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Hamas - A Political Portrait
By Terrell E. Arnold
Over the past few weeks, interviews conducted by the Jordanian newspaper Al Sabeel have painted the most complete picture that may exist in English on where Hamas stands on the leading Middle East issues. The interviews were conducted with Khaled Mesha'al who has chaired the Hamas Political Bureau for the past fifteen years. While Hamas is still labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel and a few others, the interviews define a leadership and an organization of sophisticated political skills that is determined to use resistance for as long as needed to secure the political future of the Palestinian people. Where Middle Eastern developments may trend for either Hamas and the Palestinians or Israel may be obscure, but the picture of how Hamas thinks about the matter is clear-cut. It should be common knowledge for all who concern themselves in any way with the issues surrounding this conflict. What follows is a summary of Mesha'al's perspective with this writer's comments using heading key words borrowed from Al Sabeel.
"Negotiating should not be a way of life", concludes Mesha'al, nor is it merely an alternative to war. Rather, he sees negotiation in a somewhat inverted version of the famous Clausewitz observation, "War is diplomacy by other means." The negotiating process is a tool for achieving the ends of war. In that state of mind, you do not go to the negotiating table unless you have some power points to put on it. That means in essence you don't wait until you have lost your shirt to try to strike a deal. You aim to have enough power points to give you a decent shot at winning your objectives before you sit down. In these terms, he sees the basic prospects of the talks now underway as a likely donnybrook for the Palestinians. Thus, Mesha'al would refuse to participate, even if invited, which he has not been.  He concludes that: "Exercised with great caution and under strict rules at the right time, it (negotiation) will be acceptable and useful in the context of conflict management; otherwise it will lead only to surrender and submission".
The Palestinians have been hard pressed to recognize Israel but so far have not done so, and Hamas, in particular, has taken much flak for its refusal to do so. In the Hamas view, as stated by Mesha'al, in this case recognition is not the simple act of accepting another state as is normal diplomatic practice between countries. Rather, Israel is asking the Palestinians to recognize the Zionist right to form a Jewish state (on land owned by the Palestinians) as well as to accept as legal what the Zionists have done to get there, including the occupation, countless murders, and the deliberate expulsion of about 800,000 people beginning in 1948. Both occupation and land theft are crimes, says Mesha'al, and neither should be blessed by recognition.
Pragmatic recognition
Simply admitting that Israel exists, in the Mesha'al view is equally flawed, because one has to accept the way the Zionist got there to say their state has a legal right to exist.  The basic premise of this posture is, according to Mesha'al,  is that the Israelis need to clean up their act, stop stealing land, stop Judaizing Jerusalem, make amends for their numerous crimes in the process of creating Israel, and stop molesting the Palestinian people before Israel can even be approached in the legitimate diplomatic realm of recognition. Mesha'al rejects the idea of some that Israel deserves recognition basically as a trade for recognizing the PLO. However, he  says the more critical matter is recognition of the Palestinian people and their rights, which Israel so far has refused to do.
Rejection of the Hamas Truce proposal
Hamas sees this problem through an optic of relative power.  The first problem, says Mesha'al, is that their perceived superior power makes the US and Israel think they can impose any solution they want. Thus, they do not need to honor a truce proposal by people over whom they have overpowering advantage. In short, dealing with the Palestinians as equals is not in the cards. In any case, goes the Israeli/US argument, in time the Palestinians will settle... Some Arabs and Palestinians apparently have told the US and Israel: "Surround Hamas, financially and politically, and incite against them; do not open up to them directly, maintain your conditions and do not hurry. Hamas will ultimately succumb!"  So far that has not worked, and the impression given by Mesha'al is that it is unlikely to work.
Hamas and the Jews
The perceptual trap for Hamas that would work in Israel and the west would be a charge, true or false, of anti-Semitism. Those who dream up this issue forget or did not notice the fact that, before the Zionist invasion, the Arabs, Christians, Jews, and non-sectarians lived in reasonable peace in Palestine. Mesha'al makes clear that Hamas fights the Zionists because they are occupiers and oppressors, not because they are Jews. In fact, the Ashkenazim Zionist ringleaders are not descended from Middle Eastern Jews but from central European Khazars.  Still the Zionists regularly use the religious arguments to align people against the Palestinians and particularly against Hamas because it is Islamic.
International Relations
Mesh'al struggles a bit with the fact that up to now the Palestinians have lost many battles on the international relations front. This has been mainly due to the Israeli gambit (successful mainly in the United States) of posing itself as the innocent victim of Arab/Palestinian attacks and abuse, while it went innocently about creating the Jewish State in the allegedly empty spaces of Palestine. In the US particularly and in Europe mostly the picture of the Israelis as victims of Arab discrimination and terrorism was more or less a given until recently. The story of Zionist crime and theft of land was first told in some detail by Alfred Lilienthal in his book "What Price Israel" in 1953, but the scales did not really begin to fall off American and European eyes until early 2006 with publication of an article and a book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on the Israel Lobby. Books immediately following that one, Ilan Pappe's "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" and former President Jimmy Carter's "Peace Not Apartheid", painted a graphic picture of Israeli crimes against the Palestinians. However, Mesha'al and Hamas realized, perhaps later than they should have, that they were the victims of a well and diligently run propaganda campaign by Zionists and supporters. They began to fight back in international media, but they are still behind the curve.
So whither peace?
As the talks in Washington and Sharm el Sheikh, located at the foot of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, have moved their slow length along, it has become increasingly evident that Mesha'al's reservations are, if anything, understating the difficulty and the hazards of the Palestinian position. Mahmoud Abbas, who, at least initially, refused to continue talks if the Netanyahu government refused to keep the let's pretend settlement freeze in place, appears to have been jockeyed into continuing talks even after the freeze has been lifted. At this time, there is no sign the fake freeze will be re-imposed. In short, with the Palestinians already in a weak-meaning no power cards on the table-position, the Israelis have added one more power card to their hand: With US acquiescence, the Zionists can and will continue rapidly to confiscate the best parts of what is left for any Palestinian state. They will do that with the politically powerful settler groups while the settlers' American financial backers look on with approval. Meanwhile, the Zionists and their supporters will hold their approval of President Obama's supporting role in this diplomatic charade as a US domestic political hammer over his head.
The best forecast for this situation is that the talks will go nowhere; therefore they will not formalize new wholesale losses of Palestinian position. The worst prospect is that the talks would yield a document that formalizes new Palestinian concessions, such as recognition of the Jewish state. For that the Israelis will pay the Palestinians nothing. Rather, the Israelis will buy this outcome by tossing campaign fund contributions into the party coffers of American politicians of all colorations. The contribution of American politicians, in turn, will be avidly subscribing to the continuing Israeli crime of stealing Palestine from its rightful owners.
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 overseas service included tours in Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brazil. His 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: <mailto:wecanstopit@charter.net>wecanstopit@charter.net

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