Al Jazeera English has once again demonstrated that it is an indispensable resource for reporting and analysis on international politics. I finally had the chance today to watch this episode of Empire with the network’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara, talking to Rob Malley of International Crisis Group, PLO official Nabil Shaath, and realist international relations professor and Israel lobby chronicler John Mearsheimer.
There are some smart remarks here from Malley. Shaath, who comes out sounding sad and compromised, demonstrates that of the PLO leadership, he is one of the figures who understands the bigger picture vis-a-vis the importance of popular struggle.
But then Mearsheimer comes out shooting bullets. Showing that he is a true realist, he says the current talks are a charade, that Israel won’t give up the West Bank, and that the most likely scenario is one state – Israel – with Bantustans for the Palestinians in Gaza and pieces of the West Bank.
Some thoughts on last night’s deadly shooing attack in Hebron: The four Israeli settlers who were killed were civilians, noncombatants, and therefore their murder is to be condemned.
But I want to talk analytically about the attack:
- Hamas’ armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades claimed responsibility. The Israeli military also blamed Hamas. I see no reason to doubt at this point that members of Hamas were behind the attack.
- But as Ali Abunimah pointed out on Democracy Now this morning, the attack was likely indicative of divisions within Hamas.
- Some are asking why, if their aim was to disrupt the negotiations in Washington, did Hamas carry out a dramatic and divisive attack such as this? That question is misleading because of the massive structural and procedural problems with the current talks. The talks will either collapse, or result in an impasse, on their own. As Hamas official Osama Hamdan put it yesterday, speaking on Al-Jazeera: “There is no need to do something like this to sabotage these negotiations, because Netanyahu [already] has.”
- The geography is important here. The attack took place in an area under full Israeli military control, not the control of the Palestinian Authority. I think this is notable because the Israeli-controlled areas around Hebron are some of the only places in the West Bank where Hamas as an organization has not already been obliterated or driven underground by the PA.
- Inevitably, however, the PA has come under pressure to clamp down on Hamas, and has launched a massive campaign of arrests against the group. This often happens following armed attacks against Israelis in the West Bank. It did following the December 2009 shooting death of a settler near Nablus.
- As Ehud Barak already vowed, Israel will retaliate, probably in Hebron or Nablus or Gaza. And when that happens, and Palestinians inevitably die, what will become of the peace negotiations? What happens if settlers take matters into their own hands, as indeed they have already begun to do?
Hamas’ aim here is to demonstrate that they are still the relevant combatant party in the Israel-Palestine conflict at this stage. The Palestinian Authority is not at war with Israel. Hamas is. And that is why they must be included in the negotiations process. I’ll quote again from my recent interview with Ambassador Charles Freeman:
The question is ‘do you want peace?’ If you want peace you have to talk with the people who can make peace. If you want peace you have to talk with the people who can make peace. Hamas at one point enjoyed and may still enjoy a majority among Palestinians, and is in effective control of Gaza. It therefore has the legitimacy to sign an agreement. It has the discipline to enforce an agreement as it has repeatedly demonstrated with truces with Israel over the years.
It may be disagreeable from many points of view, but there’s another factor that has to be taken into account. No agreement that does not have Hamas’ imprimatur can survive. Hamas has the capacity to wreck any agreement that excludes it. And therefore it must be in the agreement. If you’re interested in peace you must talk to Hamas.
There’s hardly anything unusual about that. If there is a problem, whether on the private level or between nations or between peoples the only way to solve it and reach an accommodation is by talking to people who disagree with you. So the entire premise that Hamas should come up with it’s hands up and sign on to various Israeli demands for recognition of right of existence, whatever that is, and so forth, is a ploy intended to prevent any serious negotiations.
The effort to split the Palestinians and destroy the possibility of any unified Palestinian national government or national movement has a similar purpose. It’s part of a long-term effort to avoid a serious negotiation, so that instead of trading land for peace, land can be obtained without dealing with the difficult issues that have to be dealt with to produce peace. So Hamas must be spoken to just as the PLO had to be spoken to produce Oslo and whatever progress that represented.
Further reading: Richard Silverstein has more angry analysis. Paul Woodward also has an interesting take.
The big Israel-Palestine news this week is week was the announcement that direct negotiations will resume the first week of September.
The only thing I can see that’s different about the negotiations this time around is that almost everyone, including the negotiating parties themselves, expects failure.
Even Ethan Bronner, reporting for The New York Times in an analysis piece that appeared in Saturday’s paper, quotes a variety of sources, most of them Israeli, casting doubt on the chances of success. Phil Weiss noticed that Bronner managed to slip into the piece the acknowledgement that the two-state solution may be finished.
Also, Steve Walt says, ‘don’t believe the hype.’