- In the months since Hamas overcame Fatah efforts to destroy
it in the Gaza Strip, the Middle East situation has moved toward a fragmented
peace process revival. At least that is the picture painted by Mahmoud
Abbas, Palestinian President and leader of Fatah. In creating that picture
he has had the financial and political help of Israeli and US leadership,
first to support Fatah's military effort to defeat Hamas in the Gaza Strip,
and then, when that failed, to create a reduced Palestinian state in the
West Bank that is dedicated to eliminating Hamas from the Palestinian political
equation. However, eliminating Hamas will solve none of the real problems.
That ultimately is up to Israel.
- Hamas, in a sense, initiated the current crisis by winning
a sizeable majority of the seats in the parliamentary elections of January
2006 in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Empowered thereby to form
a government, Hamas received little support and only truculent cooperation
from President Abbas and Fatah. Efforts of Arab governments, led by King
Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, to implant a national unity government in Palestine
were only nominally successful, because Fatah did not want to play. Moreover,
Abbas and Fatah efforts to undermine Hamas, with strong US and Israeli
support, made conflict inevitable. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas proved to be
best organized, and drove Fatah from the scene. Hamas influence in the
present West Bank remains significant but untested.
- Abbas Creates His Own Government
- Expelled from Gaza, President Abbas set out to form a
new government by fiat. The Abbas solution, supported by both Israel and
the US, was to form an exclusive West Bank government without Hamas and
without an election. In effect, the US and Israel encouraged Abbas to violate
the Palestinian constitution, behave as if the January 2006 election had
not occurred, and form a new all- Fatah government for the West Bank. He
was then encouraged to try to start peace talks with the Israelis, and
to ignore Hamas and the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
- In discussions so far between Abbas and Ehud Olmert,
both have taken their standard positions: If he wants the support of the
Palestinian people, Abbas has no choice but to move briskly into the critical
issues. However, Olmert wants to continue the perennial Israeli tactic
of deferring any discussion of real substance in favor of talking about
atmospherics. For long time followers of the peace process, the situation
has a tiresomely familiar look about it, but exclusion of a third of the
Palestinians from the discussion is a radical departure from Palestinian
history. Moreover, the climate has changed.
- The Dark Emerging Israeli History
- For starters, the history of Palestine and the growth
of the State of Israel have become much clearer in recent accounts. Partly
due to release of official Israeli government documents, but significantly
due to the growing openness of commentary about the history of the region,
the sordid truth of deliberate Israeli ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians
beginning in 1947-48 is now widely available. By the mid 1960s, Israeli
forces (including the terrorist groups Stern and Irgun as well as the nascent
Israel Defense Force called the Haganah) already had expelled the Palestinians
from more than half of the country, and, Israeli and Arab legends to the
contrary, up to that point Israeli forces had encountered no effective
- Israel's quick and easy victory in the 1967 war demonstrated
how limited future Arab resistance to Israeli takeover of Palestine was
likely to be. As long as Israel remained under the US protective umbrella,
military resistance was unlikely in any case. By 1967, the Israelis had
driven more than 800,000 Palestinians to UN refugee camps in the West Bank,
the Gaza Strip and neighboring countries.
- A number of recent works amply describe this history.
Israeli historian Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine gives
a clear picture of Israeli operations to expel the Palestinians, starting
in 1947-48. Former President Jimmy Carter's Peace not Apartheid looks at
the oppressive political results of the process. In their work, The Israel
Lobby, two American scholars, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, explain,
among other things, why Americans remain so ignorant or misinformed about
it all. In her recent book, The Roadmap to Nowhere, the late Professor
Tanya Reinhart outlines the unholy alliance that has existed among the
CIA, Israel's Mossad, and collaborating security forces of Fatah to eliminate
Palestinian insurgent groups Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihaad, and the
Al Aqsa Brigades. As these sources make clear, since the Zionists started
their takeover of Palestine, they have continually manipulated and repressed
the Palestinians, all the while pretending to be part of a "peace
- Early PLO Efforts Unsuccessful
- When Arafat, with help from Abbas, formed the Palestine
Liberation Organization in the 1960s, there appeared for the first time
a possibility that the Palestinian people might have sufficient organization
to negotiate with the Israelis. However, Arafat could not keep the Palestinians
together. His own Fatah was then a terrorist group. But various original
PLO subscribers such as Abu Nidal and Abu Ibrahim did not think that Arafat
was militant enough and formed their own groups. What followed was the
great wave of Middle East terrorism the central driver of which was Palestinian
dispossession by Israel. The existence of these groups, widely publicized
in US law and policy, helped the Israelis to capture and keep the high
ground of western opinion. Israel therefore encountered no real pressure
- As Arafat withdrew his core organization from terrorism
and moved the PLO into a more or less political mode, an opportunity for
actual negotiations with the Israelis finally emerged. However, it soon
became clear that the Israelis never had any interest in making a deal.
At the time, and until the present, the Israelis have had the last word
on the peace process. In the aftermath of failed negotiations that occurred
at Camp David, Oslo, Camp David II and later, the Israelis insisted publicly
that they had made reasonable peace overtures to the Palestinians, but
the problem, the Israelis said, was that Arafat failed to respond. Mainstream
media supported that posture in the United States, where the Palestinians
had no effective spokesman. The truth was that the Israelis always temporized,
never offered anything of substance, because they always put any discussion
of the critical issues somewhere in the future.
- Peace Efforts Went Nowhere
- Arafat's inability to engage the Israelis in meaningful
peace negotiations--more than matched by Israeli refusal to offer anything
of substance--actually spawned the awkward notion in international media
and political forums that Middle East peace was a "process".
This essentially meant that, periodically driven by the US, Israeli and
Palestinian representatives made repeated efforts to fire things up. However,
those efforts contained no real substance as perceived by the Palestinians,
while the Israelis pursued a long-term goal of avoiding any negotiation
on Jerusalem, the right of return, and compensation for property the Israelis
- Israel Grew As Palestine Shrank
- Israel's Zionist leadership kept the substantive issues
off the table, while they increased Israeli settlements in size and number.
A support infrastructure of roads, walls, checkpoints, and "security"
exclusion of Palestinians from such areas as the Jordan Valley steadily
shrank the space open to Palestinians. The situation that resulted is shown
in a map of the West Bank (http:// www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/
JOPA-73XE7B?Open) provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
- Palestinian Confinement Grew
- Other maps provided by OCHA clearly illustrate how Palestinian
confinement has grown with each stage of the Israeli takeover.
- The following chart and sketch maps underscore the stages
of takeover beginning before World War I and continuing to the present.
As these data show, while the Palestinian, that is the non- Jewish population
of the region, was more or less stable at around a million people through
the early 1970s, the population grew rapidly thereafter, reaching over
4 million in 2000. That burgeoning population growth began with the rise
of Middle East terrorism in the 1980s. In time, it generated the near panic
of many Israelis regarding the "demographic" crisis represented
by a probability that, within Israel and the territories, Palestinians
would outnumber Jews in a decade or so. As the Zionists and their supporters
saw it, Israel's future as a Jewish state was in jeopardy.
- Israel / Palestine: Arab / Jewish Population
- As the sketch maps above indicate, by 1967 the
Palestinians were crowded largely into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
- Several Factors Drive Change
- Rapid Palestinian population growth, along with Zionist
political ambitions and the Israeli settlement movement thirst for space,
drive the reluctance of Israeli leadership to engage in any negotiation
with the Palestinians that might involve territorial concessions. The psychology
of it is oppressive, as are the statistical results. The West Bank comprises
a nominal 20% of Israel-Palestine land area. As shown in the detailed OCHA
map referenced above, less than half of the West Bank actually is available
- The reality is that over 4.5 million Palestinians live
in less than 10% of their ancient homeland. Moreover, the meandering wall,
Israeli-only roads, and Palestinian "no-go" zones around settlements
further reduce areas available to the Palestinians. In addition, that small
area continues to shrink as Israeli settlements take more territory. What
Palestinians now see is the probable total disappearance of their homeland
in their lifetimes.
- Hamas Enters the Scene
- Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, was born into
this environment. The resulting landscape defined the political dynamics
of the Movement. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who founded Hamas in 1987, pushed
his organization as the most active insurgency against continued Israeli
incursions. He did this at a time when Arafat was trying to keep the PLO
and Fatah focused on political action and negotiations. High profile Hamas
attacks against Israeli civil and military targets made Yassin a prime
enemy of the Israelis. He was in and out of Israeli prisons for various
attacks but refused to lower his profile. His elimination became a priority
objective of the IDF, and in March 2004, a high profile Israeli helicopter
attack assassinated him by firing missiles at his party as they left a
mosque in the Gaza Strip. Yassin's death, and that of his successor, Rantizi,
a month later, caused Hamas to change its leadership pattern, and it now
has more than one publicly acknowledged leader.
- Hamas leadership declared a unilateral ceasefire in 2005,
and they kept that ceasefire in place until after heavy Israeli attacks
on the Gaza Strip began in mid 2006. Meanwhile, Hamas used its time out
of the terrorism front lines to enhance its political posture, to take
care of its following in socio-economic terms, and to prepare candidates
to run in the then upcoming elections of January 2006.
- Hamas Transforms Itself
- The Hamas victory in that election were landmark opportunities
that Israel, the United States and much of the West chose to ignore. In
less than two decades, a group formed by Ahmed Yassin as a hardcore domestic
terrorist organization had moved itself nearly completely, certainly successfully,
to the position of a political party. Hamas pulled off the transition that
few modern terrorist groups have succeeded in making, and they did it essentially
in one parliamentary election. However, while the Hamas parliamentary electoral
landslide was declared by respected outside observers to be a free and
fair election, the United States, Israel, the European Union and much of
the West, and, of course, Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, rejected out of hand
the fact that Hamas had become a successful political force in Palestine.
- Hamas Agenda Popular With Many Palestinians
- How Hamas had achieved that result was a case study in
the correct way to retrieve communities from the warp of terrorism. Hamas
initially achieved stature in Palestine because it stood for the right
things as believed by Palestinians. It fought back against continuing Israeli
encroachment on dwindling Palestinian living space. It frontally tackled
the Israel Defense Force (IDF) with sufficient success for Hamas to become
public enemy number one in the Israeli schematic. It articulated the correct
posture toward Israel as many Palestinians saw it: Do not give up Jerusalem;
insist on the right of return; insist on compensation for confiscated properties;
and (the clanger in Israeli and outside opinion) refusal to recognize,
in advance of serious negotiations, Israel's right to exist. Overall, Hamas
stood closer to the Palestinian heart than any other group, including Fatah
and the PLO. It was also doing an effective job of taking care of its following.
- What the US, Israel, the UN and much of Europe have failed
to take on board is the fact that Palestinians generally share the Hamas
agenda. Abbas understands this well enough to insist on negotiating on
the core issues from the first day. However, he and his outside supporters
collectively fail to understand that Israel's right to exist is at best
questionable in the mind of many Palestinians.
- Scarcely anyone in the region would consider the right
a freebee to be given away voluntarily.
- Israel Builds a State Without Honor
- Israel has built its state by expelling the Palestinians,
taking their lands without compensation, and killing or imprisoning them
where they resisted. Despite the patently unlawful creation of the state,
Palestinians and many other regional peoples may be prepared in the abstract
to agree that the state exists. However, in their view, because of Israel's
crimes, the state exists without legitimacy or honor.
- Despite such criticism at home, and strong criticism
in the United States by Alfred Lilienthal in his book, What Price Israel,
to build its state, Israel simply has ignored the rights of the Palestinian
people to build its state. The victims understandably consider the failure
of the United States and the West to oppose that process as part of the
- An Honorable Solution Comes From Arab League
- After Hamas took office it began to articulate--for anyone
who was listening or reading carefully--a position that could eventually
overcome the tragic flaw in the Israeli design by providing an honorable
solution. Hamas was very careful, even so, not to give anything away. Building
on a proposal originally put forward by then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi
Arabia at a meeting in Lebanon of the Arab League in 2002, Hamas leaders
said they were prepared to talk with Israel, but with everything on the
table. That phrase, "everything on the table" meant that recognition
of Israel, the well-known critical Palestinian issues, setting of defined
borders, and such issues as permanent access between the Gaza Strip and
the West Bank, would have to be subject to immediate discussion and decision.
Hamas took an Israeli posture on this by stating they were not prepared
to concede anything in advance.
- Green Line Becomes Key to Israeli Honor
- The "honorable" part of the Arab League proposal
was Palestinian willingness to negotiate on a basis of Israeli withdrawal
to the 1967 "green line". If Israel agreed to that outcome, even
with minor variations, they could reach a permanent settlement with the
Palestinians that would also be acceptable to the Arab League membership.
To get the rest of the world, including the Palestinian people, to honor
their historic land grab, all the Israelis have to do is (a) agree to stop
at the Green Line, (b) meet the reasonable demands of the Palestinians
respecting their rights, and (c) assure the Palestinians the freedom to
have a future life in at least part of their ancestral homeland.
- Hamas did not invent these choices. Selling them to the
Palestinian people as a basis for permanent Middle East peace would be
a remarkable achievement. Acceptance of them, or something very like them,
is the only honorable two state solution available to the Israeli people.
Israel's present path, confining the Palestinians behind walls in the shrinking
spaces of the West Bank and Gaza, requires humankind at large to ignore
Israeli creation of its much- cherished Jewish state simply by expelling
or killing and confining the owners and taking their property. For the
world to go on living with this requires ignoring a political sickness
that plagued the last century and will plague this one ever more deeply.
- Alternative Is A Single Democratic State
- If Israel is not prepared to retreat to the green line,
no Palestinian state is possible. Rather, as many expert observers, including
the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, and one-time Palestinian counsel John
Whitbeck, have said, the solution is a single state founded on democratic
principles. Even a leading Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom,
has argued that will not happen, because it would mean an end to the idea
of a Jewish state. However, in the long run that may be the only means
to bring enduring peace to the Middle East.
- Some Final Thoughts
- As this article goes up on rense.com, Israeli authorities
have announced all out war against Hamas and the people in the Gaza Strip.
That unilateral declaration, as the Israelis define it, gives them the
right to turn off electric power and disrupt the flow of supplies to Gaza.
This is the most blatant attempt of Israel, so far, to break Palestinian
resistance. As part of its campaign, already the Israelis have stopped
at least a hundred nongovernmental organizations from continuing their
humanitarian work in Gaza. Israeli authorities have even prohibited materials
for school textbooks from entering Gaza. The formula seems to be that by
keeping the Palestinians in the dark, hungry, unemployed, under assault,
and ignorant, they eventually will accept their future choices: (a) leave,
or (b) learn to live in an open-air prison.
- The most disturbing aspect of this situation is the passive
US, western, UN and many Islamic reactions to it. While the US has always
said it preferred quiet diplomacy with the Israelis, that procedure obviously
has had little effect on Israeli behavior. Some argue it has encouraged
the Israelis to excess. While many of the world's Jews object to what is
happening, pressure from within those communities has not deflected the
Zionists from their chosen course.
- A virtually prescient Israeli foresaw where this could
lead nearly forty years ago. As Tanya Reinhart reports in her 2006 book,
The Roadmap to Nowhere, the Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibovitz made
a harsh prediction that "Concentration camps would be erected by the
Israeli rulersIsrael would be a state that would not deserve to exist."
Significantly, Israel's perceived worst enemies, the Arab states, and Palestine's
leading insurgents have offered an honorable solution.
- 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 rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US
Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman
of the Department of International Studies of the National War College
and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency
Planning. He will welcome comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.