January 12, 2009

Hamas’ Changing Position

The following article by Phan Nguyen talks about what Hamas’ position really is, as opposed to what most of the news coverage, at least in the US, portrays. This is incredibly important in order to understand what the parties involved hope to achieve. After all, why should Hamas give up any negotiating points in the absence of any concessions from Israel?

Of course, what is needed right now is an immediate unconditional ceasefire and free access for humanitarian workers to alleviate the disaster area that Gaza has become.

The current attack on Gaza amounts to collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza. Israel says they want to dismantle Hamas but they guarantee increased hatred of Israel and, sad to say, increased terrorism.

Beyond that, most Israelis and most Palestinians would agree to a two state solution. The details are what has to be negotiated but the Israeli government appears to be in the grip of rejectionist hardliners and refuses to seriously negotiate. The main sticking point, of course, is the presence, and continuing expansion of, Jewish settlements in the West Bank. When the settlements were first established in the 1980s, many observers predicted that they would be a destabilizing influence that would make any solution much more difficult. This is exactly what has happened. The settlers have become a powerful political force in Israel. Naturally, having established themselves in the West Bank, they don’t want to move. But their presence breaks up Palestinian territory into an impossible patchwork of areas separated by Israeli settlements, roads connecting the settlements with each other and with Israel and now the so-called “Security Wall”. Many have compared this situation with the Bantustans created by the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The US involvement is another complicating factor. By uncritically supplying Israel with $3 billion per year in aid and weapons, the US government is actually standing in the way of a solution. On the other hand, if the US were to insist on serious negotiations, it could use the aid as leverage to strengthen moderate Israelis and push both sides to make the concessions necessary for a “durable” solution.

Hamas’ Changing Position
By Phan Nguyen

When discussing Hamas’ position towards Israel, it’s important to recognize that like any other group, Hamas is not static. It changes with the conditions on the ground and with popular sentiment.

It is ridiculous to continuously refer to the Hamas charter of 1988 in order to detemine Hamas’ stances in 2008.

In 1988, Israel did not accept a 2-state solution. In 1988, the US did not accept a 2-state solution. However, in 1988, the PLO was calling for a 2-state solution, but in 1988, the PLO was not considered a legitimate negotiating party. In 1988, there was no Oslo. In 1988, official IDF policy was to “break the bones” of Palestinian nonviolent demonstrators. In 1988, Israel was just beginning to learn that there really were Palestinians.

Since then, as it has become more apparent that Palestinians were willing to recognize Israel’s “right to exist” (whatever that means), the question has been modified from “Do you support Israel’s right to exist?” to “Do you support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state?” And if Palestinians concede to that (which will require accepting that Palestinians will always be second-class citizens in Israel, and there will be no acknowledgement of the Right to Return), then the question will probably change to something even more convoluted, like “Do you support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with a cherry on top?” Meanwhile, Israel will make no concessions, using the “right to exist” question as a requirement prior to any negotiations.
It is important to stress that the whole “right to exist” argument is a canard to avoid bilateral negotiations. Israel already exists, regardless of whether Hamas recognizes it. Hamas is incapable of destroying Israel. If you tally the number of rockets and mortar shells fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, you will find that each rocket or mortar shell has a 0.2 to 0.3% chance of killing someone. At the rate in which Hamas and other militant groups been launching projectiles, it would take 1,925,000 years and 2,750,000,000 rockets and mortar shells to kill all the Jews in Israel. That’s assuming that Israel’s Jewish population doesn’t increase. And of course we would need to factor in the limited range of the projectiles, which would require Israel's non-growing Jewish population to all congregate in the western Negev by the year 1927008 CE, give or take a few years.*

In other words, this “right to exist” argument is a distraction from a possible practical solution to the conflict. It’s Israel’s way of saying, “I won’t negotiate with you until you agree to all my terms.” If that’s the case, what is there to negotiate?

“Right to exist” is an abstraction. Israel doesn’t even accept Israel’s own right to exist, since it can’t make up its mind where its territorial borders are. Just take a look at the path of the West Bank wall—they must have taken a wrong turn in Albuquerque or something. And look at Israeli maps and Israeli textbooks.

Israel and the US never recognized Hamas’ win in the 2006 Palestinian democratic elections, and have since then sought to undermine Hamas’ role as a governing authority by arming and training Fatah to defeat Hamas, by imposing a siege on the 1.5 million people living in the Gaza Strip, and now by waging a one-sided war against Hamas along with destroying Gaza’s civil infrastructure and population.

If they really want to “moderate” Hamas, they should give Hamas reasons to moderate.

We should not accept the parameters of discourse established by our opponents (AIPAC talking points, for example). If we were speaking their language, we wouldn’t be talking about peace and justice but engaging in mind-numbing sophistry. Most “pro-Israel” arguments are non sequiturs, and they need to be acknowledged as such. We will not negotiate with Hamas until they recognize that Pepsi is the choice of a new generation.

Okay, all that aside, if you’re still looking for proof that Hamas’ positions are a lot more nuanced and a lot more flexible than how its opponents want to portray it, you can find some info here:

But you know, there will always be some smartass who, after you give them mountains of incontrovertible evidence, will act like they didn’t hear a thing you said, and then quip, “But what about the Hamas charter?” – as if that’s some sort of zinger.

* (Forgive my quick and sloppy math)