Trump’s Middle East Maven Demands Hamas Be Israel’s Poodle – OpEd

As I’ve been observing the response to the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation process, one aspect of it stood out: the U.S. has attempted to insert itself into the process as if it was a full party to the agreement.  Of course it isn’t.  It is an outsider.  Not even a recognized mediator.

In fact, it’s likely that, like Netanyahu, the U.S. wanted nothing to do with this Palestinian reconciliation.  That’s because a divided Palestine is a weakened force that can’t threaten the status quo, which is what both Trump and Bibi want.  Contrary to what the U.S. president says, he doesn’t want a successful peace process.  Or at least not one that offers both sides enough that they can swallow it and support it among their constituents.  What Trump wants is an agreement that offers Israel carte blanche and the Palestinians, peanuts.

That’s why both the Israelis and today, Jason Greenblatt, raised their own objections.  Hamas is the sticking point.  Unlike Fatah, it offers continuing resistance to Israel, both politically and militarily (through its military wing).  Fatah are patsies and Hamas remains a viable force of resistance.  That has to irk the Israel-U.S. nexus.

So Greenblatt said yesterday:

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties — including to disarm terrorists — and commit to peaceful negotiations. If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements,” Greenblatt said in a statement.

First, let’s examine the assumptions here: he’s demanding that Hamas renounce armed resistance while refusing to demand the same from Israel.  The assumption being that Israel is merely defending itself, while Hamas is a terrorist body using violence for some sort of nihilist purpose.  The truth is that Hamas’ resistance is rooted in the very same impulses which motivate Israeli armed violence against Palestinians.

There is only way to do this: both sides must be treated the same.  If you demand something of one side you must demand it of the other.  If you insist, as Greenblatt does here, that one side’s motives are completely transparent and justified, while the other’s are mysterious and incomprehensible, you have a recipe for failure.

The same holds true of the next element in his statement: if you demand that Hamas recognize Israel, while not demanding that Israel either recognize Palestine or Hamas, you again have a recipe for failure.  Further, such a demand puts the cart before the horse.  A negotiation process begins with discussion and resolution of major issues and then leads to the major goals that each side wants.  In other words, mutual recognition comes at the end of the negotiation process, not the beginning.  If Hamas gave Israel everything it demanded before the process began what would be the point of negotiation?  And what would Israel have to give in return for these concessions?  Nothing.  You don’t get something for nothing: unless of course you’re Israel and you expect the normal rules of diplomacy and international negotiation don’t apply.

Hamas responded to Greenblatt with an entirely apt reply:

…Hamas said it rejected “the extortion and American bias toward the Israeli positions expressed by Jason Greenblatt.”

“Hamas will go ahead in the reconciliation and will not pay attention to any attempt to sabotage or block this track,” it said.

Blessedly, Greenblatt didn’t demand that Hamas accept Israel as a Jewish state–another deliberate wooden plank Netanyahu has stuck in the PA’s craw in order to torpedo previous negotiations.  But you can be sure that if Hamas had miraculously agreed to all these demands, that this one would suddenly rear its ugly head once again.

My point is to say that this is not a negotiation.  It is political theater.  And not very good theater at that.  Trump and the Israeli regime want to appear to favor negotiations.  But they want these negotiations to fail so they can say to the world that they were serious and that the other side balked.  This takes the pressure off them and makes them look like the good guys.  And it’s worked to a certain extent.  There are enough smoke and mirrors involved that the average person looks at the peace process, throws up their hands and says: “this is so complicated and there are so many contradictory claims flying back and forth, I can’t tell who’s at fault.”

The danger of Palestinian reconciliation is that it will ratchet up pressure on the real rejectionists (Israel and the U.S.).  The world may come to see the Palestinians as the ones who are really ready and willing to deal and the other side as the recalcitrants.  This is turn could put pressure on the EU, which has labelled Hamas a terrorist group, to change that designation.  It could also intensify the movement to recognize Palestine as a full-fledged national entity within the international community, including the UN.  Finally, it could add momentum to the BDS movement, which seeks to punish Israel as long as it continues to reject the three basic principles of ending Occupation, recognizing the right of return, and offering full, and equal rights to Israel’s Palestinian citizens.  Just as the South African boycott movement appeared radical and unrealizable when it first began but grew increasingly reasonable as conditions worsened; so BDS has crossed from a radical movement to a reasonable one due to Israel’s increasing extremism and radicalization.

There are several aspects of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation pact which puzzled me.  I had difficulty understanding the motivation of a few of the parties.  First, why would Egypt, which has an exceedingly close relationship with both Trump and Israel, abandon his pals in order to ease the suffering of its sworn enemy, Hamas, which al-Sisi has accused of being allied with his sworn enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood.

The answer appears to be that the Islamists in Sinai who have been bedeviling his security forces for years are a greater threat to al-Sisi’s rule than any benefit he may derive from his alliance with the U.S. or Israel.  If Hamas can tamp down terrorist attacks in Sinai and help restore stability within Egypt, then it’s a gamble the leader is willing to take.  This has to smart for Israel, which has carefully cultivated a close security relationship with the Egyptian regime.

Also, one has to wonder at Hamas’ motivation in taking this deal.  Essentially, giving up its control of Gaza to its former sworn enemy, Fatah, has to hurt.  It amounts to a quasi admission of defeat and a retrenchment of the Islamist movement.  Further, news reports say a secret codicil to the agreement calls for Hamas to cease launching terror attacks against Israel from within the West Bank.  This is an important concession because it amounts to the first time Hamas has accepted a restriction to its right to armed resistance, based on a demand from its own side (the PA).  If the agreement does work, it’s possible to conceive of Hamas widening what amounts to a limited ceasefire and ceasing all armed attacks against Israel.  But of course, this can only happen if Israel responds in kind; and it has never, despite many commitments to do so, adhered to such ceasefires with Hamas.

Finally, in some sense Hamas’ relinquishment of its rule over Gaza is a bold move.  It amounts to something like what critics of the PA have called for it to do in the face of Israel’s trampling over Palestinian rights.  These critics have called for the Palestinians to dismantle the PA and cede control back to the Israelis themselves.  In such a way as to expose the underlying flaws in the process which established the PA.  Dissolving the PA would expose Israel as the occupying power that it is and remove the fig leaf of Palestinian agency which permits Israel to say it has given Palestinians rights.  In the same way, giving the PA control over Gaza now places the onus on it to govern and provide services to Gaza.  It puts the burden on the PA to lift the Israeli-Egyptian siege on the enclave.  It removes a major justification for the blockade: Israel’s claim that Hamas must be blockaded because Gaza, under its control, is a nest of terrorists.  Now, if neither party does so, the blame will no longer be on Hamas, but on Fatah.  That by extension will add pressure on Israel and Egypt to lift their own illegal, punitive siege.

Other analysts and observers have declared the agreement a defeat for Hamas: an admission of its failure and powerlessness.  On the contrary, I see it as a shrewd tactic which places the onus on its enemies to change their behavior in ways that will benefit the Palestinian people in the longer term.  And if the agreement fails it will be the PA’s fault, and its supposed allies, Israel and the U.S.  Hamas will be able to say that it was the reasonable one when it dismantled its governance of Gaza.

The only party in this process which gains nothing and possibly loses a great deal is Israel.  It looks on from the outside as its previous patsy-partners the PA and Egypt abandon it for a deal with its sworn enemy: Hamas.  Israel gains nothing.  In fact, pressure could ratchet up considerably if the agreement is implemented and runs smoothly (which is not guaranteed).  In some sense, the ability to implement this deal at all may be due to Bibi’s increasing isolation and political weakness, as he faces indictment and his possible political downfall from multiple corruption investigations closing in on him.

Finally, it’s important to note a caveat here.  There have been multiple previous attempts to implement a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.  They all failed.  There is no guarantee this iteration will work any better.  But it appears that all the parties have more skin in the game this time.  They recognize they have much more to lose if they fail.  And this may scare them into success.

This article was published at Tikun Olam


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Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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