[Marxism] "The anti-Hamas united front is beginning to crack"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Apr 6 04:57:01 MDT 2009

By Ben White

** Engaging it is fundamentally about accepting (perhaps uncomfortable)
facts. **

Christian Science Monitor
March 30, 2009


SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL -- March 2009 may come to be seen as a critical month in
the ending of the international community's isolation of Hamas.  Finally
engaging Hamas would spell the end of hypocritical Western policy and bring
the peace process in line with the realities of the Middle East.

First, a group of high-level U.S. foreign policy officials, past and
present, went public with their recommendation that the Obama administration
talk to Hamas.  Coincidentally, European politicians who visited Hamas
officials in Syria about the same time echoed that view.

Typically, meetings between European lawmakers and Hamas leaders are
conducted discreetly, if not entirely in secret.  Now, the trips have begun
to be publicized:  In March there were trips by a cross-party group of
British and Irish members of parliaments, as well as their counterparts from
Greece and Italy.

There was also an open letter to President Obama, published on March 10, and
signed by more than 120 experts and academics.  The letter urged a change of
U.S. policy in the Middle East.  Significantly, the signatories advocated an
end to the U.S. "fear of Islamist parties coming to power,"
and also urged prioritizing human rights over supporting the region's

Originally, the rationale behind isolating Hamas (a social and political
movement condemned by many in the West as a terrorist group) was to weaken
the organization and force a change in policy vis-à-vis the armed struggle
and Israel, while simultaneously supporting the Ramallah-based leadership of
Mahmoud Abbas.  The international boycott emerged in parallel with the
Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip that began post-Palestinian parliamentary
elections in early 2006.  The aim:  Punish the civilian population into
rethinking their choice, and make a Hamas government untenable.

But the attempt to sideline Hamas has not worked.  Hamas is no weaker for
the cold-shoulder from diplomats, and, in fact, has been able to use the
siege to deflect criticism of its policies in the Gaza Strip.  The West Bank
"moderates" dominated by Fatah have little to show for their negotiations
with Israel; rather, the colonization of the occupied territories continues.

Consequently, the anti-Hamas united front is starting to crack.  European
politicians have been independently visiting Hamas leaders in Syria, and
urging a rethink in the position of the so-called Quartet of the U.S., the
U.N., the E.U., and Russia.  The appeals to Obama represent this shift in
approach, reflective of both how the current policy has failed, and how
engaging Hamas will be beneficial.

Ending the isolation of Hamas would strike a blow to hypocritical foreign
policy -- a small but important step toward changing the way the U.S. and
international community relate to Middle East politics.  After Benjamin
Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman's success at the polls, Quartet envoy Tony
Blair said that "We've got to work with whoever the Israeli people elect"
-- a courtesy not yet offered to the Palestinians.

Israel's propagandists have tried to use Hamas's increased power in recent
years to their benefit by placing the movement at the center of the debate,
presenting the group as an extremist, Iran-sponsored existential threat to
the Jewish state.  Yet Hamas has only been around for 20 years; Israel
conquered the occupied territories in 1967, while Palestinians were
originally expelled from their homes more than 60 years ago.

Thus to engage Hamas is to acknowledge that the movement is not integral to
the conflict, but neither is it peripheral nor ignorable.  It has grown into
a powerful social and political force, with a tendency toward prioritizing
the pragmatism of political power.  The oft-cited Charter -- rightly
condemned as anti-Semitic, but penned in 1988 by one person -- has become
increasingly insignificant; the discourse of ceasefires, truces, and
national liberation typically trumps inflexible religious doctrine.

But engaging Hamas is fundamentally about accepting (perhaps
uncomfortable) facts.  Hamas was democratically elected and continues to
enjoy considerable support from Gazans.  It's important to ask not just why
it got such substantial backing in 2006, but why it continues to despite the
ongoing Israeli siege and the devastation wreaked in the December war, as
well as the cases of human rights abuses by Hamas personnel.

The lesson is that the Palestinian people saw through the flaws of the
international community's approach to the conflict long before a few voices
in foreign capitals started raising questions about the wisdom of isolating
Hamas.  In the Middle East, the international community's self-defined
moderate/extremist division is but a transparent charade.

The peace process game, the vacuous endorsements of a two-state solution as
Israel absorbs the occupied territories, the lack of will to hold Israel to
account -- this is the fuel for Hamas support, and no amount of "isolation"
can change the profound unpopularity of current U.S. and Quartet policies
among Palestinians.

Ending the boycott would not be an endorsement of Hamas, but an end to the
obtuse -- and damaging -- refusal to recognize reality.

--Ben White is a freelance writer, specializing in the Middle East.  His
articles appear in a wide variety of publications and his forthcoming book,
*Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide* will be published later this year.

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