Thursday, February 16, 2006

Hamas and Israel

I was doing a little reading after Hamas's election, and I stumbled across a factoid that shocked me (and here I thought I was unable to be shocked by the situation in Palestine). The Palestinian city of Qalqilyah (with 50,000 inhabitants) is at present completely surrounded by a concrete barrier, with access in and out of the city controlled by the IDF at two checkpoints.

I'd been keeping up with the demoralizing progress of the separation wall, but somehow this had escaped me. Wow. That must beyond suck for the people who live there. Ali Abunimah points out that after this encirclement was decided, the good citizens of Qalqilyah tossed out the Fatah-dominated city council and gave every seat to Hamas. And this was several months before the recent election. I said I was shocked by Hamas's gains, but perhaps I should have been paying closer attention.

The media seems to have fixed on the issue of Fatah's corruption as the reason for the Hamas election; but it would seem to me they're blinking at looking the real problems in the eye. Israel exercises military control over the fundamental fact of daily life in the West Bank, who can travel where and when, and daily metes out collective punishment for the actions of a few. And most importantly, the separation wall has eaten into the body of the (supposedly) future Palestinian state, isolating and destroying existing Palestinian communities, while legitimizing and strengthening the settlements. The map of the wall's route looks like something drawn up by Tom DeLay on a bender (a highly detailed PDF here). The Israeli human rights organization, B'Tselem, along with many others, have condemned the separation wall as nothing more than a land-grab. They provide evidence that the routing of the wall was driven more by the desire of established settlements to expand than any real security.

In my mind, there are a few ground rules for a just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Every person living in the region has the right to life and liberty and security and other good things. They have the right to live under a democratically elected government that considers people of all faiths to be equal partners in society. The notion of a one-state solution, whereby Israel would simply annex the West Bank and grant citizenship (and franchise) to the Palestinians living there, is anathema to many Israelis, since the new state would not be a guaranteed majority Jewish. It's an attractive idea, but fairly unrealistic if you think about it. The notion that Israel would keep military control of the land, but not grant self-determination to its inhabitants (the status quo) is to contemplate either apartheid or ethnic cleansing (IMHO). Therefore, many people imagine a two-state solution to be the only way out, with the border between sovereign Israel and sovereign Palestine marked by the 1967 Green Line (putting aside for the moment the UN Resolution in 1948, the right of return, the status of Jerusalem and the settlements, etc.).

It is the dream of legitimate statehood, prosperity and self-determination that will give Palestinians reason to negotiate. That dream has been seriously jeopardized, in part yes, by illegitimate targeting of civilians by terrorists, but also by an internal political decision to appease settlers. True, Sharon has in recent years stepped back from this, but perhaps it is too late? Ha'aretz has opined about the separation wall, "it looks like a border and behaves like one." What now for our Palestinian state?

So: simple ground rules, complex state of human affairs. I won't offer a simple solution. I suspect reaction against Hamas will make things much worse in the short run. This will be aided, of course, by our leaders' immeasurably hypocritical talk of ousting Hamas (I'm sure they have a list of other democracies they wouldn't mind ousting also: Hugo Chavez this means you). But in the long run, perhaps some sort of shake-up is needed. The peace process has been a disaster for ordinary Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. And Israel should realize by now that military might alone will not gain you security. I'm reminded of a quote from the man who was once recruited to become Israel's first president:
"Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding." - Albert Einstein

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