Friday, January 27

Quodlibetal Question: Is Hamas's democratic victory a positive or negative development in the Palestinian Question?

After yesterday's careful explanation of why I no longer permit comments, I have reconsidered my position. To mix things up a little (and to spare myself some thinking and writing), I have decided to occasionally post something and invite comments. I don't expect that too many people will comment, at least not at first, but if anyone does, they have that option.

I've enabled the word-recognition feature to eliminate spam to my email account and I will delete or edit comments that I, in my sole discretion, consider unduly uncivil, use unnecessary profanity, or otherwise violate the Westminster code of conduct (i.e., no accusations of lying or of being drunk, however justified they may be).

The first such topic is the election of Hamas as the new leading party in the Palestinian Authority. The stimulus for the question is Oxford University (St. Antony's College) Professor Emanuele Ottolenghi's reaction to the election of Hamas as the new party of power in the Palestinian Authority. Specifically, his opinion that:

Contrary to initial responses, Hamas’s projected victory [Update: they won 76 of 132 seats and have been asked to form the new government] in the Palestinian parliamentary elections is a positive development. Not, as its apologists claim, because the proximity of power will favor a process of cooptation into parliamentary politics, and therefore strengthen the pragmatic wing of Hamas. There is no pragmatic wing in Hamas . . .

As the government of the Palestinian Authority, now they will have to say whether they accept the roadmap.

They will have to take control over security and decide whether they use it to uphold the roadmap or to wage war.

There will be no excuses or ambiguities when Hamas fires rockets on Israel and launches suicide attacks against civilian targets. Until Tuesday, the PA could hide behind the excuse that they were not directly responsible and they could not rein in the "militants." Now the "militants" are the militia of the ruling party. They are one and the same with the Palestinian Authority. If they bomb Israel from Gaza — not under occupation anymore, and is therefore, technically, part of the Palestinian state the PLO proclaimed in Algiers in 1988, but never bothered to take responsibility for — that is an act of war, which can be responded to in kind, under the full cover of the internationally recognized right of self-defense. No more excuses that the Palestinians live under occupation, that the PA is too weak to disarm Hamas, that violence is not the policy of the PA. Hamas and the PA will be the same: What Hamas does is what the PA will stand for. . . .

The issue is not whether Europe, the U.S., or Israel should talk to Hamas. The issue is whether there is anything to talk about with Hamas, and the burden of proof is on Hamas to demonstrate they are capable of becoming interlocutors. If Hamas meets the true test, namely accepting the road map, renouncing violence, disarming its own terror network, recognizing Israel and embracing the two-state solution, then no obstacle should remain for a dialogue with Hamas. Otherwise, they can taste Israeli steel, courtesy of the U.S. and the full backing of the EU of Israel’s right to defend itself.

Quodlibet: Is Hamas's democratic victory a positive or negative development in the Palestinian Question?

Two possible scenarios are described in this BBC piece today.

I will begin with the broad comment that Fatah's concession is itself remarkable. When was the last time that a political party in a Muslim Middle-Eastern state (I am tempted to say any Arab state) voluntarily relinquished power in response to a democratic election? I can't think of one. This could never have happened under Arafat's reign of terror. If the will of the people can be established as the new source of political legitimacy in the Palestinian Authority, then the move from Arafat's Fatah to Mazen's Fatah and now to Hamas (assuming they are now obligated to abide by the principles that brought them to power--a questionable assumption, I know) can be seen as a great leap forward on formal, if not substantive, grounds. Though this abstract development is likely to be overshadowed by the more immediate concerns of war and peace, it should be weighed in the balance as a positive development.

Second, this could, in the long run, mean the end of Gaza and the West Bank (it's a stretch, but a possibility). If bombings and rocket attacks escalate in the wake of the Hamas election, then, as Professor Ottolenghi points out, this could fairly be taken by Israel as an act of war. Under the aegis of the U.N. Charter and all the various, delphic sources of international "law" that academics and foreign diplomats appeal to in these circumstances, Israel could fight back in self defense, clearing out the West Bank and Gaza, and driving the Palestinian people into Egypt and Jordan (not that either would want to take them--the Jordanians in particular have massacred and expelled the Palestinians rather than offer them refuge in the past, and Egypt is already terrified of Hamas's sister organization the Muslim Brotherhood). Israel could then establish a broad demilitarized zone as a buffer around its new borders. It would be incumbent upon the nations bordering Israel to control those factions within their borders that would perpetuate a guerrilla war against Israel, on pain of military retribution. This is roughly what happened in 1967, when Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza in a defensive act in response to escalating attacks by terrorists operating with impunity (and active support) from within Egypt and Syria and in anticipation of an imminent invasions by its neighbors, Egypt, Jordan and Syria (aided by Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Algeria), who were bent on driving the young Israeli nation into the sea. This time, however, Israel might decide that it is wise not to let anyone remain within the buffer zone, and to let those Arab nations who profess to love the Palestinian people finally offer them real support, not just guns, and stop using them as pawns in their power games.

I don't believe that the consequences of such a response, however justified, can be imagined in advance. Deciding whether it would be a positive or negative development in the long term, therefore, is impossible. The effects on Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan, in particular, are incalculable, but it is hard to imagine them being good. So this second point is not particularly helpful in addressing the question, but perhaps someone with more time and insight can take it up and tease some helpful insight from it.


Anonymous KBO said...

H - in response to the scenario you posit in which Israel could respond (legally, you suggest) to bombings and rocket attacks by "clearing out the West Bank and Gaza, and driving the Palestinian people into Egypt and Jordan": my memories of the one international law class I ever took are murky at best, but I'm quite sure that one of the fundamental elements of the doctrine of self-defense is proportionality. I cannot see how rocket attacks launched from Gaza or the West Bank could provide legal sanction for an Israeli program of ethnic cleansing (which, make no mistake, is what the response you suggest would constitute), especially in light of the fact that, as you correctly point out, the Palestinians would not exactly be driven into friendly arms. Any attempt by the Israeli army to clear the Occupied Territories of Palestinians would inevitably result in a bloodbath and would, in my view, represent a gross violation of morality and of international law.

The election of Hamas should not be seized upon by those who wish ill upon the Palestinians as a convenient justification for the implementation of otherwise illegitimate (and previously unthinkable) policy initiatives.

I am certainly not the person with time and insight who you hoped might comment, but these are my initial thoughts and hopefully they will spur further comment.


6:21 PM  
Anonymous H said...

Just testing. Problems have been reported.

4:03 PM  
Blogger H. said...

There are undoubtedly some “who wish ill upon the Palestinians,” but I don’t know any, so can’t speak for them. (How could I not think fondly of Palestinians when I’m engaged as a “dee-bay-tah.”) Many things that were “previously unthinkable,” however, have suddenly become all too possible with the incapacitation of Sharon and the election of an avowed terrorist organization to lead the Palestinian Authority.

The scenario I described was intended to be extreme—the non-nuclear doomsday scenario, if you will. It would be horrific and, unless absolutely necessary to preserve the existence of Israel, barbaric. Without conceding the binding nature of so-called customary international “law” (as opposed to executed treaties), you are quite right that proportionality is considered a theoretical limitation on self-defense. But, as with personal self-defense, the proportional response is often difficult to judge ex ante and easy to second guess ex post. Even so, and putting aside academic questions of international law, I agree that a full military sweep of the West Bank and Gaza in response to a few rocket attacks would be “a gross violation of morality.” But if those attacks persist and escalate after less drastic defensive measures are taken, and there is a credible threat of Iranian or Pakistani nuclear technology finding its way into the hands of the groups launching those attacks, or if the attacks appear to be coordinated with a larger, imminent threat from Syria or Iran (two countries that would happily use the Hamas government to front their own anti-Israeli absolutism), then self-defense might morally justify extreme and “previously unthinkable” measures.

I can’t imagine America (to say nothing of Texas! States, of course, being authorized by Article I, Section 10, to respond unilaterally in an emergency) long tolerating repeated attacks from the Mexican government, or France pooh-poohing missiles lobbed by Algeria at Marseilles or Nice. If limited military retaliation did not relieve the threat, or if there were a legitimate fear of non-conventional weapons, then I would expect America or France’s reaction to be swift and decisive. The United States dropped two atomic bombs to subdue the Japanese Empire and Chirac recently threatened to use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear terrorist attack. I wouldn’t expect Israel, which has survived a half-century siege solely because of its superior military strength, to do any less. I pray, however, that they will have no need to.

Both the Israeli and Palestinian people deserve as much.

9:39 PM  

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