Digesting Hamas V - A
Diplomacy Of Sticks And Stones

By Terrell E. Arnold
Diplomacy is usually a two-sided, mutual exercise of parties of equal standing to achieve mutually agreed outcomes. A new government that comes to power in a country that has been a party to such an exchange is normally expected by the international community--and the other party--to honor such arrangements. So far so good. But what if the new government is made up of players who have always resisted the allegedly agreed outcomes?  And what if that resistance is due to the fact that the other party to such agreements has not only failed to live up to the agreements, but has actively violated the understandings at virtually every turn?  Just what should be the posture of a new government in these circumstances?  Herein lie the subject and the context of today's stiff-arming effort of Israel and supportive foreign objectors against the coming Hamas government in Palestine.
What are the facts?  The key documents being waved at Hamas are the Oslo Accords that established principles for an interim Palestinian government. With the principles, Letters of Mutual Recognition were signed under which Israel recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, while the PLO (a) recognized the right of the state of Israel to exist, (b) renounced terrorist violence, and (c) renounced any desire for destruction of Israel.
While the Oslo Accords were progress of sorts, the Israelis recognized the PLO only as representative of the Palestinians; that was not recognition of a Palestinian state. Moreover, all of the final status issues (status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland, compensation for Israeli-confiscated lands and property, security in Palestine, and borders between Palestine and Israel) were left for later decision. In short, the Accords were long on atmospherics and short on substance.  
Three main official addenda to the Oslo Accords were accomplished in meetings at Wye River, Maryland ( October 1998),  plus sessions at the Sinai towns of  Sharm el Sheikh (September 1999) and Taba (January 2001). Wye yielded an agreement to pursue final status negotiations with a view to reaching agreement before the end of 1999, but nothing came of that agreement.  Talks at Sharm el Sheikh were meant to get the process back on track, essentially to keep things moving. The two sides agreed that neither would initiate nor take any step that would change the status of the West Bank or Gaza. Readers can judge for themselves how that went. Taba was convened to pursue final status negotiations but ultimately led nowhere, possibly because it occurred too close to an Israeli election for any contending Israeli politician to sign a commitment.  In any event, the Israelis started building the infamous wall shortly thereafter, while continuing to add settlement areas in the West Bank and taking harassment actions to reduce the Palestinian population of the Jordan River valley.
A break in the standoff appeared to occur--at the unofficial level--with the Geneva Accords of 2003.  If enacted, the Accords would have given Palestine virtually all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and part of Jerusalem. They would have adopted the 1967 green line as the device to determine how much territory the Palestinians would receive through a scheme of tradeoffs for certain settlements the Israelis would keep. It would also have limited any right of return--the right of expelled Palestinians to return to their homeland. However, these were accords in name only, because they were not documents attested to by either the PLO or the Israeli government.
While those accords injected a short term burst of hope into the Palestinian situation, that hope was short-lived in Palestine. Rather, Palestinians have seen continued building of the meandering wall, Israeli harassment of Palestinians at countless check points, Israeli construction of Israeli-use only roads, continuing targeted assassinations, and the steady shrinkage through new settlement activity of any territory for a Palestinian state.  The Palestinian counters to these assaults have been sporadic attacks, including suicide bombings.
In the dicey environment of stalled negotiations and steady Israeli incursions on Palestinian territory, the increasingly ill Yassir Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas could offer the Palestinian people little hope. Moreover, neither Arafat nor his successor--assuming that they really wanted to stop them-- could totally eliminate insurgent attacks against the Israelis.
Palestinians could see that the apparent acceptance of Abbas by the United States and the Israelis had yielded no improvement in their situation and no limitation of the Israeli land grab. Unilateral withdrawal of the Israelis from the Gaza Strip--not a concession to Palestinians, but Israeli rejection of an appendage that was costly and difficult to defend--only emphasized the declining control and credibility of Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas. Meanwhile, members of the group Hamas worked diligently at providing the only extensive human services that were available in Palestine. That climate yielded the Hamas victory.
The truth before the January 25 parliamentary election was that outside the realm of third-party rhetoric, a peaceful settlement of the Palestine-Israeli relationship was increasingly unlikely. And none of the Roadmap managers (the Quartet made up of the US, the UN, the European Community, and Russia) appeared uncomfortable enough with that outlook to do much about it.  The situation resembled the fumaroles around a sleeping volcano; no one was moved to do something unless one of the pots bubbled over.
Palestinian patience with this situation has been truly remarkable.  Mainstream Jewish sufferance of it has been equally so. The problem needed a shock.  The pot indeed bubbled over. But the most remarkable feature of it is the pot boiled over at the political not the insurgent level.
US, European, Israeli and even some Arab reactions to the Hamas victory have been a remarkable study in narrow self-interested squirming.  All of them clearly had grown too comfortable with a peace process that was going nowhere and a Palestinian leadership that could not do anything about it. The mere fact that "peace" had become an open-ended "process" said about all that could be said about the players' state of mind.  In fact, the only bulldozers anywhere near the Middle East peace Roadmap were Israeli ones busily destroying Palestinian homes, villages and orchards, while building a wall to fragment the remainder.
What, sensibly, should Hamas do with this situation?  The outraged noises from Israel and outside say "Do what Fatah was doing before the election". That is, stop resisting, recognize Israel's right to exist, and get back to the Roadmap. But Hamas leaders know that any more of the same is a dead end, and so do serious observers of the situation. The Hamas opportunity lies with unhooking at least temporarily from the past, while seeking to define a new set of rules for the future.  Their immediate task is to avoid losing ground while they maneuver to take charge of Palestine's future. That exposes Hamas and the Palestinians to being made miserable by the combination of Israel and the cabal Israeli supporters have put together to oppose Hamas.
This is an enormous challenge for the outsiders, especially the Quartet.  It is essential for them to have in mind and try to keep the key things accomplished at Oslo and in subsequent sessions.  But it is vital for the Quartet to face squarely the flaws in this process that can be attributed largely, if not entirely to Israeli hardliner unwillingness to complete a peace agreement. While the view promoted by Israel and its supporters is that they have made numerous concessions, Israel has made none on the status issues, except possibly the land tradeoff unofficially agreed in Geneva.  
As usual, however, the Quartet is focusing entirely on what the Palestinians are supposed to be doing--Quartet definition--versus what Hamas has to do if it is to salvage any real prospect of a Palestinian homeland.  The Roadmap simply does not lead there.
The effort of the Israelis is to make the struggle as unequal as possible.  Israel now has more or less aligned with it the United States, parts of the European community, and the UN. However, the Russians, the French and a growing number of Arab states are looking for ways to help Hamas and the Palestinians.   Most opponents are insisting that Hamas accept as given all that has gone before. But that trail is littered with accumulating Palestinian concessions for which there have been no real--that is final status--Israeli ones.  The language is one-sided and pre-emptive.  Israel wants its right to exist to be recognized, but it has yet to recognize Palestine as an entity. Israel wants the Palestinians to accept all of the accomplishments and the framework of the Oslo accords and subsequent talks, but accepting all of that only circumscribes anything the Palestinians may ask for, and as facts on the ground demonstrate, the Palestinians have lost ground at each stage.
The Israeli tactics are neat.  Without ever promising anything, in the past three weeks they have aligned the governments of over half a billion people on the side of making the Palestinians concede major diplomatic points to Israel for which there is no quid pro quo offered or suggested.  The Israelis have used the United States and a few others in that manner for half a century, never presenting themselves as the principal party to a negotiation in which they had to be prepared to make concessions in exchange for concessions and live with outcomes in exchange for like responses from the other party.
People may argue with that judgment, but the real issues--the final status questions of right of return, compensation for confiscated lands and property, access to Jerusalem, territorial definitions and boundary determinations--always have been reserved to the future. Palestinian negotiators regularly have lost in these uneven matches, because no concessions have been made on the key issues.
Israel's present gambit is to keep its support structure well-oiled and never present itself for negotiation, merely wait for Hamas to collapse under the extreme pressure of the Israeli support group. Then things can get comfortably back to the "peace process" which, as of now, is not designed to go anywhere, because the key issues of interest to the Palestinians are not on the table, and the Israelis keep accumulating facts on the ground to distort the eventual outcome more in their favor. Immediate Israeli targets are all lands of the Jordan River Valley.
Israel knows, however, that their neat situation won't endure if Palestinian negotiators are given any room to maneuver.  The first gambits sound reasonable:  Honor the Oslo accords, recognize Israel's right to exist, and give up terrorism.  However, Fatah and Palestinian Authority accession to those rules have virtually enabled the disassembly of any future Palestinian state. Palestinians have been giving ground regularly, if not steadily, since World War II, and many of them have been on the run since the massacre of Deir Yassin village in 1948 and subsequent destruction of more than 400 hundred other Palestinian communities.  That process continues in the West Bank while Israel's supporters look on silently or pursue the so-called "quiet diplomacy" that never openly confronts Israeli excesses, and has led to the present debacle.
The present tactic is to beat the Palestinians into retreat from their electoral decision. It is a diplomacy of sticks and stones: Stop passing revenues to the Palestinian Authority that legally belong to them--even though collected as an agreed procedure by the Israelis.  Retrieve $50 million in US assistance that was promised by Bush to Abbas during the latter's "state" visit. Withhold other US funds. Re-examine UN funding of support and infrastructure programs. In short, starve enough Palestinians, and make life miserable for them so that they, in turn, will withdraw their support for Hamas, or prevent that support from evolving into the kind of national unity government that Hamas seems to prefer. All of this is being undertaken without any real public pressure in the US, the UN or Western Europe except from Israeli lobbies.
The net effect of these gambits is to (a) assume the worst about Hamas performance, and then (b) do everything possible to make that outcome inevitable.  Some of the side effects are pretty horrendous: (1) the Palestine problem is actively being recast as a struggle between the West and Islam; (2) countries whose support for terrorism has consisted largely of aid to the Palestinian insurgencies--Syria and Iran most obviously--will enhance their support; (3) increased support by any Islamic country for Hamas will be viewed by the US and Israel particularly as further promotion of Islamic terrorism, no matter what a Hamas government does with the support; (4) active terrorist groups in Islam and the rest of the world as well will respond in variously sympathetic ways to the repression of the Palestinians by a collective "West"; (5) the US-led War on Terrorism will receive a wholly gratuitous boost from this attempt to nullify a free and fair Palestinian election; and (6) the US-promoted democratization effort will be confirmed by its critics as the misbegotten propaganda gimmick they already thought it was.
There are a comparative few compelling voices on the side of a more honorable and likely to be constructive approach.  One is former President Jimmy Carter; another is an American attorney, John Whitbeck, who has provided legal advice to the Palestinians for a number of years. In the past few days, Egypt's President Mubarak has said no to a US request to deny assistance to Palestine.  Iran has publicly promised assistance in a meeting between Ahmadinjad and Khaled Mashaal, an exiled Hamas leader in Tehran.
In a Washington Post op-ed of February 20, President Carter observes that the election of Hamas cannot harm "genuine peace talks", since such talks "have been nonexistent for more than five years". He also notes that on behalf of the PLO Mahmoud Abbas has sought peace talks for the past year (he does not note that there was no Israeli response). President Carter basically concludes that the Palestinians should not be punished for their electoral decision and Hamas should be given room to transit from insurgency to a position of political authority. 
Whitbeck steps right into the middle of the negotiative process, a space he has occupied periodically for nearly two decades. His suggestion, as published widely in the Arab press, is that Hamas should take the initiative now and "publicly announce its support for the Arab League's Beirut Declaration of March 2002". In that declaration, all Arab states (including Palestine) offered Israel permanent peace and normal diplomatic and economic relations in return for Israel's returning to pre-1967 borders. Note that by this declaration Palestine accepted the existence of Israel and if Hamas issued a statement of public support for that declaration, it would be de-facto accepting the existence of Israel, without necessarily saying so.
Whitbeck's next point is pretty pithy. Under Hamas, he says Palestinian leadership "should make clear that, after 39 years of foreign military occupation, the Palestinian people can no longer tolerate the cynical series of never-ending peace plans (including the current Roadmap) designed by others simply to postpone the necessary and obvious choices and to string out forever a perpetual "peace process" while further entrenching the occupation with new "facts on the ground".
As Whitbeck summarizes the situation, over the years the Israelis have been offered many carrots, and they have not reacted favorably to any of them, and they should now be shown a stick.  To this end, "the new Palestinian leadership should simultaneously declare (preferably with the concurrence of President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah) that, if Israel does not publicly agree to proceed toward a two-state solution in accordance with the Beirut Declaration by a reasonable date (say, three months hence), the Palestinian people will consider that Israel has definitively rejected a two-state solution in favor of a one-state solution and, accordingly, will thereafter seek their liberation and self-determination through citizenship in a single democratic state in all of pre-1948 Palestine, free of all forms of discrimination and with equal rights for all who live there."
The choice, states Whitbeck, should be for the Israelis to choose between a two-state solution based on the Arab League's Beirut Declaration of 2002, or "a one-state solution in accordance with fundamental democratic principles".  He says the key would be "to let the Israeli people choose whichever of those two alternatives Israelis prefer and to accept Israel's choice."  However, he is well aware that many Palestinians prefer the one-state solution, because it preserves for them the rights of citizenship in their native Palestine, would eliminate refugee status for several million Palestinians, and would restore their status as people of equal worth with the Israelis.
If such a proposal were to lead to an Israeli response that shows genuine will to negotiate and resolve the long-standing issues, Hamas would have tools to restrain, and eventually tame the Palestinian hardliners, not only those in Hamas, but in other groups such as the al Aksa Brigades and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The vehicle for that, some indicate, would be an old trick of Mohammad the Prophet, to declare a truce of indeterminate length--even unto a generation--that would create and sustain the climate for constructive talks. 
 If that approach yields no results, it will be reprehensible for the Israeli support group to insist that the Palestinians come to heel, while the Israelis do nothing to deserve their consideration. It is time for the "West" to adopt a posture toward this situation that makes sense in terms of its realities.  The Palestinians will not endure continuing repression and confiscation of their remaining homeland without fighting back.  The cure for terrorism in this case is insistence on fairness and actual movement toward conditions for a decent life for both Palestinians and Israelis. The Israeli promoted effort to suppress Hamas, if it were to succeed, would guarantee a future of terrorism and warfare for both. 
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on  He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counterterrorism, and as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College.  He will welcome comment at



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