We Must Engage Hamas

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The international isolation of Hamas has failed. This is not merely the opinion of those who believe that the democratically elected Palestinian Government should be engaged, but includes a number of prominent Israelis, including Yossi Alpher, the former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Life in Gaza, suffering under an economic and military blockade, remains tough. Security has largely been restored due to Hamas security services, although some Gazans complain of a loss of individual rights, press freedom and women’s mobility. Hamas-controlled media continues to broadcast incitement against Jews.

Despite these challenges, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal reiterated last week his group’s commitment to a two-state solution and the need for the establishment of a sovereign state within the 1967 borders. His call was ignored throughout the world. Even the New York Times recently intimated that forever shunning Hamas was counter-productive.

The Western media has essentially followed a narrative about the conflict from a White House that dismisses Hamas and embraces the weak Fatah President Mahmoud Abbas. Even hard evidence that proved a US-planned coup against Hamas, finally given extensive coverage in a recent Vanity Fair article, was largely ignored. Attempting to oust an Islamist party is seemingly acceptable to Western policymakers and the elite commentariat.

The profound delusions of this position should be clear to anybody who understands the realities of the Middle East today. Islamism is a fact of life for many citizens across the region. It cannot be easily dismissed or ignored. It is generally not represented by al-Qaeda and can be engaged, if not endorsed. Daniel Levy, an adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, wrote an essay recently in Prospect that outlined the challenges facing the next US President. He argues that governments, journalists or activists who "lump all Islamists together [are]politically and intellectually lazy and dishonest [and help]al-Qaeda to portray America as anti-Muslim."

Levy advocates for a fundamental re-writing of the "war on terror" paradigm:

"Contrary to popular misperception, Hamas and al-Qaeda are adversaries, not allies. Hamas is about ending the occupation and reforming Palestinian society; al-Qaeda, about opposing the West per se and spreading chaos in the Muslim world and beyond. One is reformist, the other revolutionary; one nationalist, the other post-nationalist; one grievance-based, the other fundamentalist. Hamas has signalled that it will accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It can be worked with, albeit indirectly for political reasons. Under a new administration, US policy toward Hamas should enter a period of deniable ambiguity, as third parties (principally Arab and European) explore a series of propositions with the Hamas leadership."

Tragically, the Israeli leadership shows no signs of moderating its stance, not helped by a global Zionist community that only urges the Jewish state to pursue hardline positions. Israeli officials announced last week the building of 1400 more settlements in occupied territory and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is reportedly likely to give the green light for hundreds more homes in the West Bank.

Peace Now announced last week that Israel’s supposed settlement freeze since the November Annapolis conference was "dead", revealing 101 examples of settlement construction since December. As journalist Jonathan Cook argues in his new book, Israel and the Clash of Civilisations, Israel’s leadership has never wanted peace with its neighbours, merely control over its land and resources. The future, according to a former commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade in Jenin, is a civil war between Hamas and Fatah for control of the West Bank.

Leading US Jewish newspaper Forward – which bravely published an article last week by the political bureau chief of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood – editorialised that the ever growing settlement expansion is threatening Israel’s future existence:

"At this moment in history… new construction in the settlements, whatever its moral valence, is foolish and self-destructive. Israel’s political and defence leaders see their country’s survival as dependent on separating from the Palestinians by withdrawing from the West Bank. If that doesn’t happen soon, Israel is, as Olmert said recently, ‘finished’."

A recent BBC World Service global poll found Israel only marginally more popular than Iran. There has even been an increase of negative views in the US. Intriguingly, however, Israel is not a top priority for the majority of Jewish American voters in the forthcoming election.

While most of the Western media pontificates on the likely presidential nominees and the bowling skills of Barack Obama, subtle but important shifts are occurring within the Zionist establishment. Virtually ignored is Hillary Clinton’s plan to maintain an "undivided" Jerusalem, making any two-state solution impossible before negotiations have even begun.

More interesting are fears that Obama is secretly pro-Palestinian, paranoia assisted by photo evidence that he attended a keynote address in 1998 with now deceased Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. It is a source of concern within the Zionist community that a person of potential even-handedness towards Israel/Palestine could even aspire to the presidency. However, Noam Chomsky has rightly said that he sees no evidence that Obama would be more "responsive to public pressure" on matters of national importance than previous leaders.

The level of Western delusion towards the conflict is revealed on a daily basis. A leading Israeli Rabbi said recently, in response to the massacre at a Jerusalem rabbinical seminary in March, that, "even when we seek revenge, it is important to make one thing clear – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs". His vicious racism is rampant throughout the settler movement, making the reality of a two-state solution impossible. But the world never condemns such comments, reserving its bile for Muslim clerics who denounce Western-led violence.

With Israel’s 60th anniversary rapidly approaching, now is the time for the international community not to follow the lead of our "passionately pro-Israel" Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who recently callously praised the 1948 birth of the Jewish nation. Many Israeli Arabs rightly plan to boycott any celebrations becasue they don’t want to celebrate a racially exclusionary state (something which is now even acknowledged by the world’s leading Jewish news agency, JTA).

Many Jews share their disgust and now openly engage in debate about Israel’s possible, future demise.

Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, a long-time critic of the Jewish state, last week told an American audience that Israel is obsessed with the Holocaust, needs to separate church and state and must find a new purpose beyond Zionism, since aliyah – Jewish immigration to Israel – has effectively ended.

When was the last time such discussions were held in the "respectable" mainstream?

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