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Talks With Hamas
M.J. Rosenberg, a Jewish liberal writer, has a decent piece at TPM Café. He is one of few in the U.S. who rightly tracks the creation of Hamas back to rightwing Israeli powers: It was in 1978 when the government of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin indirect
Friday, June 15,2007 00:00
by Bernhard

M.J. Rosenberg, a Jewish liberal writer, has a decent piece at TPM Café. He is one of few in the U.S. who rightly tracks the creation of Hamas back to rightwing Israeli powers:

It was in 1978 when the government of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin indirectly assisted the start-up of a "humanitarian" organization known as the Islamic Association, or Mujama. The roots of this Islamist group were in the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, and it soon was flush with funding and political support. The right-wing strategists devised the theory of creating Hamas as an alternative to Fatah because they believed that Muslim Brotherhood types would devote themselves to charity and religious study and passively accept the occupation. They certainly would never put Israel on the spot by offering to negotiate.
The pro-Hamas tilt accelerated in 1988 when Yasir Arafat himself announced that he favored the two-state solution and that previous PLO demands that Israel be replaced by Palestine were, in his words “caduq” (inoperative).

But when Hamas gained power nobody would talk to them just like nobody seriously talked with Abbas. The Israeli right is simply hellbent to avoid any real talk about a Palestinian state.

The name of their game was, is, and always will be making sure that Israel has “no partner” with whom to negotiate.

One can certainly argue that the right has achieved that aim.

But now the scenario has changed a bit. Hamas controls Gaza and as it is quite disciplined, it will be much harder to undermine than Fatah and it is much stronger.

The U.S. rushes to do what some have urged it to do all along. According to Haaretz:

[T]he United States said Thursday that the Bush administration will now work to prevent the violence from spilling over to the West Bank. To achieve that, Israel may be urged to make concessions in the West Bank, since the United States aims to accelerate the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to allow Abbas to chalk up some political achievements.

In addition to asking Israel to free the tax funds, Washington is also expected to urge Israel to reconsider loosening its military grip on the West Bank.
The American administration is also interested in improving living conditions in the West Bank to demonstrate to the Palestinians that they are better off under Fatah than Hamas.

This would probably have had some effect three years ago, but it is too late now. In the view of the Palestinian people Fatah has disqualified itself. In addition to be corrupt and hapless administrators, Fatah has lost face when it accepted U.S. help for the internal political fight against Hamas. Even the very right Jerusalem Post acknowledges such:

BY OPENLY embracing Abbas and Fatah, Washington has caused them grave damage. The weapons and funds that were supposed to boost Fatah ahead of a confrontation with Hamas have only increased Hamas’s popularity on the streets of the Gaza Strip. The public support for Fatah made Abbas and Muhammed Dahlan look, in the eyes of many Palestinians, like Antoine Lahad, the former commander of the pro-Israeli South Lebanon Army. And when a Palestinian sees that the Americans are trying to bring down his democratically-elected government, his sympathies go straight to the government and not to those allegedly involved in the conspiracy.

Now engaging Fatah is fruitless. Besides that, Israel and the U.S. Congress will continue to undermine any real progress for Abbas to claim. This sham will thereby further discredit him.

One big danger now is that some rightwingers will try again what has failed before - to create a new more radical religious force to undermine Hamas. But as the recent history in Lebanon shows, a radical Salafist force, in Lebanon created with U.S. help to fight Hizbullah, may immediately start working on its own agenda.

Another big danger is that the Palestinian Authority, the government in the West Bank and Gaza,  may fail. Abbas today fired the Hamas let cabinet, an illegal move, and announced a new one putting the "independent" pro-"western" World Bank and IMF functionary Salam Fayyad up as Prime Minister. This may for now get him some applause from Washington, but it will certainly not help to keep national unity.

As Ghaith al-Omari, a former adviser to the Palestinian President warns on PBS:

However, what could happen, though, is that pressure might become so much that the whole Palestinian Authority might collapse. This is my biggest concern, because if that happens, we’ll no longer see this kind of identifiable violence between Hamas and Fatah. We will see the complete disintegration, where street gangs, where clans, where all of these small groups will start fighting, the kind of situation that will allow for al-Qaida to infiltrate, that will create a much more difficult situation than we have right now.

Mark Perry of Conflicts Forum agrees:

Hamas is really a moderate organization. We don’t look at an Islamist group as a moderate organization, but if Gaza and the West Bank descend into chaos, we’re not going to get Fatah replacing Hamas. We’re going to get al-Qaida.

The rational alternative is to talk to Hamas. Perry again:

It’s time to start talking with Islamist moderate groups, no matter how distasteful we think about it. We have to start recognizing legitimate Islamist groups that win elections. Hamas won an election.

And al-Omari, himself a Fatah man:

[Hamas] represent a constituency. It would be ridiculous to push them aside. They have to be engaged, again, within certain principles. They have to be pushed. They have to be pressured. However, they have to be engaged. If we push them away, we will get violence.

This is what happened. They were not allowed to govern, they resorted to violence. The only way that we can have stability is if we talk to them.

So these experts agree that the best thing to do is to talk to Hamas and to let them govern.

But as this is the best to do now, it is almost guaranteed that nobody will do it. The rightwingers will again make sure no steps will be taken that may lead to a real partner for negotiations. They are screaming that evil Iran or Syria is giving weapons to Hamas (look at a map and tell me just how that could ever happen) and sensationalize its very moderate Islamic character as "radical".

There currently seems to be no real concern that what happened in Gaza can repeat in the West Bank. Sure Fatah has more fighters there than Hamas, but that was also the case in Gaza. A disorganized and corrupt force will simply dissolve when confronted.

I do expect a Hamas takeover in the West Bank to take place within the next few month. If that happens as fast and relatively bloodless as in Gaza, a breakdown of the government can be avoided. Then, for lack of any alternative, someone will have to talk to them.

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