For US consumption, Olmert was careful to say that he accepted the Roadmap and to hold out the possibility of negotiations with the Palestinians, providing, of course, they abandoned “the path of terror”.  However, the key element in the strategy he set out was the need for further withdrawal from Palestinian territory in order to maintain a viable Jewish state.


He said:


“… there is no doubt that the most important and dramatic step we face is the determination of permanent borders of the State of Israel, to ensure the Jewish majority in the country.”


And he acknowledged that, in order to bring this about, parts of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) would have to be given up:


We firmly stand by the historic right of the people of Israel to the entire Land of Israel. Every hill in Samaria and every valley in Judea is part of our historic homeland. We do not forget this, not even for one moment. However, the choice between the desire to allow every Jew to live anywhere in the Land of Israel to the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish country – obligates relinquishing parts of the Land of Israel.


“This is not a relinquishing of the Zionist idea, rather the essential realization of the Zionist goal – ensuring the existence of a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel. In order to ensure the existence of a Jewish national homeland, we will not be able to continue ruling over the territories in which the majority of the Palestinian population lives.


“We must create a clear boundary as soon as possible, one which will reflect the demographic reality on the ground. Israel will maintain control over the security zones, the Jewish settlement blocs, and those places which have supreme national importance to the Jewish people, first and foremost a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. There can be no Jewish state without the capital of Jerusalem at its center.”


Later, in a TV interview on 7 February 2006, Olmert was more specific: he said that he would annex the three main settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley (see The Guardian, 8 February 2006 [4]).  Annexing the latter would leave the remainder of the West Bank completely surrounded by the newly expanded Israel, leaving any Palestinian state formed in it at Israel’s mercy and prevent military supplies and personnel reaching Palestinian territory from other Arab states.


Whether Israel will go through with actual annexation is an open question.  Withdrawal from parts of the West Bank would no doubt earn Israel international kudos, as did withdrawal from Gaza.  But annexing the rest would attract international attention for the new Hamas political leadership to exploit.



David Morrison

28 February 2006

Labour & Trade Union Review





[1]  www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,1698702,00.html

[2]  www.david-morrison.org.uk/other-documents/mishal-today-20060208.htm

[3]  www.israelnewsagency.com/israelolmertherzliyaconferencedisengagement48770124.html

[4]  www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1705020,00.html