The Middle East Road Map is stalled even before it has really begun, over the one issue which the Israeli government maintains has to precede all others: the disarming of Palestinian militant factions by the PA. (This Likud spin on how the Road Map should be implemented is actually false: there are no preconditions that one side must fulfill before the other is obliged to reciprocate. As I’ve blogged in an earlier entry, both sides are in fact supposed to carry out their Phase One obligations in parallel and simultaneously).
At the Aqaba summit of 5 June 2003, President Bush acknowledged in a meeting with (then) Palestinian PM Abu Mazen and (then) Palestinian Security Minister Mohammed Dahlan, that the PA’s security services had been effectively destroyed by the Israeli reoccupation of the Palestinian cities in March-April 2002, and would not be able to meet their security obligations under the Road Map without American assistance and Israeli cooperation. In recognition of this reality, one of the US Administration’s two main Road Map commitments was to provide CIA assistance in retraining the shattered Palestinian security services, restructuring them under a single unified command structure, and coordinating their activities with the Jordanian and Egyptian security services (both of which combat Islamist influence in their own societies with the training and support of the CIA).
It was anticipated that it would cost up to $300M and take up to two years of rebuilding to create a PA security system that could take on Hamas with a reasonable expectation of success. Unfortunately, with the cakewalk in Iraq demanding more attention than anticipated, the US failed to implement any of its commitments to rebuild the PA security services and shifted towards Israel’s “the Palestinians have to go first” position as a way of evading responsibility for the universal lack of progress on the Road Map.
Now, as we enter a Presidential election campaign in which there are no votes to be lost in blaming Arafat for holding up the peace process, the US Administration has very little to say about rebuilding PA capabilities. US officials are publicly parroting the Sharon line that nothing can happen in the peace process until Arafat confronts militants that they privately know are probably stronger than he is. “First they have to dismantle the infrastructure of terror” has conveniently become conventional wisdom in the US public perception of the Road Map.
In his recent paper, "Resolving the Peace Process Paradox", Alistair Crooke turned this logic on its head and argued that the way to achieve a long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not by waging war on Hamas, but by harnessing its support for a negotiated peace. Crooke, the former security adviser to Javier Solana (the EU Head of Foreign and Security Policy), spent much of the last two years mediating with military leaders in the territories, and is convinced that the Palestinian Islamists are strong enough to ensure that any peace process that offers them only the options preferred by the US and Israel – ie surrender or die - will never succeed. He maintains that we should not be dismissive of the PA’s attempts to draw Hamas into the political process by means of hudna (ie an extended ceasefire, in which no attacks - and no preparations for new attacks when the ceasefire expires - are carried out). The concept of hudna is deeply rooted in the Islamic approach to conflict resolution, and provides a vehicle by which Hamas can step back, without losing face, from its stated aspiration of liberating all of Palestine via military struggle. Crooke is convinced that in return for a re-establishment of the 1967 borders, Hamas could accept a comprehensive, independently-monitored, long-term hudna that could last between 20-50 years and result in a transformed relationship between the warring parties.
Crooke’s optimism about Hamas' willingness to accept Land for Peace sounds somewhat misplaced when you read how the Palestinian rejectionist groups define their goals in their own party platforms:
1. Hamas was formed in 1987 with the objective of destroying the Zionist entity that occupies Palestine, and establishing Palestine from the sea to the river based on Islamic principles.
(From the Manifesto of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas)
2. The only purpose of the PIJ is to destroy Israel and to end all Western influence in the region regardless of the cost to the inhabitants. The Manifesto rejects any peaceful solution to the Palestinian cause, and affirms the Jihad solution and the martyrdom style as the only choice for liberation.
(From the alleged manifesto of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, presented as evidence by the US government in the trial of Sami al-Arian).
3. The PFLP is a progressive vanguard organisation of the Palestinian working class, with the stated aim of liberating all of Palestine and establishing a democratic socialist Palestinian state.
(From the manifesto of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine).
Apparently, not much room for compromise there. However, as recently as 9 January 2004, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (Hamas’ supreme head and leader of its more moderate wing) confirmed Crooke’s assessment that there was a different, pragmatic political position behind Hamas’ religious rhetoric, when he suggested that in return for an open-ended ceasefire his group could accept a Palestinian state limited to the Occupied Territories. And, in an in-depth report for The Guardian, Seumas Milne interviewed the leaders of the Palestinian rejectionist movements, and was surprised by the attitude of Hamas and Islamic Jihad towards the prospect of a two-state settlement of the conflict:
Both groups are usually regarded as beyond the political pale outside the Muslim world, not only because of their use of suicide bombers, but also because of their long-term goal of establishing Islamist rule in the whole of historic Palestine. Unlike the secular resistance, it is often assumed, the Islamists will never accept peace with Israel. What emerges from any discussion which goes beyond slogans and soundbites, however, is something different - and potentially crucial to any settlement of the conflict. In practical terms, it becomes clear, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now committed to ending their armed campaign in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967: the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
In carefully hedged language, Abdulaziz Rantissi (leader of Hamas’ more extreme wing) explained to Milne:
From a religious point of view, we can't give up our land. But we are ready to accept a temporary solution that does not confiscate Palestinian rights: the occupier should withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in exchange for a ceasefire that should be seen in terms of years.
Similarly, Nafiz Azzam of Islamic Jihad assured Milne:
We may accept a Palestinian state with full jurisdiction in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, with full Palestinian security and without Israeli settlements. That is the realistic situation. We may accept it temporarily, even though our belief is that historic Palestine is our right...We don't know how long this temporary solution might be. But if it comes about, many things might change in the whole region.
The Islamists' carefully-worded accommodation to the goal of a Palestinian state in the 1967 territories is echoed even more strongly by secular rejectionist groups like the Marxist PFLP. Jamil Majdalawi, PFLP leader in Gaza, explains:
A democratic state for all in the whole of Palestine is a hope for history, but we don't regard it as a realistic proposal now. The confrontation now is about the area of the Palestinian state, its sovereignty and borders.
Milne came away from his interviews with the conclusion that every significant Palestinian political and armed force is, for the first time, now prepared to accept a de facto end to conflict in return for a fully independent state on only 22% of pre-1948 Palestine.
The Israeli government's reaction to Hamas’ talk of peace through a long-term ceasefire, has been positively dismissive, treating the ceasefire proposal as a ploy that Hamas could revoke at any time. But Henry Siegman, Senior Fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, questions whether by adopting this attitude Israel might be missing an essential point. Like Alistair Crooke, he thinks that the long-term hudna is a vehicle that Hamas is trying to use in order to moderate its political goals without losing face.
It is very difficult for a religious fundamentalist group, that has claimed divine sanction for its aims, to simply change those aims. What would this mean? That God changed his mind about what he wanted? One way around the problem of changing political goals that are supposedly based on the will of an immutable God, is to relegate their fulfillment to an unspecified future, and it seems to Siegman that this is exactly what Hamas is doing. The group still claims that the will of God is for all Palestine to be “liberated”, but it assigns the full implementation of God’s will to some unspecified future time, thus saving face as it accepts the two state solution as a pragmatic, achievable political goal.
Siegman explains that treating this change in Hamas policy as a tactical ploy ignores not only the unique religious context within which Hamas operates but the essential nature of all religious cultures that claim divine sanction for their beliefs. For Hamas to abandon what it has maintained is a divinely ordained obligation to recover all of Palestine is to bring into question its very identity, which it defines as its obedience to God's immutable will. It must therefore resort to theological fictions, i.e., relegating this obligation to future history, in order to be able to claim it has not compromised its orthodoxy.
This way of reconciling contradictions that often exist between the requirements of orthodox religious doctrine believed to be divinely ordained, and therefore unchangeable, and the exigencies of contemporary life is entirely familiar to practically all religious systems based on fidelity to a divinely revealed scripture, literally understood. For example, Orthodox Judaism affirms that the sacrificial rites (the slaughtering of animals and the ritual sprinkling of their blood) performed by the ancient Israelites in the Jerusalem temple are divinely ordained. In order to deal with the conflict aroused between a return to such a mode of religious worship, for which Orthodox Jews pray daily, and changing cultural sensibilities, Orthodox Judaism, not unlike the Islamic Hamas, has postponed a return to the rite of animal sacrifices to future history and messianic times.
Perhaps Siegman is being hopelessly naïve here, in trying to distinguish between religious rhetoric and political reality. Maybe the Israeli government is right that some extremist organizations really are beyond the pale, and violent confrontation is the only way to effectively counter movements like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the PFLP, who campaign on party platforms that, as we have already suggested, deny Israel’s very right to exist. A few more examples of their uncompromising language:
1. Only the Quran can serve as a foundation for life in Palestine, because the Quran is the foundation for all Palestinian life...There will only be one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea - the State of Palestine. No independent national Jewish entity will exist within the limits of the Land of Palestine. No part of Palestine will be given over to a foreign government or authority.
2. [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] absolutely rejects the idea of a Jewish state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on ideological, historic and security grounds; it views the emigration of the existing Jewish population as the only sustainable solution to the crisis in the Middle East.
3. The PFLP flatly rejects the establishment of a Zionist Jewish state west of the Jordan river. The Jews can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Palestinian existence, Palestinian security and Palestinian national needs.
How can we expect Israel to even negotiate with people who say such things? Obviously force is the only thing they understand, isn't it?
Well, no. Because I cheated. Those quotes aren’t from the manifesto of any Palestinian political party. Apart from replacing "Palestinian" with "Jewish", "Israel" with "Palestine", "Torah" with "Quran", and "Government of Israel" with "PFLP", I lifted all those quotes directly from the election platforms of Israeli parties currently serving in the Sharon government. The real quotes are:
1. Only the Torah can serve as a foundation for Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael, because the Torah is the foundation for all Jewish life…There will only be one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea - the State of Israel. No independent national Arab entity will exist within the limits of the Land of Israel. No part of Israel will be given over to a foreign government of authority.
(From the manifesto of the National Religious Party/Mafdal, which holds two seats in the Israeli cabinet).
2. [The National Union] Absolutely rejects the idea of a Palestinian state between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on ideological, historic and security grounds. Views the voluntary transfer of the Palestinian population to neighboring Arab countries (particularly Jordan with its 60% majority Palestinian population) as the only sustainable solution to the crisis in the Middle East.
(From the manifesto of the National Union/Israel Beteinu, which holds two seats in the Israeli cabinet).
3. The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel's existence, security and national needs.
(From the “Peace and Security” chapter of the Likud party platform. The Likud is the dominant party in the current governing coalition, holding 15 cabinet seats).
These are the official positions of the members of an Israeli government that is our close friend and ally, and that is allegedly committed to implementing the Road Map to a two state solution. If we have the sophistication to recognize Israeli rejectionism for the political posturing and religious rhetoric that it hopefully is, why is that beyond us when we encounter the same phenomenon among the Palestinians?