The Screaming Pen

Providing Global Insight, Context, and Perspective

Slippery As an Eel

Momentum Undercut in the World’s Most Intractable Dispute

It was but a mere blip on the radar screen. For just several hours a fortnight ago, an article ran on the major news sites stating that Hamas and Fatah – the two primary groups representing Palestinians – had reached an agreement that could lead to talks with Israel. News watchers will be forgiven if they missed it; as quickly as the story appeared it was buried in the second half of lengthy articles about the latest development: a stout Israeli military offensive into Gaza.

True, Palestinian militants were launching rockets into southern Israel from Gaza for the past month, sporadically costing civilian lives. Spoilers have captured a severely unfortunate young soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, and held him hostage somewhere in Gaza for ten days while making overblown demands for Israel to empty their jails of Palestinians – albeit more legitimately for women and children – in return for his release. And despite the Palestinian compromise, Hamas hadn’t accepted legitimate international demands that it recognize Israel.


No Messing Around

Israel’s response was swift and effective, and was accomplished as much through the media as on the battlefield. Israeli officials lamented Hamas’ pigheaded refusal to recognize the state of Israel’s right to exist and twisted the screws tighter than at any time since the two-year-old ceasefire began. Israel reoccupied central Gaza, a first since unilaterally withdrawing from the territory last year. Israel arrested some 60-odd officials from Hamas and eight elected government ministers, and purposefully flew bombers over Bashir Assad, the unfriendly president of neighboring Syria (where some of the Hamas leadership resides).

Yet despite Hamas’ intransigence, the Israeli campaign is grossly disproportionate to the offences committed by the group holding the young soldier hostage. Analysts also differ fundamentally as to how much control the political wing of Hamas has over the three factions – one of which is nominally tied to Hamas – that played a role in the capturing raid. Israel’s operation will likely prove counterproductive as well: far from securing the release of Cpl. Shalit, the effective decapitation of Hamas’ leadership in Gaza may only serve to solidify Palestinian support for their embattled leaders.

It would be foolhardy to rush to the support of a group that refuses to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Yet as all practitioners of diplomacy know, however depraved, these are sticking points used as bargaining chips in negotiations, and aren’t given up lightly; especially when they’ve been bedrock principles for decades. In just a few short months, however, momentum had been building for change. Since Hamas’ election in January, the Palestinian Authority’s leader, the secular Mahmoud Abbas, had been trying to force Hamas’ into embracing these notions. He called for a referendum in which it looked possible that wearied voters would give Hamas the cover needed to reverse policy and avoiding the appearance of caving under foreign pressure. The reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah was an additionally auspicious development.

Post-reoccupation, these events have no chance of being carried forward. Any opportunity for a referendum, much less recognition of Israel, has evaporated. Under siege, Hamas will maintain support by appearing as the martyred defender against a harsh foreign invader. Hamas won’t be allowed to either achieve change or turbidly stagnate and prove its own deficiencies. Moreover, the timing of Israel’s military incursion was suspiciously close to the announcement of the Hamas-Fatah accord, and peace is as far away as ever.

Of course, it’s beginning to be accepted wisdom that this is actually what Israel desires, as Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas Prime Minister, argues in today’s Washington Post. Suicide-bombings in Israel have slowed to a trickle in the last year and the country occupies all territory vital to its security. In May, President Bush sanctioned Israel’s land claims. States that possess everything they desire and face no pressure to give any of it up have never made for good faith negotiating partners. Squared off against a bitter enemy that does itself no favors in the public debate, don’t look for Israel to prove itself an exception to the rule.

– DML

 2006. All rights reserved.

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July 12, 2006 - Posted by | Hamas, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Politics

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