When it comes to debating Israel’s policy towards the West Bank and Gaza, the subject of Hamas’ refusal to recognize the Israeli state always pops right up. “Sure, but how can you negotiate with an organization that is dedicated to your destruction?” And so forth. The Hamas position, refusing to recognize the permanence of the Israeli state, is quoted in the compliant American press almost every time Hamas is mentioned, so that the casual reader has that idea inseparably associated with Hamas in his or her mind. That association is reinforced by official United States Government policy, which claims to base its exclusionary policy toward the Palestinians in large measure on that part of the Hamas platform.
Hamas, judging from my admittedly limited sources, is not willing to be coerced into backing very far away from that statement by present Israeli tactics of oppression. Hamas leaders evidently regard that position as one of the only two valid cards they hold in a very weak hand (the other being the threat of continuing the intifada). The Israelis hold just about every other card in the deck. Why, Hamas asks, should they give up either of those two cards in order to start a process of negotiation, when they have no balancing concessions from the other side? How can they be sure that there will be any outcome other than total capitulation?
There is a certain symmetry here. Israelis don’t trust Hamas because Hamas says it wants to get rid of Israel. Hamas doesn’t trust Israel because it believes Israel really isn’t interested in the so-called two state solution. Hamas believes the Israeli aim is not peace but the effective end of the Palestinian presence in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas is convinced Israel wants it all, at least up to the Jordan, except perhaps for a few isolated Bantustans where a culturally and politically castrated remnant of the former Palestinian nation ekes out an existence as serfs under total Israeli control.
It would be a mistake to consider either side entirely right. Israel has every right to mistrust a political organization that has done its best to spread terror and mayhem. But there is also something to be said for the Hamas view of Israeli intentions. Over and over again, when Tel Aviv has faced choices between the paths of seeking peace and further oppression, it has chosen the latter. Most Arabs and an increasing number of European and other observers have concluded that the present leadership in Israel is insincere in its support for the so-called two state solution. (Here is an analysis that has just come to my intention that rather vehemently expresses these doubts.) http://www.antiwar.com/orig/cook.php?articleid=9771
It seems to me that there is an obvious way to get Hamas to climb down from its high horse on non-recognition of Israel: get Israel to enter into a parallel and binding commitment to a two-state solution that defined the future Palestine in terms that would insure its viability as a separate state. This is something that firm leadership in Washington could reasonably set its sights on. After all, Tel Aviv has been paying lip service to the two-state concept for a long time, mainly because the President of the United States has made it clear that this has been what he wants. Now we need a Presidential determination to make the Israelis stop messing around with the road map and creating “facts on the ground” that make a viable Palestine increasingly difficult to achieve. With this, and some effective multilateral pressure on Hamas, we may just be able to break through the semantic knot that has tied up the peace process for so long.
That will, of course, be just the beginning of a long and arduous process of negotiations. But at least it will be a beginning. Right now we are stalled, on dead center, in the heart of a very unstable region.
Carl Coon 10/5/06