Bringing Hamas in from the cold


Flickr image by ZoriahLast week, the BBC reported that leaders of Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians have been invited for peace talks in Washington. The talks offer hope, but the road ahead is always going to be difficult.

The swearing-in of the new Israeli government has ostensibly diminished hopes for Palestinian statehood. Back for a second shot at the Prime Ministership, Benjamin Netanyahu has been tight-lipped about how he will approach his Palestinian neighbours. Less ambiguous is the new Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, an outspoken ultra-nationalist, known for his anti-Arab policies and strong support for Israel's illegal settlements.

Israel's 32nd government in 61 years of existence does not inspire confidence in long-term peace prospects. But its willingness to break bread with the Palestinians must be matched by Palestinian readiness. And Israel is hardly alone in its leadership woes.

In July it will be two years since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, leaving its rival, Fatah, in control of the West Bank. Despite being elected in a free vote, Hamas is internationally condemned as a terrorist organisation, which leaves Fatah President, Mahmoud Abbas, as the only internationally acceptable avenue for negotiating with the Palestinians.

Accordingly, any agreement reached would represent territorially just over half of all Palestinians (to talk of allegiances is more complicated). If it were not involved, Hamas would most likely regard such peace as illegitimate.

Hamas would then effectively hold veto power over any peace deal. A single act of violent disapproval would be enough to bring a hard-won agreement to its knees.

If this is the likely outcome of peace negotiated between Israel and Fatah, then it may be futile to pressure the Israeli government to commit to peace talks. Even if Israel were to have a revolutionary change of ideology and meet with Hamas, the two warring Palestinian factions would still have to be reconciled.

Leadership has long been a problem for the Palestinians. Never having had the chance to develop as a state, they lack the structures of governance and leadership normal in international states. The absence of a basic state structure is related to the violence and hopelessness that pervades Palestinian life. Without legitimate avenues of expression and overarching authority, there is little order or progress. 

Although Israel may be tempted to sit back and observe Palestinian disunity with smug righteousness, the peace on which its own security depends rests upon a resolution to the bitter Hamas-Fatah divide. It must then do everything in its considerable power to facilitate unity and the development of governance structures. If it does not do so, it will inevitably be asked whether it is truly interested in peace.

The United States too can encourage a merger of the two Palestinian factions. In the wake of Hamas' electoral victory of 2006, the US supported and funded Fatah. Together with the international community, the US effectively pushed Hamas to the periphery.

In hindsight, such policies have been catastrophic. Rather than seeking to destroy Hamas, the US ought to encourage a unity government with Fatah, that would bring Hamas into the mainstream.

Both Hamas and Fatah face difficult choices about the power balance in a unity government. They need to integrate each other's political platforms, establish a timetable for elections and secure international support and legitimacy.

In an interesting move, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, declared his resignation in early March, to take effect as soon as a unity government is formed. Ostensibly, Fayyad's intention is to inspire confidence and goodwill among the rival factions. But his motivation may be more complex.

Fayyad enjoys the backing of much of the international community. Without him at the helm, the United States in particular may be unwilling to lend its support. Fayyad may have resigned out of a desire less to step aside than to illustrate his indispensability.

The task would be hard enough if it involved only the Palestinians. But their work, which is indispensable, will be complicated further by the familiar meddling of foreign powers. 

Until a cohesive Palestinian government can be formed, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will forever be dogged by the question of Gaza and its unpredictable leadership. An agreement negotiated with only one of the Palestinian territories will raise hopes and expectations. The inevitable failure of such an agreement will threaten the regional stability it aimed to secure.

While Netanyahu's aversion to the land-for-peace formula and Lieberman's dismissal of the Annapolis process are concerning, they do not represent the most significant hurdle. Were the Israelis in any position to embark upon a new round of talks they may as well be talking to themselves. Only once the Palestinians present a united front can the crucial question be put to Israel — are you willing to make peace?

Ashlea SciclunaAshlea Scicluna is a freelance writer with a Bachelor of International Relations from La Trobe University. She is currently pursuing postgraduate studies at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University.

Topic tags: Ashlea Scicluna, palestine, israel, middle east, gaza strip, peace talks, hamas, fatah



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What an insightful and informed article by Ashlea Scicluna, possibly one of the best I have ever read from an Australian author. In free and open elections the Palestinian people voted in to power the people they wanted to lead them, Hamas. If the Americans and the rest of the world think democracy is the way to go then Hamas must be recogmised. Hipocracy is not an option.
In my opinion after 61 years of failure the USA should hand to the United Nations the responsibility of finding a peaceful solution to the problem it created.

Israel was formed in 1948 by the United Nations without any form of democratic process amongst the people involved and since then there has been no peace. This is not a exclusive American issue, this is an issue for the world body who created the problem, without due process in the first place and in my opinion that is the appropiate body to now deal with the problem.

Kevin Vaughan | 28 April 2009  

Ashlea does not note who Hamas is and what Hamas defines. Hamas' Charter calls for the "destruction of Israel". Hamas is responsible for over 350 suicide and other attacks on people of all backgrounds in Israel since 1993 ( Hamas is comprised of various arms including militant, political and charitable arms, the last of which has done good for Palestinians, the former two of which have not. Hamas tortures and summarily executes Fatah loyalists and did so en masse following the recent Israeli attack on Gaza. Without the charitable arm, it would be hard to understand how Hamas was popularly elected. Given the existence of the charitable arm, it is possible albeit difficult to accept the popular support for Hamas amongst Palestinians. Nonetheless, it does not justify giving credibility to the Hamas political arm, which is defined by the Hamas Charter and lives off a legacy of violence. Israel's democratic government was created amidst the very same wars and more that the Palestinians failed to create a democratic government in. Palestinian poverty is a factor in this regard, albeit not for lack of funding by external sources (as assisted Israel) rather for lack of equitable distribution amongst Palestinians by Palestinians.

Joel Burstyner | 28 April 2009  

Point of fact for Kevin Vaughn. Popularly elected governments must sometimes be contained as proved in Germany, in Bosnia, in Sudan, in Rwanda and on (leave Iraq and Afghanastan out). Hamas is a vicious beast even though it has some good aspects to it.

As to the creation of Israel, the UN declared by member vote that Israel should be created in November 1947 and made partition lines (that are similar to the lines that border Israel and West Bank and Israel and Gaza) but before Israel was established, Israel was swiftly attacked by Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan (whose land forms 80% of what was known as British Palestine, next to Israel's 20%).

In fact, Israel was created on 14 May 1948 by Israeli declaration. Most of the world recognise its right to exist. The people of the Palestinian territories do not as is common in much of the Islamic world including Iran and Malaysia. Conversely, the reason there was able to be a battle between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza is because Israel withdrew from Gaza in another peace attempt aimed at assisting the Palestinians to establish their own legitimate government, that does not threaten Israel's existence.

Joel Burstyner | 28 April 2009  

Is there another way to look at this? Forget Hamas for the moment and let Israel and Fatah negotiate - hopefully in good faith - a peace settlement that would involve only the West Bank. Establish the Palestinian State there, if that is the desired outcome for both parties. Then let Hamas decide what it wants to do - remain a rogue terrorist organisation or join the civilised world.

John Sabine | 28 April 2009  

I raised three questions following the article by Ashlea Scicluna, Bring Hamas in from the Cold.
.How did the Palestian people vote when their homeland was to be given to another people?
.Recognise the democratically elected party of the Palestinian people.
.Charge the United Nations with the responsibility of finding a resolution to the problem it created.
This dispute has been on going for the whole of my life and I think it is time that the international community involved itself in this issue.

Kevin Vaughan | 28 April 2009  

I think the Hamas suicide attack rhetoric is well worn out , and people accept that Israel has committed the greatest atrocities. So we should leave the name calling aside and look
to constructive solutions.

As for the a united Palestinian front , given their isolation, imprisonment and use as geo-political pawns Just more blame the Palestinians verbage rather than recognising the complicity of all parties.

Jonah Bones | 28 April 2009  

Central to this whole Palestinian Israeli conflict is the implacable hatred toward Jews that is in the very DNA of every Muslim who follows the Quran and the hadiths (reported saying and deeds) of Mohammed.

The Jews are called the sons of apes and pigs in the Quran. They bear the curse of Allah. Most chillingingly of all, a hadith from Sahih Muslim has the prophet of the so called religion of peace saying the following.

Number 6983: "Abdullah b. 'Umar reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: You and the Jews would fight against one another until a stone would say: Muslim, here is a Jew behind me; come and kill him."

This is part of the grand final fight between Jews and Muslims. Hamas simply follow the instructions of Mohammed to be in a state of eternal conflict with the Jews, regardless of Israel's existence.

How can Israel make peace with someone who wants to kill them? Talk of democracy and negotiations is for idiot Westerners who think Hamas deep down are just like us. Read their charter on the internet for yourself.

Gerald Jones | 29 April 2009  

There is no historical doubt that the Palestinian people are the rightful occupants of what was once the Roman province Palestine.

For six decades, people have been driven from their homes, in many cases their ancestral homes, and denied the right of return; thus has the UN vote in 1947 for the partitioning of Palestine come to be one of the last colonising injustices. It is therefore highly unlikely that a two-state solution can do justice to the victims of what is increasingly looking like imperial encroachment.

It is incumbent on the parties to reach a one state solution that recognises human rights of all people, and return property rights to Palestinian refugees. Once that is achieved, communities will eventually shun the killers in their midst, whose cause will have lost its relevance.
For the rest of the world, this would also have the benefit of negating one of the major issues on which modern Islamism has fed.

David Arthur | 29 April 2009  

David Arthur, you make it sound as if there were never any Jews in Palestine. If anyone has the right to claim Palestine as their ancestral home, it's the Jews. They have always been there, and please the Lord, they always will be.

Gerald Jones | 29 April 2009  

The world's Jewry are the descendants and successors of the people of the post-Babylonian Exile, as well as the refugees from the failed Jewish Revolution as reported by Josephus.

However, the majority of the residents of what was then called Palestine, previously the Persian satrapy Yehud, before that the kingdoms Israel and Judea, were families of rural peasants and residents of small country towns such as Nazareth. These people weren't exiled by the Romans, so they stayed on their ancestral land. Today, these people are largely refugees, and we call them Palestinians.

May it please the Lord that justice be done, and that they also return to their land.

David Arthur | 01 May 2009  

An interesting and thoughtful article, but one whose underlying premise cannot be accepted. It is argued that Israel's "willingness" to "break-bread" with the Palestinians needs to be matched by a united stance between Fatah and Hamas. Only then can the "crucial question" be put to Israel namely, "are you willing to make peace?"

This is a contemporary variant of the long-standing, and entirely false, argument that Israel does not have a Palestinian partner willing or able to make peace. The most important factor blocking settlement between Israel and the Palestinians is US rejectionism; the US has provided the decisive level of support that enables Israel to reject a two-state solution, whereby two states we refer to meaningful and viable states. This has been the dominant international consensus since the 1970s, but consistently rejected by the US and Israel. The PLO has supported the international consensus position for decades, and in fact Hamas also provides operative support for the two-state solution.

To focus on the Palestinians as the main obstacle to peace is not only wrong; it is unethical. If we in the west are the main impediment to peace due to the decisive support that we provide for Israeli rejectionism then analysis and action by us must be directed toward unmasking and altering the rejectionist policies of our governments. Thus, to focus on the leading victims of a decades long occupation, that long pre-dates the emergence of Hamas, is not only intellectually wrong it is also a profound moral wrong.

Marko | 04 May 2009  

Hamas is only an excuse. The USA and USSR talked during the cold war. The constant refrain of Israel has been "no partner". Even when Arafat was in charge, they bombed his headquarters and when Hamas observed an unilateral ceasefire for 16 months, Israel ended it with the beach massacre in Gaza.

Hamas has offered an indefinite ceasefire. The inconvenient truth for Israel's apologists is that settlements, checkpoints, exclusive roads, demolitions and expulsion of Palestinians from Jerusalem have not stopped at any time.

Mohan | 06 December 2009  

David Jones' arguments to justify colonisation are not true. Nobody has denied the existence of Jews in Palestine - But that does not confer a right upon Zionists to colonise Palestine. There have been Christians in India since the first century. But no Christian in Europe or America claims they have a right to colonise India.

Canaan was invaded by Hebrew tribes and ruled by them for about 200 years. That is the Jewish connection. It was ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Turks and the British for far longer than the Jews. None of them claims a right to "return" to Palestine.

Mohan | 06 December 2009  

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