The reason why you haven't seen any new posts from me here in a while, is that I have joined a group blog at ZioNation. Contributors until now are Ami Isseroff (who writes the most blogs), Israel Bonan and me. For Ratna's Review this means that there probably won't be any new posts in the foreseeable future. I hope you will take a look at ZioNation.
The outcome of the Palestinian elections shows a classic paradox of democracy: the victory of an undemocratic and extremist party. The voting went fair and democratic, and more than in the elections of 1996, there was a vivid campaign and the Palestinian people really had something to choose. The Palestinians had probably one of the most democratic elections ever seen in the Middle East, and that is something to be proud of. Yet for many Israelis this is a grey day and in their eyes the result proves that most Palestinians don't want peace. The Israeli government has said from the start that it would not talk to Hamas and that there will be no negotiations with a government in which Hamas participates. Hamas has carried out hundreds of terrorist attacks in Israel since the 1990's, and wants to liberate all of Palestine through Jihad. The Hamas Charter labels all negotiations a waste of time, and says no Palestinian is ever allowed to give up one inch of historical Palestine. It harbors the worst anti-Semitic propaganda:
After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.
Moreover, if the links have been distant from each other and if obstacles, placed by those who are the lackeys of Zionism in the way of the fighters obstructed the continuation of the struggle, the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realisation of Allah's promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:
"The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews." (related by al-Bukhari and Moslem).
It is no wonder that an organization that says such things, is not viewed as a peace partner by the world's only Jewish state, and Abbas' remarks, that there is nothing for Israel to be afraid of, sound a bit surrealistic:
The Israelis must not be afraid of the Palestinian elections and the Palestinian democracy, which would be a rock foundation for peace between us (the Israelis and Palestinians). We will continue peace with the Israelis.
Some people, incorrigible optimists or with little understanding of what is necessary to come to peace, say that Hamas has become more pragmatic and for example offered a long term truce and did not rule out negoptiations. Besides, on a local level there is already cooperation between Hamas-led Palestinian towns and Israeli officials. People also refer to the fact that Hamas adhered to the informal truce during most of 2005. Also the fact that Hamas decided to run in the elections, and thus showed a willingness to take political responsibility, is cited as proof of Hamas' moderation. [Click here for some quotes of Hamas leaders and candidates during the election campaign.]
It is certainly true that there are both a more radical and a more pragmatic branch in Hamas. 'More pragmatic' compared to the radical branch, that is. It might seem a bit odd to some people, but offering a truce without disarmement, in return for all of the territories and East Jerusalem, and the right of return for all refugees, doesn't sound as a peace offer to most Israelis. Also, the fact that Hamas is willing to talk on a practical level to have the water or electricity supply guaranteed, doesn't sound really reconciliatory. It is true that Hamas carried out only one suicide attack in 2005, whereas Islamic Jihad, which opposed the truce, carried out several.
Hamas did fire hundreds of missiles at Israel from the Gaza Strip and has smuggled extensive amounts of weapons. In comparison: after the killing of Hamas leaders Yassin and Rantisi in the spring of 2004, the willingness to carry out attacks against Israel was enormous, yet it took them 5 months before they suceeded in doing so. The difference with Islamic Jihad is that the latter is much smaller and supported by Iran and probably more difficult for Israel to infiltrate. So, according to most Israelis, the truce was no sign from the side of Hamas of a willingness to compromise, but a tactical decision aimed at strengthening themselves for a future confrontation. The fact that Hamas entered the political process would have been a landmark if they had abandoned the armed option. In a democracy, it cannot be that political parties carry their own arms.
To conclude, although there are some signs of pragmatism they don't point in the direction of accepting Israel's right to exist and of a willingness to negotiate in stead of fight.
Regarding Israel's refusal to talk to Hamas, some people refer to the PLO in the 1980's. It also refused to recognize Israel and to renounce terror. It also called for Israel's destruction in it's charter, and it was also viewed by Israel and the USA as a terrorist organization. Yet it changed and entered negotiations that filled many people with hope. For its part Israel understood that a solution to the conflict is not possible without negotiating with the Palestinians, with their representatives to be more precise. It is certainly possible that Hamas would change in a similar way, but that is something different from assuming it is making such a change right now, and that therefore Israel should treat it as such.
Israel decided to talk to the PLO after it recognized Israel and renounced terror. A difference with the PLO is that Hamas is an islamic fundamentalist organization, and it is difficult to make compromises if Allah or God is behind you. That is also why it is unlikely that the Jewish religious fanatics will ever change. An Israeli government led by the National Religious Party and Moshe Feiglin is as unlikely to be ever able to make peace with the Palestinians as the Hamas is to compromise with Israel. The land is theirs, as promised by God and written down in their holy books.
The comparison with the PLO in the 1980's reveals another problem: despite the optimism and hope of that time, the peace process failed and an important reason for that was the fact that the PLO's recognition of Israel and renouncing of terror were not sincere. Arafat continued making bellicose statements in Arabic and supported terror, at least during the second intifada. To say it cynically, one can doubt if it is so much better for Israel to have to deal with a wolf in sheep's clothing than with a plain one.
Some cynical commenters say that there will not be much of a difference with a Hamas run government in the territories, as Israel didn't view Abbas as a peace partner either, and refused to negotiate with him until he disarmed the terrorists, something he was unwilling and probably also unable to do. Moreover, that might be one of the reasons for Hamas' popularity: Fatah, the main party in the PLO, has accomplished little during 10 years of talking with Israel. The only real concession was the disengagement, and that was not carried out as a result of a negotiated settlement, but unilaterally, because Israel was no longer willing to take the deaths it suffered in Gaza. Among Palestinians it is widely believed to be due to Hamas' 'armed struggle', not Abbas willingness to compromise. According to these people Israel owes the Hamas victory to itself.
It is certainly true that Israel could have done more to strengthen Abbas, but people who blame Israel for the failure of the peace process forget that it was Arafat who refused to accept Clinton's bridging proposals in 2000, and that the second intifada was planned months before Sharon's visit to the temple Mount, and was actively supported by the PA (see Myth 4 & 5). Abbas was more sincere in achieving peace with Israel than Arafat, but it is very hard for Israel to make a deal with someone who says that he is too weak to keep it.Yet the new centrist Kadima party (the most popular party since it's creation in november according to all polls) announced that it was willing to resume talks with Abbas after the elections, and it even spoke about some devision of Jerusalem. The victory of Hamas might change Israeli positions however, and strengthen the right. All those people who talk about the need for Israel to strengthen Abbas, tend to forget that Israeli moderates also need to be able to show to the public that their approach of making compromises is better for the country than the hawkish position of the right. The second intifada decimated the Israeli peace movement. What will a Hamas victory and possible third intifada do to the rest of it?
Despite Hamas' extremist views on Israel, one cannot say that the Palestinians voted for it because of its bellicose stance towards Israel. Probably the main reasons were frustrations with their daily lives, for which they held Fatah responsible, and the latter's widespread corruption, whereas Hamas provided social services, education and healthcare to the needy. Hamas also had a better organized election campaign, whereas in Fatah there was a lot of rivalry and different candidates campaigning against each other. However, the rhetoric about 'martyrs dying for the Palestinian homeland' and 'the need to kill the evil Zionists' and so on is very popular within the Palestinian street. For too many Palestinians, all Israelis have horns and a tail.
I have already heard left-wing commentators explain that Israel must accept the democratic outcome of the Palestinian elections and be willing to negotiate with whoever emerges as the new Palestinian leadership. A Dutch socialist politician even said: "Hamas is willing to talk to Israel, if not the Palestinians wouldn't have elected them." It is not the first time that Europeans think to know what Israel should do and what is good for peace. I sometimes wish that these persons would be Israeli PM for just one month to find out that 'from there, things look different than from here', but I don't think that would be very good for Israel.
"I am a Jew, and that is the most important thing for me. Therefore when it comes to security Israel will not make any compromises."
These words, spoken in Sharon's last interview before he suffered his massive stroke, typify his view on Israel and peace very accurately. Joining the Haganah in 1942 at age 14, and being wounded in the 1948 war against the invading Arab armies, Sharon has spent most of his life defending Israel against its enemies, at first in the army and later in politics. He never trusted the Arab states and the Palestinians. He thought that the only way for Israel to survive is by being tough and aggressive, to convince the Arabs that there is no other option than to come to terms with the existence of Israel. He is known for his daring and decisiveness, as well as obstinacy and a great flexibility in choosing the means to achieve his aims. Some opponents and anti-Zionist criticasters claim that Sharon is bloodthirsty and driven by a hatred for the Arabs. This however is too simplistic. He is driven primarily by a conviction that the Arabs want to destroy Israel and nothing but force can keep them from doing this.
The title question is on the minds of many people, and Sharon is praised for the disengagement as much as he is loathed for his part in the massacre in Sabra and Shatila and for being 'the father of the settlement movement'. Critics say that Sharon didn't withdraw from Gaza out of love for the Palestinians and is not willing to offer them a viable state. His decision was indeed motivated by 'demographic' reasons (Israel cannot remain both democratic and Jewish if it rules over millions of Palestinians, and the population in the Gaza strip doubles about every generation), and security (how many soldiers should spend the best years of their life and risk being killed by defending 7000 settlers?). However, Sharon also referred to the "occupation" for the first time in public and said it is wrong to rule another people, and his decision to withdraw from Gaza was important and hopeful for peace. It was the first time that settlements were removed from Eretz Israel - the land of Israel, including the territories. The settler movement was convinced that the evacuation wouldn't take place in the end, and right wing politicians warned that the evacuation might lead to a civil war, but this didn't happen, and all went in a very orderly and well-organized manner. It was a major defeat for the settlers, and a victory for democracy, as a clear majority wanted to get rid of Gaza. The Kadima party that Sharon founded recently was another victory for democracy. While a majority of the Israeli public is fed up with the occupation, they are also highly skeptical of the Palestinians' will or ability to dismantle the terrorist organizations and make peace. Especially since Arafat refused the Barak and Clinton offers in 2000/2001, and the Intifada broke out instead, few Israelis trust the Palestinians anymore. Sharon's unilateral approach is the perfect translation of the Israeli wish to disengage from the Palestinians without having to negotiate with them. Although this approach emerged first in the Labor party (the fence/wall was their idea, and Sharon adapted it and changed the route so that it came to encompass the large settlement blocs), Sharon started carrying out this policy successfully.
It is not accurate to state that Sharon has become a man of peace. He has never been a dove, and it is doubtful, to say the least, whether, had the Palestinians fought the terror and delivered on their part of the Roadmap, he would have been willing to offer them something similar to Barak's Taba proposal, which meant a state in virtually all of the West Bank with some minor land swaps and division of Jerusalem. However, he has certainly changed his mind about the future of the territories. He has little confidence in the feasibility of a Palestinian state, but has come to recognize that it is not in Israel's interest to rule over another people who have national aspirations. Besides that, because of his strong security and military record, he is trusted by many people in the political center, to execute this disengagement without compromising Israel's security.
Sharon is not the first 'hawk' who made concessions to the Arabs: Begin gave up all of the Sinai to Egypt in return for peace. It was a much larger offer, and Israel got something in return, but in both cases land was returned to the Arabs and settlements were removed. In both cases this was done for strategic reasons and under pressure of the USA. Begin hoped to be able to keep all of the West Bank by giving up the Sinai. Sharon hoped to save at least the large settlement blocs and East Jerusalem by evacuating smaller and more isolated settlements. This aim does not change the fact of the evacuation however, and does not make future steps beyond Sharon's aims impossible. Some political opponents both on the right and the left allege on the contrary, that by setting the example of evacuating territories without a peace agreement, he has increased the possibility of future removals of more and larger settlements without getting anything in return.
It is probably also the settlers themselves who have helped make Sharon popular among part of the left, by their strong opposition to the Gaza evacuation, including death threats and obnoxious comparisons with the Judenrat. Shortly before his stroke I saw some of these accusations repeated on a right-wing website. It is difficult to say who hates him more: the settlers whom he had always supported, but whom he recently 'betrayed' by removing a few of them, with pain in his heart, because he deemed this in the interest of his - and their - country, or the Arabs against whom he has fought five wars and for whom he never felt much compassion. The latter certainly have more reason to hate him, albeit they should not forget it was mostly their own leaders who brought them into war with Israel, just as by instigating the second Intifada, Arafat himself helped bring Sharon to power.
Biography of Sharon:
On Friday 25 November, Israel returned the bodies of three Hezbollah terrorists who were killed earlier that week while they attempted to seize Israeli soldiers to trade them for Arabs jailed in Israel. Israel acceded to the request of the Lebanese government to return them to Lebanon to prevent further tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border. Haaretz wrote:
Security sources said they consider Lebanon's official request to be a positive development, and they hope it shows that the Lebanese government wishes to enforce its sovereignty in the south of the country where Hezbollah is dominant.
Lebanese minister Mohammed Jawad Khalife warned Israel to return the bodies to prevent Hezbollah to take it's own measures to get them back:
"It is known that the resistance will try to secure the return of the bodies one way or another, and this usually ends up in negotiations to trade them for the bodies of Israeli soldiers or for prisoners."
This is a bit strange, as the death of the Hezbollah fighters was a result of their attempt to kidnap Israeli soldiers. The leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, made it very clear that there will be no calm as far as Hezbollah is concerned:
Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrilla group said on Friday it had a duty to try to capture Israeli soldiers and swap them for Arab prisoners in Israel, hours after Israel returned the remains of three militants.
"It is not a shame, a crime or a terrorist act. It is our right and our duty which one day we might fulfil," he told thousands of supporters chanting 'death to Israel'.
It is probably asked a bit too much to expect that the Hezbollah would have reacted gratefully and reconciliatory, but one may ask what use it has to be nice to such people. People like Nasrallah hate Israel whatever it does, or does not, and will translate Israel's quick turnover of the bodies as a sign of weakness, not a reconciliatory gesture that has to be responded in kind. Of course, the turnover is meant as a gesture towards the Lebanese government in the first place, in the hope that it will act against Hezbollah. Analysts also claim that a border escalation between Israel and Lebanon would have been a welcome diversion for Syria, from the UN investigation into the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and especially Syria's role in it, and Syria's role in Lebanon in general. As Hezbollah is under strong influence of Syria, it is probable that the border raid earlier this week was carried out for this very reason, and that Syria somehow hoped that it would turn into major fights - pursuing its own interests over that of the Lebanese people, who would probably have been the main victims of such an escalation. This raises the question what Lebanon's interest is in keeping a state of enmity with Israel. There are no territorial disputes, although Hezbollah claims that Israel still 'occupies' the Sheba Farms, a tiny piece of land that Israel captured from Syria in the Six Day War but had been Lebanese before. The UN has officially announced that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanese territory was complete after it left the so called 'security zone' in the summer of 2000. Few people in Lebanon are bothered about the Sheba Farms anyway.
The main reasons Lebanon cannot or doesn't want to make peace with Israel are that it is not in Syria's interest, and the about 500.000 Palestinian refugees, who live under miserable circumstances in refugee camps. Denied Lebanese citizenship - because that would disturb the precarious ethnic-religious balance -, they are severely limited in finding jobs, good housing and other provisions. Besides that, or probably because of that, they demand to return to Israel with the aim of turning it into an Arab state, and they would probably make quite some trouble if there would be peace with Israel without being granted the 'right to return'.
This touches on the refugee problem in general, which is a major obstacle for peace between Israel and the Arab world. Although resolution 194 of 1949, which Arab states and the Palestinians refer to as proof for the 'right to return according to international law', calls for the possibility of refugees who want to do so, to return to Israel, this resolution doesn't call this an inherent and inalienable right. Moreover, this resolution referred to people who fled or were expelled one year earlier, not to people who have lived in other countries for 50 years and their descendants. From the over 4 million Palestinian refugees only a small number fled in 1948. But the most important objection to the 'right of return' is that it is incompatible with a two-state solution. For many people in the Arab world, including the Palestinians, the right of return is a deliberate means to destroy Israel and turn it into an Arab state. Some people view the refugees as a human tragedy and feel compassion for their fate, and think the right of return a way to do them justice in the end. However noble that is, these people should keep in mind that it was the Palestinians who started the war that caused their fled and expulsion. They started it because they didn't want to live in a Jewish state. However understandable this might be, it is also understandable that Israeli's don't want to take in hundreds of thousands of people that are hostile to their state (which, I fear, would lead to a terrible civil war). It is not only understandable, it is common sense and necessary for national survival.
With people who are moved by the pledge of the refugees it must be possible to find solutions that provide a decent life and future for the refugees without preventing a two-state solution. To the people who use the refugee issue with the political agenda of destroying Israel as a Jewish state, it should be made clear that they are not only hurting Israel, but also the Palestinians and their future.
Since two months I haven't written a blog, although I many times planned to do so, and even started some attempts. Someone asked me a while ago how it is possible to write every week a new blog about essentially the same subject: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a good question, and I find myself also posing another one. What use is it?
To answer the first one: there are plenty of occasions to voice my anger: Achmadinejads remarks on the destruction of Israel, the suicide bombing in Hadera and especially the fact that thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate this great success (something that for some reason didn't make it to the media in the Netherlands), the fact that Israel still hasn't removed the illegal outposts built since 2001 (how often did they promise to do so?) etc. etc. Another source are interesting articles that I like to discuss, and more seldom, little signs of peace and understanding like the fact that the parents of a Palestinian child who was killed by mistake by the IDF, decided to donate his organs to Israeli children. There have been such initiatives from both sides in the past, and they should be an example of hope and inspiration for everybody who feels involved in this often so depressing and insoluble conflict.
So the reason I didn't write is not that I had no inspiration or nothing happened to comment on. It is a new website I have been working on, together with others, about, yes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Amazing as it is, we thought there is something new to say, at least in Dutch, and there is information that needs to make it to a larger audience. There are so many myths to be revealed and untruths to be exposed. And we want to help good articles and good websites to get more attention. In time, there will be more English content added. The website is called Israël-Palestina Informatie. You are welcome to bring interesting articles, blogs or websites to our attention.