Posts Tagged ‘Hamas’

Direct Talks: A Path Forward or A Trap?

July 30, 2010

Aaron Miller, long-time State Department official, warns President Obama against pushing so hard for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Lara Friedman, of Americans for Peace Now, explores the tangled web that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will

PA President Mahmoud Abbas

need to walk now that even the Arab League has endorsed direct talks.

The sum of both articles, though, leaves one wondering why Barack Obama is pushing so hard for direct talks.

It’s clear enough why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants direct talks. Israel has done nothing to advance the proximity talks and faced no consequences for it. In direct talks, that will be even truer; holding the talks will satisfy much of the world, and Israel will be able to prolong them indefinitely.

But what exactly does Obama expect to come from direct talks at this stage? Netanyahu is shouting to all that will listen that he can’t even extend the joke of a settlement moratorium or his government will fall (it won’t). So how can we believe he can possibly make the concessions necessary for peace?

That aside, let’s say Abbas and Netanyahu do come to an agreement that satisfies both sides. What happens with Gaza and Hamas? Part of any agreement that the Palestinians can agree to is the affirmation of the principle that the West Bank and Gaza are a single territorial unit.

If such an agreement, then, is not possible, what’s the big rush for direct talks?

It does seem that this is another symptom of the tragic lack of strategy that has dogged Obama’s Mideast efforts from day one. The President has kept this issue on the front burner, and I remain convinced of his good intentions.

But we all know what is said about the road to hell. (more…)

Webcasting Hasbara

July 12, 2010

The spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister’s office held a webcast today. Mark Regev, who is expert at talking with the media and is specifically geared toward English-speaking audiences, spent half an hour answering questions that had been submitted through Facebook.

If Israel is smart, they’ll have Regev do a lot more of this. He’s very good at it, and his remarkable skill at disseminating

Israeli PMO spokesman Mark Regev

hasbara (propaganda) was on full display. He sticks as best he can to areas where Israel can make a good case and he’s very good at framing his statements to present Israel in the best light possible. But a careful listen shows once again the limits of even the best public relations; you can sell a Honda like it’s a Mercedes for a while, but eventually the quality of the product you’re selling cannot be disguised.

In a mere thirty minutes, Regev could only touch on the subjects that came up, yet the time amply demonstrated both the strengths and weaknesses of Israel’s arguments.

Recognizing the “Jewish State?”

The first statement Regev made which bears examination is when he described the Israeli vision of a demilitarized Palestine that recognizes “the Jewish State.” The first part of that sentence will raise some hackles, but it is a condition which, while it has never been formally committed to, has always been understood to be a part of a final status agreement.

But the idea of Palestine recognizing not only Israeli sovereignty and its right to exist, but recognizing it as a Jewish state is a deal-breaker. It is a willful wrench that has been thrown into negotiations, actually by Ehud Olmert, who first brought the idea to the fore.

Palestinians might be able to live with a demilitarized state. But recognizing Israel as the Jewish State demands that Palestinians drop their objections to the discrimination their fellows who hold Israeli citizenship face. More importantly, it implicitly demands that they acknowledge that the dispossession they have endured for the past 62 years was justified. Whether one believes that Palestinian dispossession was inevitable, criminal, justified by war or a case of ethnic cleansing, surely everyone can agree that asking Palestinians to make such an admission is simply unreasonable.

It’s also unthinkable. Regev, like many other advocates for the official Israeli position, puts this out there as if it is a normal demand. Far from it—no country recognizes another “as” anything. It simply recognizes another country’s sovereignty, with the rights and responsibilities that implies. One of those rights is for any country to define itself, through its own political and social processes. (more…)

Recommended Reading: Plitnick on differences between enemies

June 30, 2010

Check out Mitchell Plitnick and “Those We Can Talk To and Those We Cannot.” Exploring some new thinking in the American military and the important distinctions between Hezbollah, Hamas and al-Qaeda.

AIPAC, Gaza and Letters to the President

June 24, 2010

I was reminiscing recently about a very pleasant conversation I had with Stephen Walt, who, along with John Mearsheimer, wrote the explosive book “The Israel Lobby.” Both authors are aware that I disagree with their thesis, and yet Stephen and I were always able to have respectful conversations about it. Would that more conversations about Israel could be conducted in that manner.

But I also disagree with what I call the Chomsky Thesis. Chomsky, and some other analysts, believe that “The Lobby’s” power derives from its essential rapport with American policy aims, and that if it diverges from those aims, it would not prove much of an obstacle.

Saying “The Lobby” is not a considerable force is as false as saying it is the determinative element in US policy. It

Hillary Clinton and AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg at this year's AIPAC policy conference

clearly plays a serious role in American politics, and the more prominently domestic concerns play into an American President’s foreign policy decisions, the more powerful it is. (In fairness, I should note that Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s book is rarely understood to encompass this view, though it can certainly be read that way)

“The Lobby’s” field of play is Congress. To the extent Congress can and will push back against a president on foreign policy, “The Lobby” will get it to do so when they disagree with that president’s policies.

It has often been the case that “The Lobby” tries to push the US into a harder line than Israel takes. It has done so again this week.

Letters to Obama

The Senate, almost as a body, has written to the President in full support of Israel’s version of the events aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla over Memorial Day Weekend. It re-states the position that the siege on Gaza is legal and was imposed to stop the import of weapons to Hamas, while ignoring the question of how children’s toys, coriander, mayonnaise and ketchup could be classified as weapons. It also asks the President to consider putting the IHH, the Turkish organization which is most certainly supportive of Hamas, on the list of terrorist organizations.

The letter, at this writing, was signed by 86 senators, and a similar letter is up to 322 signatures in the House. (more…)

Gaza: A Kadima-Made Quagmire

June 22, 2010

The political mudslinging between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni over the failure of Israel’s siege of Gaza would be amusing if it were not so disturbing.

The exchange basically comes down to Bibi saying that he inherited the Gaza siege from the previous government and Livni responding that under their version of the siege, the world wasn’t condemning Israel for it.

We’ll get back to Bibi in a moment, but let’s look at the depths of Livni’s disingenuousness.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni

Livni is not just the current head of Kadima; she was Foreign Minister when the siege was enacted and when Israel wreaked havoc in Operation Cast Lead. Unlike Avigdor Lieberman, the FM in the current government, Livni was at the very heart of policymaking under Olmert. She cannot duck responsibility for Gaza.

Under the watch that Livni was a central part of, Israel enacted a policy that was needlessly cruel and ultimately self-defeating. For three years, the civilians in Gaza have been devastated. They, not Hamas, bore the brunt of Israel’s policies. They, not Hamas, were impacted by Israel barring all sorts of household items, cleansers, foodstuffs, coffee, cigarettes, and other consumer products.

These effects were far from unexpected; they were the sole intent of the policies. This was the very definition of collective punishment. (more…)

Solving the Hamas Question

June 16, 2010

Few events are as badly misunderstood as the 2006 election that brought a stunning victory for Hamas.

The factors that led to that electoral victory were:

  • The perception that Fatah had failed utterly to make any significant gains for the Palestinian people
  • The widespread corruption that was the norm for Fatah at that time
  • The in-fighting in Fatah which caused not only disillusionment, but also led to more than one Fatah candidate in numerous districts, splitting the vote
  • Only the smallest factor was a moderate rise in religious nationalism among Palestinians

Hamas enjoyed a certain temporary popularity, more as an alternative than anything else. Much of the current dilemma involving Hamas arises not from their electoral victory but from the coup that the US and Israel attempted to engineer, backing Fatah in Gaza, which was thwarted by Hamas’ pre-emptive strike and led to Hamas ejecting much of

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh and PA President Mahmoud Abbas

Fatah completely from Gaza and taking unilateral control.

I bring this up because a friend asked me how Hamas might be undermined today. The answer is both pragmatic and involves no devious tricks or the use of force.

The first step is easing the Gaza siege so that the people can rebuild destroyed homes and business, and resuscitate their economy. Already, even Israel has conceded this can be done without compromising security measures. And that it can be done while largely bypassing Hamas.

From there, Fatah and Hamas must be pushed toward forming a unity government that would have only one purpose—facilitating new elections for the Palestinian Authority. Polls have consistently shown that Fatah would emerge the winner, while Hamas would be a significant minority party. The most recent poll shows that the gap between the two is widening as Salam Fayyad’s popularity is increasing significantly. (more…)

Resolving the Gaza Siege Conundrum

June 13, 2010

The Gaza Flotilla disaster has shone a light on the siege of Gaza. After three years, the international community has finally stood up and said this must stop.

Now the question is how.

I’m reminded of a meeting I had about a year ago with several State Department officials. Already, the Obama

President Obama and President Abbas met this past week in Washington

administration had made it clear that Gaza was not an issue they wanted to deal with. They preferred to advance the peace process with Mahmoud Abbas and hope Gaza would just go away.

That was never going to happen, of course, but the Administration still seems to want to avoid dealing with Gaza if at all possible. The flotilla massacre made it impossible.

At that meeting, I went through the list of reasons why the siege on Gaza was both unjust and against Israel’s better interests. I stressed throughout, and continue to do so today, that Israel has legitimate security concerns that it has every right to address. But that right does not mean all restraints are off.

So after some discussion, I was asked what I thought should be done about it. I believe my answer to them still holds today as a way to address both Hamas and the rights of the people in Gaza. (more…)

We Now Hate Turkey, So the Armenian Genocide DID Happen

June 9, 2010

Spencer Ackerman has an excellent and succinct post on the hypocrisy abounding now that the American Jewish leadership has decided Turkey is an enemy, so they have stopped lobbying against recognition of the Armenian genocide.

He’s nicer about it than I am.

This has long been something I’ve found truly disgusting, and an example of how when it comes to a choice between being a Jew and marching lock-step with Israel, the so-called “pro-Israel” Jewish forces don’t even blink and abandon Judaism, our community and our heritage without a second thought.

WE ARE JEWS!!! HOW CAN WE DENY A GENOCIDE FOR CYNICAL POLITICAL PURPOSES???

And can anyone seriously doubt that such is exactly what happened?

This hypocrisy is not merely academic, now that AIPAC’s dissembling on behalf of Turkey has come to an end. It is that same trait that is on display on a daily basis in the denial of suffering in Gaza. (more…)

United States of Denial

June 6, 2010

One can never accuse the neo-conservatives of a lack of hubris.

Liz Cheney, daughter of Dick and Lynne Cheney, offers a prime example of this in an interview on ABC News. While Cheney was admitting the massive mistake the Bush Administration made in pushing for Palestinian elections in 2006, Cheney condescends as follows:  “I don’t think they [the Palestinians] were ready for it. I don’t think we should have pushed it.”

No, Liz. It is we who were not ready for it, and to a lesser extent, our friends in Fatah. Indeed, even the Israeli government, then under the leadership of Ariel Sharon, turned more and more cool to the idea as the elections approached, fearing significant gains for Hamas (despite some re-writing of personal histories, exceedingly few expected an outright victory for Hamas, let alone the overwhelming one that occurred).

Liz Cheney

Those elections, held under occupation in exceedingly difficult conditions, were universally praised as free and fair, and the results generated far less controversy than many American elections, including both of those which brought Cheney’s boss, George W. Bush to office.

The Hamas victory was due to three major factors:

  • The ineffectiveness of Fatah’s leadership in ending or easing the occupation. The second intifada had simmered down in early 2005, but the revised and intense measures Israel had put in place during the intifada were mostly still in place by the end of that year. Palestinian life was perhaps at the lowest point it has been, before or since. While many Palestinians questioned the intifada, that question was often based in the notion that Fatah, under both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas had so badly blown the negotiated approach that the intifada was the only choice many Palestinians saw.
  • Corruption in Fatah. In 2006, before Salam Fayyad reformed many Palestinian institutions, corruption within Fatah continued apace. There is little doubt that corruption was a major problem under Arafat, who dealt with it as part of his system of control. Abbas was not so inclined, but also did very little to stem the tide of corruption in the PA.
  • Poor organization of campaigns by Fatah. In 2005, the Fatah party was on the verge of splitting in two. Although in the end, the breakaway group, al-Mustaqbal, agreed to stay with the party, out of fear of handing Hamas victory, the damage was done. In numerous districts, Fatah ran multiple candidates, splitting the vote. (more…)

Of Heroes, Villains and Shades of Grey

June 4, 2010

People love to have their good guys and bad guys neatly defined.

That is a central point in the debate over the narrative of last weekend’s disastrous Israeli raid of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. I’ve seen it particularly in reactions to things I’ve written about the Turkish aid organization, IHH.

The Israeli propaganda machine has helped to inflame and actually define the debate over IHH by accusing them of ties with al-Qaeda. As a result, the debate has revolved around whether they’re “terrorists.”

Crowd at the funeral of one of those killed on the flotilla

The IHH having ties to al-Qaeda was an absurd accusation on its face. If they did, Turkey would never sanction them on any level and would much more likely be persecuting and arresting them. Americans and Israelis might think of al-Qaeda as primarily targeting them, but secular Muslim regimes are much more in their crosshairs than we are. And, indeed, Israel has quietly retracted the accusation.

Thus Israeli propaganda set up the false dichotomy: either the IHH were horrible terrorists or they were pacifistic heroes.

But they’re neither. On five of six ships, tactics of non-violence were employed. Apparently, from the reports of those who were on the ships, these tactics were indeed met with violence from the invading Israeli commandoes. But equally apparently, things did not escalate to the point they did on the Mavi Marmara. (more…)