Hamas and Kadima

“Hamas and Kadima does the Palestinian Hardline offer the Israeli Center an Opportunity ?”

The United States and Israel should recognize Hamas’s recent victory in the parliamentary elections in Palestine as an opportunity to make a lasting peace. Clearly Hamas’s past actions, methodologies, and its charter’s blanket rejection of Israel’s very existence all work to make this opening less obvious than it might otherwise be. While, Hamas’s election is the key, and the rest of the moment is ripe: George Bush’s vitriolic support of Democracy as the road to change, and its relative ineffectiveness in pacifying Iraq, as well as, the domestic political circumstance in both the United States and Israel. The ground is fertile, but this could be a point of divergence, too, for in opportunity lies risk, one only has too look at the fallout of past failures, most recently Arafat-Barak-Clinton, to know that dashed hopes are explosive. This moment is a fork in the road, too, because in inaction lies a path of great danger. Hamas’s victory left to take its own course, while the rest of the explosive stew in the Middle East continues to simmer is courting further disaster. George Bush the II has made Democracy and Liberty in the Middle East a focal point of his presidency. (1) Already America and the West are undermining this stance by holding the stick of an aid cut to the PA over the heads of a democratically elected Hamas. All but tacitly admitting the value chart indeed, prioritizes Cash over Democracy. Well, any campaign donation accepting American politician could hardly deny that. However, America needs to not only withdraw the immediate threat of an aid cut and respect the democratic process, that our own emissaries certified as a legitimate and largely fraud free election, but then follow up by reopening the peace process, which has long since veered off the road map, recognizing that the big picture is much more important than the short term. Hamas’s election, followed in rapid succession by Israeli elections and the United States congressional elections and then the run up to the campaign of 2008, must be seized as the best conjuncture of events for making peace in many years. (2) Whereas an aid cut, following a legitimate election, highlights American hypocrisy when it comes to democratically selected governments America does not like threatens to undermine American policy from the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush.

First Hamas, and why they are crucial. Hamas is arguably the most hardline Palestinian group/faction/political party. When trying to make a lasting peace deal, in most contexts, it is essential to have the most hardline group on board for a multiplicity of reasons. Initially note, this will be an opportunity to negotiate directly with Hamas, rather having to find a way to get Hamas to buy into an agreement negotiated by someone else. If they are directly involved in the process of negotiation, and something is agreed upon, they are thereby much more likely to abide by the agreement. (3)

Before negotiations with Hamas can begin, Hamas must accept the existence of Israel and the reality of a two-state solution, else there is no negotiation. Israel can be brought to the table without this. Hamas can cast this as a huge concession on its part. If Hamas can accept that pre-condition, Israel must accept that it cannot neither demand Hamas disarm, nor that Hamas completely renounce violence, as pre-conditions to opening negotiations. Hamas’s position will be, Israel is not going to unilaterally disarm nor renounce violence as an option, so it can’t be asked to do so. The Israelis can parade this as a huge concession on their part. The American administration must make even this first level of agreement happen because there will be an element of resistance on both sides to meet at this level of pre-conditions. America must emphasize these positions are all but self evident to any who accept a two-state solution (which hopefully both actors do.)

Any two state solution has to accept the existence of Israel. Any two state solution has to accept that the leadership of Palestine will be armed. America must present these positions as something that is de facto known by outsiders. This would require some internal movement by the American government, if not on the rhetoric, at least its on the formal characterization of Hamas. America can cast this as its concession, demonstrating its commitment to and belief in Democracy and the process. Hamas was legitimately elected, it can therefore be given the opportunity to reform. It can be give the opportunity to show it can govern and be a valid dealing partner. (4) America saying just this, alone, would give it a foreign policy credibility chip, matching deed to word, leveragable everywhere from Iraq to Afghanistan. Sadly America is much more likely, at this point, to be on the side of the dictators and strongmen from Mubarak to Musharraf, from the House of Saud to the Emir of Kuwait. If the Bush administration truly wants to change the tone and put its policy behind its rhetoric about Democracy, Hamas is a linchpin opportunity.

If Hamas can be involved in a process of peace negotiation, they will be incentivized to stop the worst or as many of the terrorist bombings that they can. Responsibility for the success of the negotiations will be, at least in part, laid on Hamas because they are one of the parties at the table. This gives them motive to succeed and at least initially, to continue to deter violence, as they have under the truce that has held for most of the last year. As primary negotiators they will have even more cause to hold their fire. Because Hamas was among the worst provocateurs in the past, their co-option in the process will be crucial to its outcome, both in terms of momentum building and long term success. It is important for all parties involved to remember that due to the nature of the deterioration of authority in the Palestinian territories, even Hamas will not be able to stop 100% of the violence. There will always be outliers, the mass has to drive them forward. The mass of the Israeli, Palestinian, American, and world populations, which hopefully, would like to see a peaceful two-state solution have to actively participate in pushing the process forward if only through moral support.

The Israeli’s history gives them some insight into and awareness of the logic that says the best deals are often made with the hardest of characters. Israel has had to have some of their hardest characters in power for them to find enough security to negotiate. Only a real ex-soldier, a true hero like Rabin could offer the deal he did, at the time he did. Only Sharon, the settlement guru, could unilaterally withdraw from Gaza. Men who had already proved their credentials as the toughest of the tough, the hardest of the hard, these men have the latitude. This is why Arafat was always going to be a failure as a negotiating partner, he could never go the distance. He didn’t have the credibility with his own people for the final deal. His corruption and co-option was widely known, however posthumously deified he might have been. There are many examples of peace deals that have not worked when the secular (5) dealmaker negotiating on behalf of the people can be removed for a more true believer, a more accurate (6) representative of the will of the people. Hamas, very close to being the hardest outfit, certainly the biggest hardline group in Palestine, faces no threat of a “more true believer” appearing on the conservative side of the horizon, and appealing to the populace to adhere to a harder line. They are the hardliners. The Israeli experience and Mossad mentality recognizes that this makes them the optimum deal partner.

The next reason to argue that Hamas is the ideal partner for Israel to negotiate with is their lack of domestic corruption. Hamas’s very nature discourages corruption and duplicity. They see themselves as strict people of the book. Their beliefs forbid corruption. (7) America has to seize on this perspective, and George Bush with his moralism and Evangelical base is ideally positioned grab this theme. If Bush can even begin to break Hamas away from what he terms, the “Evil” Islamists, he will have made tremendous strides in defusing the portents of an inevitable, impending clash of civilizations. Islam is not going away. America and the West have to find a way not to set themselves at odds with Islam permanently. Much like Hamas, George Bush, himself, is an opportunity, only a strong, hawkish American president could get away with this type of concession, that Hamas could be a negotiating partner. Only a Hawk could browbeat the Israelis into coming to the table with Hamas. Al Gore could never have had negotiations with Hamas, too much of the American defense establishment would have seen it as a surrender and the Israelis would have wondered about the physical manifestations of his support. Nobody since R. Reagan has had the truly Hawkish credibility of George Bush the II. (8) If he says America can communicate with and rationalize with a forthright and non-duplicitous Hamas to find a two state solution, this is unlikely to be undermined by more hardline American Hawks. (Though some to his right in the media and Congress might squawk about dealing with Hamas, he, Cheney, and Rummy hold the hole cards of their fierce warmongering.)

Hamas is also an advantageous negotiating partner for Israel and the United States because it is not tainted by past treaty failures. This is why the United States, Israel, and less importantly, Abbas and Fatah, should not press too hard to have Hamas accede to all agreements already signed. Hamas should tacitly abide by them, but all parties involved in the negotiation should leap at the opportunity presented by Hamas coming to the table with a blank slate. Even if, as is likely, the agreement ends up looking substantially similar to Arafat-Barak-Clinton A clean, hardline credentialed Hamas is much more likely to be positioned to be able to successfully present that treaty to the Palestinian people and the Arab street at-large.

It is important to contextualize the success that just bringing Hamas into the negotiating process would mean. As outlined above, bringing the hardest party into negotiations has advantages of its own, however the advantages of having Hamas on board for the process do not end there. This is in part because the process is likely, whomever the negotiators are, to be somewhat lengthy. (9) If Hamas is on board for lengthy negotiations this ought to build momentum for the success of these negotiations. Recent statements by Hamas spokesmen are inconsistent if not incoherent. This, incidentally, is blowback from Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders. Hamas is much less factionalized and divided than either Fatah or the current PA. Incrementalism in semi-successful negotiations builds on itself. That is to say a period of calm, builds a foundation for more calm, a virtuous circle. As stability takes hold, opportunities for Palestinians to get jobs, escape poverty, and turn around their economy become more plentiful and more realistic. The more things turn around and the better conditions become on the ground, the greater stake, the more incentive the average citizen has to wish for and accept peace. The more Hamas is credited with laying the foundations of the success, the more incentive, perhaps more importantly, the more latitude they have to negotiate. Likewise, the more credit the Bush administration can claim for these achievements the more capital they have elsewhere in the Arab world. Stability builds upon itself. The more stable the future Palestinian state is, the less difficult and more feasible it is for the EU, Japan, the UN, the Arab states, the Muslim community at-large, and others to deliver and administer their aid projects in the territories. The more successful the delivery and outcomes of these programs the more opportunities for the Palestinian people to escape abject poverty and desolation, then the more reasons for them to be opposed to disruptive random violence. (perhaps even actively pro-peace.)

Hamas’s reputation for incorruptibility and the argument about the virtuous circle of stability bolster each other. If stability takes hold Hamas is much less like to derail it via fraud and sleaze. If Hamas is more efficient at delivering healthcare and education, as is hoped based on their experiences as an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization,) this too, will de-incentivize violence. When there is hope for the future, who wants to become a suicide bomber ? It is only in situations that seem hopeless and intractable that fertile recruiting grounds for such horrors can be found. (10) If Hamas is a better deliverer of healthcare and education; and they are backed by, or at least not disrupted by America and Israel, and the rest of the world is able to much more efficiently deliver economic aid and trade assistance to the proto-Palestinian state, might this not offer an opening for Palestinian institutions from courts to clinics to schools to improve ? More domestic stability and more outside support, commingled with less internal and external disruption would put a much bigger microscope on these institutions and remove much of the excuse for failure. This, combined with Hamas’s hopefully well earned reputation for competence, and their religious beliefs, offers an excellent opening to massively upgrade these institutions. It is important for the West to understand that this upgrade must be centered around honesty and consistent application of the rule of Law, all but regardless of what fundamentalist Islamists’ interpretations of the Law might be. (11) The West must prioritize honesty and consistency above trying to get Hamas to agree to its conceptions of human rights. (12) Here again, though, the conclusion must be that Hamas represents an opportunity the Fatah did not, certainly not under Arafat and even less so under the fractious, factionalism that has followed his death. Further, it must be recognized that all of these opportunities taken together feed back into incentives to make a once and for all peace with the Israelis.

Now, what about those Israelis, and why did the introduction of this paper insist that their elections, too, are an opportunity ? The obvious inclination might be to see the departure of Sharon from the stage as creating a vacuum or propensity for failure. Conversely, even Sharon recognized he had advanced the process about as far as he could from the rubric of the right, and the next stage was going to have to proceed from the center. With Sharon rapidly disappearing in the rear view mirror, and Bibi Netanyahu hopefully undermined by past failures, the opportunity for the Israeli electorate to move to the center is unique. Polls consistently show the mass of Israelis want peace and accept the idea of a two-state solution. It does not seem possible that if Likud were to win the election, that they and Hamas would be able to avoid provoking each other, antennas would be too sensitive, sparks too likely to flare. No, the hope of the Israeli election lies with the people, and the premise that the mass want to make peace. The ideal scenario to export this Will of the people to the negotiating table would be a Grand Coalition of the Center, perhaps a Labor-Kadima-Shinnui combination, or even one that involves two or all three of these parties in a tie-up with Likud. As long as Likud does not govern solo, or with the exclusive backing of the religious parties. The middle must be represented. Whomever is the head piece, the value of the middle being represented lies in the mass of the Israeli people supporting a peaceful, two state solution. This Will might best communicated via a grand coalition rather than an individual spokesman because it is the group Will pushing the process, rather than the people being tugged along by a single individual. The power of the Center is an opportunity for the Will of the people to lead. This seems especially likely with Sharon off stage, because there are no other equally grandiose figures available. (13) A centrist government or a grand coalition will have the same blank slate advantage Hamas brings to the table. Its credibility rather than being rooted in bringing the most hardline group/faction/political party with it, will be based on the big tent, bringing the mass along with it. This will leave it vulnerable to disruption by more hardline elements, but the argument and the hope will have to be that, in Israel, these groups/factions/political parties are much more marginalized, ineffective and unpopular than in the territories. Israel’s elections are this week and there is a distinct possibility of such a close outcome that final governing arrangements will not be made until mid-April.

By that time campaigning in the United States midterm elections will be underway. Bush and his party are, of course, under siege from all sides. Desperate for an accomplishment of any kind, especially in foreign policy, with violence still plaguing Iraq and massive failure still looming, the chit of beginning an Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation process would be able to be brought to the larger Middle East theater. This would generally play favorably in the American electorate. The opening of a peace process between Israel and Palestine has important American electoral constituencies: Christian Evangelicals, an essential part of Bush and his party’s solid base, and American Jews, a more diverse group, sometime swing voters and big campaign donors. Bush would benefit both on the world stage and directly with the American voting public by beginning this peace process. He, like his father before him, has longed to go in this direction, only to be deterred by the fear of failure. In spite of this fear, he and his thinkers, Rummy and Rice, must recognize the benefits of simply starting the process. America could earn political capital from Brussels to Saudi Arabia, from Paris to Pakistan. Though Mr. Bush says it is not his concern whether he is loved, he would rather be right, but wouldn’t he, (wouldn’t anyone) relish the opportunity to be both ? A modicum of flexibility would give him a better chance of being heard out elsewhere. He and his policy makers have to understand just a little bit of success and likeability would give him much more play to operate within on other foreign policy concerns. Furthermore, Bush, by this point, has to be thinking of his legacy. Perhaps even as jaunty and confident as he appears, Bush is fearfully looking at: on-going violence in Iraq, spiraling deficits in America, growing trade imbalances, sunset provisions on his tax cuts, failure to reform social security, massive increases in defense and discretionary spending, a huge prescription drug entitlement program, and wondering, if not worrying, what his legacy will be. Well, what bigger chance to burnish the legacy for a man who considers himself a Born-Again and came to the Washington stage considered a foreign policy neophyte ? If his hero Ronald Reagan won the Cold War and vanquished the USSR, (14) maybe George Bush the II can be the man who will be remembered for making peace in the Holy Land. (15)

Sarcasm aside. The moment is ripe, in America, in Israel and most especially in Palestine because of Hamas’s election. It will be tricky. There are many potential pitfalls. America has to get the parties to the table. Before and after negotiations begin there will be moments of violence. There will opportunities for all actors to stray along the way. But the ground is fertile, if Hamas, the most hardline Palestinian group, the rejectionist of the past, can be offered a stake in the success of the process., the process can be given legs. Though among the most bloody, Hamas, the least tainted by domestic corruption is change, a chance, a new opportunity and moreover, an entrée into reversing the entire momentum of the seemingly inevitable slide into the conflict of civilizations. (16) It is essential to recall that the majority of the Israeli, the Palestinian and the world’s populations all want peace in this place.

See below for the basis of the outline of a deal:

A Palestinian state in Gaza and 90-95% of the West Bank. Palestinians would have control over their own borders and armed forces. A shared capital in Jerusalem under tri-party control of Israel, Palestine and the UN, possibly modeled along the lines of the Kosovo administrative authority. UN supervised Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount. UN supervised Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall. A right of return to the new Palestinian state, but not Israel, and/or economic compensation for Palestinian refugees. A truth and reconciliation committee to examine unlawful actions and atrocities committed by both sides during the past forty years.

The Palestinian state on 90%-95% of the West Bank presumes some Israeli settlements stay. It also presumes some sections of the dividing wall are torn down and/or repositioned to the Palestinians geographical and agricultural benefit. (Even if mostly for symbolic value. Even if both sides spout their own wildly different rhetoric about what this tear down and repositioning mean.) Also this agreement presumes a fair division of available water resources. Also presumes recognition of Israel and its right to exist in perpetuity by a Palestinian state, and a ceasefire-truce declared and accepted by both states. (gradually building from CBMs (Confidence Building Measures) implemented during the negotiating process.) Also, it presumes full Palestinian membership in the UN, and the usual prerogatives of statehood from issuing passports, to border controls and taxation.

ENDNOTES

1. Let us be afraid to say he has made it his Crusade. One hopes his thinking isn’t in that mode.

2. Since Rabin ?

3. The Hizbullah parallel does not work because they never governed alone. Fatah should be dissuaded from joining in a coalition, because for the benefits to truly accrue from Hamas’s election they have to be solely responsible for their policy decisions, their governance and the outcomes. Hizbullah has never been there. Hamas cannot be allowed to rule, but lay the blame for their failures, esp. in interactions with Israel on Fatah, because Fatah is being made to manage the direct contacts. A Hamas-Fatah coalition of this sort could undermine also all the claims of Hamas’s relative advantageousness that are made herein.

4. Almost seems like by rule they must be given this opportunity ? Or have all those rules gone away, with rules like feeling bound by the Geneva Convention ?

5. Bureaucratic, technocratic, materialist all could be substituted for secular in individual contexts.

6. Could also say articulate or shrill or demagogic.

7. Death to people who accept bribes, and such.

8. He has put American boots on the ground and America’s boot in the world’s ass. (not to America, nor the World’s benefit.)

9. Goal would be to wrap it up just before Jan 2009, when Hillary or John McCain takes power. Or Jeb Bush…

10. See: how bad things had to get in Chechnya before they turned to suicide bombing.

11. The Catholic church and numerous elements of Western society vehemently disagree on matters one or both parties consider life and death without annihilating each other. The West in recent decades had tried to take a similar stance with parts of Islam, but lately this approach has been out of vogue. The Empire has been promoting a doctrine that argues about the backwardness of certain Islamic beliefs and asserts their need to change, from Turkey’s admission to the EU to Saudi Arabia’s female drivers. Yet the Roman Catholic church continues to fail to admit women to the priesthood, and gays to the Church period, with nary the same official State attack. The Western apparatus has to rethink it’s attack on the mores of Islam, for now, except in instances of physical cruelty and or endangerment—heck America, all but alone of Western countries, has the death penalty and yet maintains civilized relations with many states that consider the death penalty barbaric cruelty.

12. This notion could be beneficially cross applied to Iraq and Afghanistan. Rule of Law and the economy first, with a baseline conception of human rights. More discussions about human rights as their economy improves and they reap the benefits of consistently applied law.

13. Whether Israel and America like it or not, for a significant number of Palestinians, Sharon was an as objectionable figure as they found Arafat. Sharon’s past deeds and personal history had made him too divisive, an impossible peacemaking partner for too many Palestinians.

14. Though we’re slowly seeing how overclaimed that hype was…

15. As it might be put in what some people receive as semi-secret coded language.

16. The author recognizes the unlikelihood of the Bush administration, Israel or Hamas moving things in this direction, re-starting the peace process. He simply wishes to argue that a viable opportunity is presenting itself at a critical time in Western-Muslim (16A) relations. It is just possible the people, on all sides, who support peace could assert their authority.

16A. Western and Muslim are used as a pair here though one is a cultural shorthand and the other is a religion in an attempt to capture the broadest possible sense of this conflict. One cannot homogenously classify all Muslims as of the same mind anymore than one could classify all Westerners as of the same mind.

2 Comments

  • Reply May 11, 2006

    Aaron

    Palestine-IsraelThank goodness there was some movement on aid to Palestine this week. It cannot serve American and Western interests to help perpetuate a humanitarian disaster there. How could that not induce more hate, more anger ? Regardless of whether or not the Western powers that be, are ultimately responsible for these desperate economic conditions an aid cutoff serves no ones interests.

  • Reply May 11, 2006

    Aaron

    Palestine-IsraelThank goodness there was some movement on aid to Palestine this week. It cannot serve American and Western interests to help perpetuate a humanitarian disaster there. How could that not induce more hate, more anger ? Regardless of whether or not the Western powers that be, are ultimately responsible for these desperate economic conditions an aid cutoff serves no ones interests.

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