By Kathy Kattenburg
Sometimes, the sheer obtuseness of Israel supporters makes me want to scream until my vocal cords give out. This is Jeffrey Goldberg, opining about the possibility of peace between Hamas and Israel [go to BugMeNot for user id and password to avoid compulsory registration]:…
“As the Gaza war moves to a cease-fire, a crucial question will inevitably arise, as it has before: Should Israel (and by extension, the United States) try to engage Hamas in a substantive and sustained manner?
It is a fair question, one worth debating, but it is unmoored from certain political and theological realities. One irresistible reality grows from Hamas’s complicated, competitive relationship with Hezbollah. For Hamas, Hezbollah is not only a source of weapons and instruction, it is a mentor and role model.
Hamas’s desire to best Hezbollah’s achievements is natural, of course, but, more to the point, it is radicalizing. One of the reasons, among many, that Hamas felt compelled to break its cease-fire with Israel last month was to prove its potency to Muslims impressed with Hezbollah.
[…] Periodically, advocates of negotiation suggest that the hostility toward Jews expressed by Hamas is somehow mutable. But in years of listening, I haven’t heard much to suggest that its anti-Semitism is insincere. Like Hezbollah, Hamas believes that God is opposed to a Jewish state in Palestine. Both groups are rhetorically pitiless, though, again, Hamas sometimes appears to follow the lead of Hezbollah.”
Goldberg refers to a question he asked Nizar Rayyan – the Hamas leader recently killed by the IDF – in a 2006 interview:
“I asked him the question I always ask of Hamas leaders: Could you agree to anything more than a tactical cease-fire with Israel? I felt slightly ridiculous asking: A man who believes that God every now and again transforms Jews into pigs and apes might not be the most obvious candidate for peace talks at Camp David. Mr. Rayyan answered the question as I thought he would, saying that a long-term cease-fire would be unnecessary, because it will not take long for the forces of Islam to eradicate Israel.
There is a fixed idea among some Israeli leaders that Hamas can be bombed into moderation. This is a false and dangerous notion. It is true that Hamas can be deterred militarily for a time, but tanks cannot defeat deeply felt belief. The reverse is also true: Hamas cannot be cajoled into moderation. Neither position credits Hamas with sincerity, or seriousness.
The only small chance for peace today is the same chance that existed before the Gaza invasion: The moderate Arab states, Europe, the United States and, mainly, Israel, must help Hamas’s enemy, Fatah, prepare the West Bank for real freedom, and then hope that the people of Gaza, vast numbers of whom are unsympathetic to Hamas, see the West Bank as an alternative to the squalid vision of Hassan Nasrallah and Nizar Rayyan.
Where to begin? As usual, one villain gets singled out as the cause of the entire conflict and the sole reason why peace is not possible. Today, it’s Hamas. Yesterday, it was the Palestine Liberation Organization and Yasir Arafat. If Hamas disappeared tomorrow, Fatah or some other group would undoubtedly take its place, because the real issue isn’t the ruthlessness or anti-semitism of Hamas leaders – it’s the conditions in which Palestinians live, and it’s the assumption in Israel and among Israel’s supporters that a “good” or “appropriate” negotiating partner is one who effectively represents Israel’s interests among Palestinians as opposed to one who advocates for Palestinian interests.
There is no question that anti-semitism exists within Hamas, as well as in Hezbollah and its state patron, Iran. That does not necessarily mean that most Palestinians hate Jews as opposed to hating Israel and its policies toward them, or that the majority of Palestinians would not be willing to accept Israel’s right to exist in peace and security within its own borders if Palestinians’ right to retain what is rightfully theirs and to exist peacefully and safely within the legitimate borders of their own state — with ownership and control over their own natural resources — were equally respected.
The hatred for Jews within organizations like Hamas only matters to the extent it’s accepted among Palestinians as a whole. And Palestinians as a whole are not likely to hate Jews when they can see with their own eyes and in their own lives that the Jewish leaders of the Jewish state don’t hate them.
Goldberg does not seem to get this point. When he writes that Israel and the United States and the “moderate” Arab states must “help Fatah prepare the West Bank for freedom,” in the hope that Palestinians in Gaza will come to “see the West Bank as an alternative to the squalid vision of Hassan Nasrallah and Nizar Rayyan,” he misses the fact that this “alternative” is the status quo, take it or leave it. The reality that Palestinians in Gaza chose Hamas over Fatah because Fatah was not effectively advocating for Palestinian interests is ignored.
Palestinians did not vote Hamas into office because they prefer “squalor” to “the alternative.” They voted Hamas into office because their lives are unbearable under the conditions Israel has imposed – and Fatah, in their view, was not doing enough to change that.
As just one example, when Goldberg touts the West Bank as “an alternative” to the “squalid vision” of Hamas’s leaders, he forgets that Israel’s so-called “security” wall is part of that “alternative.” He forgets (or probably more likely he never knew) that the purpose of the wall is not security at all but rather the folding in of over 100 Jewish settlements; the permanent annexation of Palestinian land, “walling Palestinian farmers off from their olive trees” and crops.
And the literal, physical barricading of hundreds of Palestinians inside a no man’s land between the wall and the Green Line from which if they want to tend their land, they will need permission to leave their homes and pass through special gates into the West Bank.
That reality is the “freedom” for which Israel wants Fatah to prepare Palestinians – a “freedom” in which their borders, natural resources, and freedom of movement are controlled by a draconian security apparatus (“Matrix of Control”) that is designed, not to protect the physical safety of Israelis or Palestinians, but to establish an apartheid system under which Israelis are privileged and Palestinians are left subjugated and powerless.
Palestinians are not likely to accept such an arrangement. Which is why the Israeli government’s attempt at triangulation and its desire for veto power over who gets to be the “legitimate” representative of the Palestinian people won’t work. Whatever terms one might use to characterize Israel and the United States refusing to negotiate with or accept the democratically elected representatives of Palestinians in Gaza and turning to some other group as the “legitimate” leaders, it’s not freedom or democracy.