Yesterday, both Hamas and Israel brushed aside the UN Resolution calling for a cease-fire, and continued their violent campaigns.
Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert openly disregarded Resolution 1860, calling it, “impractical.” Israel, instead of accepting the Resolution, struck 70 targets. Israel now is preparing to move into “Phase Three” of the invasion, which will require more ground troops going into more densely populated areas, risking higher civilian casualties. So far, since Operation Cast Lead was launched on Dec. 27th, 10 Israeli soldiers have been killed in action, while over 820 Gazans have been killed, and over 3,300 have been wounded. While each death is tragic, one must remember International Law, which dictates that the aggressor must keep the rule of Proportionality in mind.
Mohammed Nazzal, a Senior Hamas Official, argued that, “Nobody consulted Hamas or talked to Hamas. Nobody put Hamas in the picture, and yet Hamas is required to accept it. This is unacceptable.” Hamas also wants to have Gaza’s border crossings open, to allow humanitarian aid and much needed supplies through. As of now, roughly one million people in Gaza are without electricity, and about 750,000 are without food or water. Gaza has a population of about 1.5 million people. In total, over the last two weeks, Hamas has fired about 500 rockets into southern Israel, which have killed four people.
Most Americans, who know nothing of the middle-east conflict except for what little information they gleam from the news, tend to think of Palestinians as a monolith. They’re all Islamo-fascist terrorists who hate Israel and want nothing short of Israel’s destruction. Well, while idiotic talk-radio hosts (like Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage) might believe that and their unthinking and uncritical audience accept their ignorant tirades as fact, the reality is that Palestinian society is complex, diverse, and, unfortunately, at this crucial juncture, fractured. There are Palestinians who are Muslim, Christian, and Jewish (though, in Gaza, 99.3% are Sunni Muslims); there are Palestinians who are strong advocates of peace, while there are others who insist on destroying Israel; there are Palestinians who live in Gaza, while others live in the West Bank or abroad. And the differences go on and on.
Today’s climate in the middle-east is a direct result of President George W. Bush’s non-existent strategy for dealing with the peace process. Sure, he started a “road-map” for peace, but there was never any involvement from the administration, who felt that any peace-process was too “Clintonian,” therefore making it something they wanted nothing to do with. “If Clinton was for it, then it must be bad,” their logic went. From the outset, the Bush administration did everything in their power to undo everything Clinton had worked to achieve– beginning with the dissolution of the Middle-East Envoy position. Ari Fleischer, Bush’s first Press Secretary, essentially blamed Clinton for the Second Intifada, which began in 2001: “It is important to be careful in the region, to proceed at a pace that is achievable and doable, and not to raise people’s expectations falsely so high by trying to reach something that the parties cannot agree to themselves. Failure to reach that level created unmet expectations in the region and that resulted in violence.” In 2005, in an effort to “democratize” the middle-east, Bush fought hard for elections in the West Bank and Gaza, a move that was opposed by the Palestinian Authority. In a conference with Mahmoud Abbas in October 2005, Bush argued that, “The way forward must continue to include democratic elections. The upcoming elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council offer an opportunity to open the door to the next generation of Palestinian leaders. They’ll be responsible for building a peaceful and hopeful future for their country. In the short-term, the Palestinian Authority must earn the confidence of its peoples, by holding elections and having a functioning government…” Unfortunately, as Bush had been warned, the danger of a Hamas victory could tilt the balance of power in the favor Hamas, who openly calls for the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic theocracy in a Palestinian state (which would include Israel). Of those who opposed the election and the participation of Hamas in the elections was Ariel Sharon, who (at the time was PM) threatened not to support the process if Hamas was allowed to particiapte. Bush and Condoleeza Rice nonetheless allowed the election to continue with Hamas’ participation: “We would hope that the elections can go forward and that everyone will cooperate to make those elections go forward because elections are fundamental to the continued evolution and development of the Palestinian process,” Rice said. The election of Hamas came as a total surprise to the Bush Administration.
For many, the election did not come as a surprise. Hamas had been steadily gaining support for decades, as the failure of Fatah to reach a political settlement with Israel dragged on. Hamas’ militant stance attracted many people who felt that the political options had been exhausted. Many Palestinians also viewed the Fatah party with disdain and mistrust, as it had been corrupt for so many years under Yasser Arafat. Moreover, during the election, Hamas had made many promises to the Palestinians in Gaza, such as: fighting corruption in government, creating more jobs, and boosting their dismal economy. Hamas had a message of social reform and change that the people desperately wanted to hear. In Gaza, 81% of people lived below the poverty line (earning less than $2.20 a day), unemployment somewhere around 50%, and they were growing weary of the Palestinian Authority’s security crackdown. Hamas, on the other hand, extolled the virtues of its candidates and their participation in charities that provided food and supplies to desperate Palestinians. Though the destruction of Israel was part of Hamas’ platform, the people who elected Hamas were, instead, giving a vote against the Fatah party and in favor of a party that argued for social change and reform. Though some people certainly may have supported that platform, most people in Gaza were delivering a protest vote. Polling a month after the election demonstrates this to be true, with 43% of those who voted for Hamas (the largest group) doing so in hopes of ending corruption.
Polling a month after Hamas’s victory in Gaza demonstrated that two-thirds of Palestinians believed Hamas should “change its policy of rejecting Israel’s right to exist. Most also support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” A poll conducted by the Jerusalem Media & Communication Center (JMCC) found that “58 percent of Palestinians said they favor the two-state solution, while 22 percent favor ‘a bi-national state on all of historic Palestine.’ Three percent said they want an Islamic state.” The poll also found that 66.3% of Palestinians wanted Hamas to continue negotiations with Israel, while 29.6 believed that they should not continue negotiations. Also, 51.7% believed that Hamas should end its military operations against Israel, while 51.5% also see those attacks as counter-productive to Palestinian interests. 43.8% found the operations politically justifiable, though that is a significant drop from 65.4% in June 2004.
Both Hamas and Israel need to learn to live together. Despite their harsh criticisms of one another, they are very similar. Both believe that the land of Palestine/Israel belongs to their people, and are willing to use force to achieve their objectives, leaving innocent civilian populations to get the brunt of their violence.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is preparing to send a large shipment of arms to Israel, a move U.S. officials deny is related to the conflict in Gaza. Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said, “The delivery of ammunition is to a pre-positioned U.S. munitions stockpile in Israel in accordance with a congressionally authorized 1990 agreement between the U.S. and Israel.” Missiles that had been sent to Israel in early December, according to the Jerusalem Post, have been used in the Gaza invasion. Israel, for its part, has already warned people in Gaza to prepare themselves for escalation via the use of leaflets. Tanks and soldiers are going deeper and deeper into Gaza, and are now getting accused by the group Human Rights Watch of “using white-phosphorus munitions in Gaza and warned of the risk to Palestinian civilians.” Not only is white-phosphorous munitions likely to cause sever burns, but it is also likely to start fires. They do acknowledge, however, that it appeared that the IDF was using the munitions to “hide military operations ‘a permissible use in principle under international humanitarian law.‘” The use of white-phosphorous munitions has been decried by human rights groups, who argue that its use should be banned. The U.S. used the same material during a military operation in Iraq and has since defended its use as being perfectly legal.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the UN is considering the use of international forces along the Gaza-Egypt border, where Israel claims Hamas is smuggling weapons into Gaza. The UN plan also would reinstate the PA’s jurisdiction over the Gaza Strip. This comes at a time when Mahmoud Abbas, whose term has ended, has insisted that he will not step down until there are parliamentary and presidential elections, as required by the PA’s constitution. His aides have indicated that he plans to create an emergency government, which will extend his term for one year.
And finally, a news report from the Gaurdian has been denied by President-elect Barack Obama’s team. The report indicated that Obama would hold negotiations with Hamas at lower levels, opting for clandestine meetings over direct talks: “The Guardian has spoken to three people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive.” So, according to Obama’s spokesperson, he would indeed continue Bush’s policy of isolating Hamas. Brooke Anderson, Obama’s transition team’s chief national security spokeswoman, said that he “has repeatedly stated that he believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction, and that we should not deal with them until they recognize Israel, renounce violence, and abide by past agreements.” Even Colin Powell, who endorsed Obama in the final weeks of the election, has argued that Hamas can no longer be isolated if peace is to be achieved– it must be dealt with.
In an open letter to President Bush and Condoleeza Rice, just before the Annapolis peace conference in 2007, signatories Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee H. Hamilton, Brent Scowcroft, Theodore C. Sorensen, and others, argued that, “a genuine dialogue with the organization [Hamas] is far preferable to its isolation; it could be conducted, for example, by the UN and Quartet Middle East envoys. Promoting a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza would be a good starting point.” The letter also outlined parameters for a long-lasting and durable solution:
* Two states, based on the lines of June 4, 1967, with minor, reciprocal, and agreed-upon modifications as expressed in a 1:1 land swap;
* Jerusalem as home to two capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty;
* Special arrangements for the Old City, providing each side control of its respective holy places and unimpeded access by each community to them;
* A solution to the refugee problem that is consistent with the two-state solution, addresses the Palestinian refugees’ deep sense of injustice, as well as provides them with meaningful financial compensation and resettlement assistance;
* Security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty.
This, of course, was not to be. If President-elect Obama hopes to bring real peace and security to the U.S., and to the middle-east, he would do well to heed their letter.