Thursday, April 13, 2006

Alastair Crooke writes about Hamas in Prospect Magazine

This post, from the current edition of Prospect, was sent, with thanks, by Alastair.

William comments: This is important... though controversial in its way.

Recognizing Israel

Alastair Crooke*

On the face of it, the Hamas refusal to recognize Israel seems singularly perverse; plainly Israel “exists”! Tel Aviv is a large modern city that shows no sign of any imminent slide into the sea. To us in the West, this posture has the flavour of an ideological backwardness which we often associate with Islamist movements whom we find curiously at odds with modern reality. Hamas however is neither stuck in the past nor unable “to do politics” – as the Americans might say. What they are doing in dramatic fashion is to put a finger on a key failure of the Israeli – Palestinian political process since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 – which is the singular omission of any clear outline of Palestinian rights. Hamas is correct: the starting point for any next steps, whether political or in terms of an extended armistice, needs this prior commitment.

What Hamas is saying in refusing to recognize Israel is that whilst the West understands, and indeed feels, the narrative of the Jews; there has been no concomitant recognition of the Palestinian narrative of injustice that they feel in respect to the events of 1948 when villages and houses were destroyed, many were killed and thousands fled to the refugee camps where those who survive still remain. I met one of those in Sabra and Shatila camp in Lebanon at the end of last month. This proud woman still retained her father’s seal of office as mayor of his village from the time of the founding of Israel and an unredeemed account owed by the British mandate authorities for £68 – a considerable debt at that time.

Hamas are suggesting that recognition of this Palestinian narrative should take the form of an affirmation of the Palestinian rights to a State that should indicate its basis as Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian lands conquered in 1967.

It may surprise readers that this is not already the case: We recognize and repeat frequently the right of Israel to a State within secure borders, and it might seem obvious that we have outlined Palestinian rights to a State shaped on the basis of the lines of ’67 or the armistice lines of ’49 which are almost identical in the Palestinian context. In fact we have not. UN resolution 242 refers to withdrawal from lands conquered in ’67. Israel put much effort into lobbying to have the word “the” dropped from the sentence “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from (the) territories occupied in the recent conflict”. Israel interprets this to mean that the amount of land from which they withdraw is for them to decide in any negotiations with the Palestinians.

Bill Clinton, at the time of the last Camp David talks in 2000 came close to setting out signposts for the destination of talks when he outlined his 10 point plan. His initiative however never took substance. Similarly, when Clinton asked Senator Mitchell to report on the causes of the Intifada, we (I was a staff member) were forbidden by the incoming US Administration to signpost the likely shape of a Palestinian State. Over simplified, the Mitchell Report outlined three components to a solution: de-escalate the violence, build confidence and start talking. The fourth chapter, “..and talk about what?” which was the obvious sequel, was denied to us. I recall the US official, Flynt Leverett who drafted the “Roadmap” before it was adopted by the international Quartet of the US, the UN, the EU and Russia told me that he had made explicit reference in the first drafts to a Palestinian State on the basis of the lands occupied in ’67 with Jerusalem as its capital; but twice this reference was removed on instructions from above. Leverett has emphasised that the widely held view that the Roadmap would lead to a Palestinian State on the lines of ‘67 has no basis in terms of the wording of the document. None of these efforts, of course, were intended to go beyond setting broad parameters of a State, whilst leaving the details to be settled between the parties.

Hamas is asking for this omission to be rectified. In asymmetrical negotiations between parties of such different political weight and military strength, it is not surprising that the party with almost no cards to play wants to know what is on the table before they begin to show their hand. If this is done, Hamas has said that it is able to deal with reality of Israel in the course of this process. Indeed reality would be hard to ignore given that Hamas wants an armistice to be fully negotiated to include, borders, customs, passage and overflights inter alia!

Is “recognizing reality” then a short-changing of Israel’s longstanding quest for legitimacy? In one sense it is: It is unlikely that Hamas would ever undertake to say that what happened to Palestinians in ’48 as a result of events that happened earlier in Europe was in some way right or legitimate. They cannot; but the wording does suggest the solution: No observant Jew can deny God’s gift of all the Promised Land to the Jewish people. Jews manage this by dividing time into redeemed time and unredeemed time. In redeemed time, God’s promise will be fulfilled. In unredeemed time, we have to deal with reality, and make compromises. Similarly no observant Muslim can deny the Waqf, the endowment of Arab lands dedicated to Islam, of which Palestine is a part. Thus Hamas can accept reality, but it cannot say that Israel, and the way in which it came into being is somehow “legitimate”.

The solution to resolving the recognition issue, and, incidentally, to putting the political process on the sound footing that it never had, is – as Hamas says – an affirmation of the parameters of the State to which Palestinians have the right to aspire.

This should not be impossible obstacle to anyone with the courage to give a lead. President Bush in his speech of 26 May 2005 in the Rose Garden at the White House said that the Armistice line of ’49 should be the basis of talks, and that any change to it can only come about by mutual agreement between the parties. He explicitly indicated to that Jerusalem was to be a part of any arrangement.

Of course the Administration as usual muddied the waters of this statement by providing side letters in a contrary vein to Mr Sharon on settlements, and by repeated references to the Roadmap which provides for a Palestinian State initially on provisional borders. But why not pocket Bush’s statement? Why should Europe not take the lead on this issue? It is Europe that recently has been bearing the brunt of Muslim anger in the Region. It is Europe that has 20 million Muslims living here. It is our neighbourhood: someone needs to break the mould – Hamas is right not to recognize reality - until Europe recognizes the reality too of needing to correct this omission by outlining what is a future Palestinian State.

* Alastair Crooke is director of Conflicts Forum ( He was formerly an European Union mediator who negotiated with Hamas and other Palestinian factions. He has just returned from holding a further round of talks with Hamas in the light of their election win

1 comment:

William said...

The key point in many ways - is who is up a creek without a paddle over Hamas' failure to recognise Israel? Answer: The Western World for whom this represents a major setback. Hamas themselves have little to loose - they will not be blamed by the Palestinian street for the withdrawal of Western funding.