Posted to the web on: 28 June 2007
Palestinians acting out a neocon script
TO EXIST or not to exist: that is the question Israel and its backers cannot avoid revisiting as Hamas assumes full control of Gaza. The question of Israel’s right to exist is one that Tel Aviv and everyone else assumed had long been settled in the affirmative until the inconvenient electoral ascendancy of Hamas in occupied Palestine and its resolute refusal to recognise the Jewish state. No matter how much Hamas is made to suffer for its temerity in placing the question of Israel’s existence back on the table, it is a question not likely to go away no matter how much Tel Aviv, Washington, the European Union and “moderate Arabs” insist on making a puppet out of a compliant Mahmoud Abbas West Bank “emergency” regime.
Not everyone is buying this “divide-and-rule” script. It is widely recognised that there can be no Israeli-Palestinian settlement without the Hamas Islamists. However, before unpacking the political logic of revisiting the question of Israel’s existence, it is instructive to consider the ruthlessly cynical politics of manipulation that brought the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum to this juncture.
Israeli journalist Uri Avnery has alluded to US-Israeli collusion with Fatah in arming it to take on Hamas — against the wishes of Israeli army chiefs . Israel’s military brass feared, as Avnery puts it, “the arms might end up in the hands of Hamas (as is happening now). But (the Israeli) government obeyed US orders, as usual.” Well, there is more to this story. Does the name Elliott Abrams ring a bell?
Abrams, a flaming pro-Likud neoconservative fanatic of Iran-Contra infamy, is the key architect of this latest Israel-Palestinian “three-state” scenario. As deputy national security adviser on Middle Eastern affairs in the White House, Abrams reportedly greeted a group of Palestinian businessmen last year with the idea of executing a “hard coup” against the newly elected Hamas government by supplying US arms to Fatah. According to Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, writing at the beginning of the year in Asia Times Online, “over the past 12 months, the US has supplied guns, ammunition and training to Palestinian Fatah activists to take on Hamas in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank”. Thousands of rifles and bullets poured into Gaza and the West Bank from Egypt and Jordan under the guise of “assist(ing) the Palestinian Authority presidency in fulfilling its commitments under the road map to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and establish law and order.…
“Arab moderates” in Cairo and Amman went along with the programme , even though they didn’t believe it would work and it came in for “attack throughout the Arab world — particularly among America’s closest allies.” Incredibly, this crackpot scheme went ahead despite virtually everyone in the US foreign policy, intelligence and security establishment disowning it. This is testimony to neocon resilience in the Bush administration, despite their rapid erosion over the past year.
Moreover, as Abrams’ positioning indicates, they continue to be strategically placed to render rearguard resistance to more moderate policies and strategies. The fact of the matter is, they do not want a peace settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict unless it is on Israel’s terms. This largely accounts for the rise of Hamas and the decline of Fatah. The script goes like this: US acquiescence in Israel’s humiliation and undermining of Yasser Arafat and his PLO/PA regime to the benefit of Hamas Islamism, which Israelis and Americans alike knew would take a rejectionist stance on recognising Israel. This, in turn, would give pretext to further degrade Palestinian statehood under the guise of not having anyone on the Palestinian side to negotiate with.
Use Hamas’s rejectionism to justify putting further pressure on Palestinians in an effort to undermine the Palestinian Authority while fomenting civil war between Hamas and Fatah. Back Fatah over Hamas with the aim of producing a US/Israeli-dependent Palestinian regime to accept “peace” on Israeli terms — or a continued “no war, no peace” situation of Israeli dominance and occupation given the possible destabilisation that could come from uprooting Israeli settlers in the West Bank. All of which has helped Hamas’s credibility on the “Arab street” throughout the Middle East, due to its incorruptible, resolute nationalism.
Worse for US credibility is the alignment of Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iraqi Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army as the new nationalist pan-Islamic forces of democratic resistance against Washington and London’s sectarian geopolitics of pitting Sunni “moderates” against Shiites in the battle to reshape the region’s political terrain; a strategy new Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair helped shape as UK prime minister.
Israel’s relentless settler expansionism in, and evisceration of, Palestine effectively calls into question whether Palestinians will ever have their legitimate national rights within a viable state fulfilled. In short, if Palestine is to have no “right to exist” as a result of western acquiescence to Israel’s “facts on the ground”, Hamas rejection of Israel’s existence flows logically from the follow-up question of what “Israel” Palestinians are to recognise: pre-1967 Israel or post-Six Day War Israel occupying the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights?
Unless this question can be answered to the satisfaction of Palestinians, the ultimate default alternative is a non-sectarian, democratic binational Israeli-Palestinian state. This may be the only antidote available to the bane of religio-nationalism in the Middle East introduced by Zionism. Hence: to exist or not to exist, that is the begging question.
Kornegay is a senior researcher on foreign affairs at the Centre for Policy Studies.