Absence of “peace process” might help Gaza ceasefire negotiations?

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal gave an important press conference in Doha, Qatar today, in which he spelled out the movement’s terms for concluding a ceasefire with Israel over Gaza. (Not clear to me yet whether his demands include some regarding the West Bank. I think the demand for re-release of the Shalit-deal-released Palestinians whom Israel rearrested over the past month would apply to the West Bank?)

Of great significance, too: The fact that PA/PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) today also reportedly endorsed Hamas’s terms in re the ceasefire. This puts Abu Mazen in a good position to be a reliable carrier of messages between Hamas and its US-Israeli opponents. Previously– as recently as about a week ago– Abu Mazen had lined himself up completely with the US-Israel alliance and its friends in Egypt’s military government, as they tried to force their own ceasefire terms down Hamas’s throat without any hint of a negotiation. Now, evidently, something– perhaps the overwhelming force of Palestinian public opinion?– has persuaded Abu Mazen that the most honorable role he can aspire to is as a letter carrier, rather than by continuing to be a Quisling for his people.

While reading this news today, it occurred to me that the fact that there is nothing left of that long-running and deceptive, US-stage-managed pantomime called the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” probably makes it easier for the parties concerned in the current Gaza-Israel crisis to conclude the robust humanitarian ceasefire that urgently needs to be nailed down. Back during the past two Gaza-Israel crises, in 2008-9 and 2012, Washington and Tel Aviv were still very eager to use the crisis to build up the political prestige of Abu Mazen and somehow to keep the peace process panto on the road; and Abu Mazen, loyal (and nicely rewarded) servant that he was, was very eager to do their bidding. This time, thank God, the business of concluding the ceasefire that urgently needs to be concluded bears none of that extra freight. It can be concluded on its own terms, between the parties directly concerned– that is, on the one side the US-Israeli alliance and on the other, Hamas and its allies.

As noted, Abu Mazen can play a decent role– as a letter-carrier between the US-Israeli side and the Palestinian resistance side. This would actually be very similar to the role that Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora played in the Lebanon-Israel crisis of 2006. A crucial aspect of that negotiation, remember, was that no-one was trying, during those ceasefire negotiations, to force Lebanon to sign a peace agreement with Israel, something that would have made the reaching of a ceasefire agreement impossible, despite the huge amount of damage that Israel inflicted on the Lebanese people during the terrible 33 days of that war. It’s the same in Palestine now.

Much remains to be negotiated between the parties to the current conflict– including, as always in these ceasefire negotiations between warrior Israel and its neighbors, the precise modalities of the ceasefire such as whether there will be a verification mechanism, and if run by whom and how; the sequencing of the many steps involved, including the reopening of Gaza to the rest of the world, implementation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, release of prisoners and captives, and so on on. But at least now these matters, which are of grave and urgent concern to Gaza Palestinians and their friends all around the world can be addressed without being weighted down by the requirements of that travesty of a diplomatic phenomenon, called the “peace” process.

And yes, given the final failure of the “peace process”, it surely behooves the members of the UN “Security” Council– if they have any respect for the basic survival and security of Palestinians in their homeland– to abolish the Quartet and regain control of this diplomacy for the UNSC itself. For a Biblical 40 years, the United States has held this crucial item on the world diplomatic agenda captive to its own wiles. It is time for the UNSC to wrest it back.

But that will all take time. The people of the pulverized Gaza Strip can’t wait. They need a decent ceasefire now– one that will end the suffocation, humiliation, and continuous assaults they have suffered for the 47 years. Let’s hope the newly appointed letter carrier does an honest, decent job.

On the killing of Osama Bin Laden

In the wee hours of this morning, Pakistan time, a U.S. Special Forces team entered Pakistan in helicopters and flew to a compound in Abbotabad where they found someone reported to be Osama Bin Laden and killed him.
In a briefing this morning, Pres. Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, told reporters that the mission of the team was defined as follows:

    If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that. We had discussed that extensively in a number of meetings in the White House and with the president. The concern was that Bin Laden would oppose any type of capture operation. Indeed, he did. It was a firefight. He, therefore, was killed in that firefight and that’s when [his mortal] remains were removed.
    But we certainly were planning for the possibility, which we thought was going to be remote, given that he would likely resist arrest, but that we would be able to capture him.

I am glad that Brennan said that. The rhetoric surrounding the operation is important. However, the idea that Bin Laden was killed in “a firefight” doesn’t seem to have any evidence to back it up; and it seems to me distinctly possible that the U.S. team went in and simply snuffed him out. This is a modus operandi very frequently used by the U.S. forces using drones or other killing machines, in Pakistan or elsewhere. Such killings are correctly termed extra-judicial executions (EJEs) because they are carried out far outside the normal, and normally transparent, workings of legal systems.
The individual reported to be Bin Laden was not, like those numerous other victims of EJE’s, killed by a drone operator sitting many hundreds or even thousands of miles away, but by members of a team on the ground, able to look him in the eye as they killed him. Presumably the main intention in using a ground-force team was to obtain irrefutable evidence that the victim was indeed Bin Laden, though that evidence has not yet been presented to the public. The mortal remains of the victim were shortly after the killing “buried at sea”, according to the official U.S. version of events.
This was most likely done in order to prevent a Bin Laden grave from becoming– like that of, for example, the Jewish mass murderer in Hebron, Baruch Goldstein– a site of pilgrimage for followers. After eleven of the Nazis tried at Nuremberg were hanged to death as per their sentences, their mortal remains were almost immediately cremated and the ashes poured into an identified river for instant dispersal with the similar aim of preventing any grave from becoming a focus of pilgrimage.
I am still thinking hard about the U.S. decision-making during the time of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbotabad. Was there really a firefight, or resistance? Though the compound had high walls as defenses, it did not seem to have many internal armaments, such as would be required in any serious “firefight” against a presumably very well-armed U.S. attack force. Bin Laden’s concealment strategy seemed to be centered overwhelmingly around the approach of “hiding in plain sight” near a large Pakistani military cantonment; and that strategy would depend for its success on not attracting attention by hauling large amounts of weapons into the compound.
Did the U.S. assailants indeed have a meaningful plan for “capture” and subsequent trial of their target? I hope so. But given the eagerness of the U.S. military to undertake extra-judicial executions against figures of far less renown and far less apparent culpability– in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere– I have many serious doubts that they did.
I hate the serious undermining of not only the letter of international law that EJE’s represent, but also the undermining of the whole idea of the rule of law that they represent. Anonymous bureaucrats sitting in offices 10,000 miles away get to consider a compilation of “evidence” against a suspect that is ever tested in an open court and that may consist of large amounts of hearsay, malice from jealous opponents, and/or mistaken identity; and they get to say “Kill this one; don’t kill that one; kill that one… ”
What kind of a system, what kind of a world is that?

The elected Hamas prime minister of the (Gaza-based) Palestinian Authority, Ismail Haniyeh, made a statement about the killing of Bin Laden today that I considered really callous (toward the thousands of noncombatant victims– Americans and others– whom Bin Laden had repeatedly and openly crowed about killing) and wrong-headed. He described Bin Laden as “an Arab holy man”.
Haniyeh also, according to that Reuters story, “noted doctrinal differences between bin Laden’s al Qaeda and Hamas.” But I don’t think that noting those differences erases the effects of him calling Bin Laden “an Arab holy man.”
Haniyeh also said this about the killing of Bin Laden: “We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.”
I think I can understand to some extent where Haniyeh is coming from. Remember that like all the other leaders of the Hamas government that was elected in January 2006, Haniyeh has himself been living under imminent threat of being extra-judicially executed by the Israelis for more than five years now…. Many more than 200 Palestinian political figures have been extra-judicially executed by Israel since the conclusion of the Oslo Accords in 1993. In January 2006, Haniyeh and the rest of the Hamas leaders in the OPTs agreed to participate openly and peaceably in the P.A. elections on the understanding that they could do so without being picked up– or picked off– by the Israeli “security” forces as they campaigned. But the moment after they won the eection, the Israeli Prime Minister of the day, Ehud Olmert, declared them all to be fair game for assassination… And the U.S., which had encourage the whole process through which they had participated in the election, gave Israel 100% backing in that position.
And he is quite right about the amount of Arab and Muslim blood that has been quite wantonly shed by the U.S. over the past decade– especially in Iraq.
But still, as a national political leader– though not, it should be noted, the highest national leader in Hamas, who is Khaled Meshaal– Haniyeh should have been far more guarded and statesman-like in his comments.
As an American, I empathize with Palestinians as they mourn noncombatants who are killed. I would hope that a Palestinian who is also a leader can empathize with Americans who mourned nearly 3,000 dead from a single action led (and proudly claimed) by Osama Bin Laden.

Well, it is all extremely tragic, all this wanton and avoidable taking of life, all this callousness toward other humans. I am also concerned about the triumphalism that so many Americans have been showing in response to the news of the killing of Bin Laden.
If I have one strong hope in these days it is that perhaps, at this point, Americans who have long harbored a deep and unresolved grievance about what happened on 9/11 can finally, now, call it quits. On that day, Al-Qaeda killed some 2,800 Americans. Since then, Americans have killed many times that number of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalis, Yemen, and elsewhere, in pursuite of the so-called “Global War on Terror.” And now our government has killed Osama Bin Laden. Is there a way we can just declare some kind of “victory” in the GWOT at this point and bring all the troops home, out of all of the war-zones?
Of course there is a way to do this… if we want to. It wouldn’t be clean and simple, in any of the countries that our military presence has ravaged so badly over the past ten years. But U.S. forces almost certainly will be exiting Iraq by the end of this year– as per the agreement concluded in November 2008 with the Iraqi government… And there is no pressing reason why US/NATO troops need to stay on in Afghanistan, or engaged in Pakistan. Of all the external forces that one might imagine helping Afghanistan to recover from its 30 years of war wounds, the United States is probably just about the least well qualified, the least well prepared for this task.
American mainstream culture loves to personalize political matters– to make issues concerning Libya be all “about” Qadhafi, or issues of Afghanistan and Pakistan all “about” Bin Laden. So okay, now we no longer have unfinished business called “Osama Bin Laden.” True, Bin Laden’s killing doesn’t immediately make the problem of Al-Qaeda in its present, many-times transmutated form, go away…. But just continuing U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan is far more likely to keep creating more hatred and more violence, rather than bringing peace to that part of Planet Earth.
So if there is a silver lining to my government’s killing of this man, let it be this: Let it be that now that he is gone, we American people can start to look more rationally at the real security and other needs of our nation, and of all the world’s other nations. Are these needs well served by our country’s current massive (and very expensive) reliance on the use of brute military force in distant lands?
I think not.
And now, I hope that greater numbers of other Americans can become persuaded of this, too…

Quick notes on Fateh-Hamas reconciliation of April 27

As I tweeted yesterday, the reconciliation announced in Cairo yesterday— which still needs a lot of fleshing out– is the second great result of the Egyptian people’s historic overthrow of the Mubarak-Suleiman regime. Until February 11, Omar Suleiman had been assiduous in (1) monopolizing the whole diplomatic space allotted to “seeking” this reconciliation, and (2) blocking its attainment.
In both these steps, we can note, he was mirroring the behavior his Washington friends have pursued more broadly toward the attainment of a final-status Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement: (1) monopolize, (2) block. You might argue– as I have, many times, at both these levels– that if you can’t sh*t you should get off the pot. But in both these cases, staying glued to the pot so no-one else gets a chance to do the job is just as important as the not-doing of the job.
But the heroic and disciplined Egyptian people knocked Sulaiman off his pot… and now, six weeks later, we have a first important step toward what could well be a Fateh-Hamas reconciliation that serves the interests of the long-battered Palestinian people a lot better than the extremely damaging U.S.- and Israeli-engineered division that has wracked the Palestinian movement since late January 2006.
See these great photos from an anti-Israeli popular demonstration in Cairo just yesterday. H/t Arabawy.
The rough score-sheet for the effects of the Arab uprisings up till now on the always-permeable internal politics of the forcibly dispersed Palestinian people is roughly as follows:

    1. Overthrow of the Mubarak-Suleiman regime: devastatingly bad for Fateh and very good for Hamas.
    2. Serious weakening of Bashar al-Asad regime in Syria: Fairly bad for Hamas in the short term, given the location of the movement’s pan-Palestinian headquarters there and its longterm alliance with the Asad regime. However, note the following: (a) the strongest opposition force in Syria, as in Mubarak-era Egypt, is the MB, which also has longstanding links with Hamas; (b) the Syrian public is strongly pro-Palestinian; (c) Hamas anyway has a widely networked and very resilient leadership and succession-planning structure, that it has developed over the course of many years. If they get knocked out of Damascus, they could go to, um, Cairo or El-Arish! (d) even if ‘a’ and ‘b’ were not true, if Hamas were to ‘lose’ Syria and ‘gain’ Egypt, it would still be a tremendous net plus for them;
    3. Chaotic and violent events in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain: These have some effects on the Fateh-Hamas balance, but none that are as sizeable or immediate as the effects of developments in Egypt and Syria.

What is true, as a general rule in the region is that the kind of sordid backroom deals that regimes like Mubarak’s, that of successive Jordanian monarchs, or others have struck with Israel in the past– that is, arrangements to quash Palestinian movements that go far beyond the formal requirements of the peace treaties– have become considerably harder for these Arab parties to uphold, given the long overdue and very welcome emergence of strong movements calling for transparency and accountability from Arab governments.
Now, it is also true that amidst these regionwide developments there are some very disturbing currents, including (obviously) the rush toward western military action in Libya and the support that action has garnered from many Gulf Arab states; the emergence of a vicious new wave of anti-Shiite sectarianism– not only in Bahrain and Yemen, but broadly throughout the region, including (in its anti-Alawi guise), in Syria. This is an aspect of the emergence of a new kind of specifically “Sunni” power in the region that fills me with dread. Goodness, have we not seen quite enough of the terrible effects of Sunni-Shiite sectarian hatred in Iraq and Lebanon over recent years??
For their part, the leaders of Hamas (though not all of the rank-and-file members of the movement) are part of a determinedly tolerant current within the broader “Sunni Islamist” stream. Hamas leaders are eager to work with Christians inside and outside the Palestinian community; and they have a long history of working closely alongside Hizbullah (and the Iranian government), which must surely have affected the view they have of Muslims who are Shiites. Hamas people whom I’ve interviewed have always warned strongly against allowing any kind of paranoia about the machinations of an alleged “Shiite Crescent” to insert a fatal wedge into the Palestinian or broader Arab national movements. That kind of paranoia, I certainly have heard expressed and endorsed by high-ranking people in Fateh– as in Jordan, Mubarak’s Egypt, etc.
Anyway, the region is still in a high degree of dynamism. This will certainly have a big effect on the internal politics of Palestine.
Here in Washington, DC, I see various of the rabidly pro-Israel members of Congress have been screaming their hearts out about how any affiliation with Hamas would render the Fateh leaders completely ineligible for any further U.S. aid. Ha. good luck with that. If the U.S. Congress cuts off the “aid” (including $$ and political support) to the Ramallah-based P.A. completely, then the P.A. will almost immediately collapse– and so will the “Dayton Forces”, which have been policing the various little pieces of Ramallastan in the service of the Israelis for the past few years. What then for U.S. policy?
The White House, interestingly enough, seems to have a slightly more nuanced view. I haven’t had time to find the whole of the statement that NSC spokesperson Tommy Vietor made yesterday, about the reconciliation news from Cairo. (If any readers can contribute the original source of this document, please put it in the comments.) But what truly intrigued me was the headline the pro-Hamas PIC put on this report of Vietor’s statement: “US meets Palestinian unity deal with guarded optimism.”
What on earth– ?
The portions of Vietor’s words that PIC quoted were as follows:

    ”Hamas … is a terrorist organization which targets civilians,” said Veitore.
    “As we have said before, the United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace,” he said. ”To play a constructive role in achieving peace, any Palestinian government must accept the Quartet principles and renounce violence, abide by past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
    “We have seen the press reports and are seeking more information,” he added.

To me, this doesn’t warrant the headline the editors put onto their news report. On the other hand, Vietor’s words are light-years less hostile and hysterical than those of people like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen or Gary Ackerman.
The fact that the PIC has depicted them, in its headline, in this extremely rosy way– “guarded optimism”???– is what intrigues. Are the Hamas ideologues trying to prepare the way for a new overture to the Obama administration?

M. Paraipan: Another informative Hamas-leader interview

Following up on the interview she conducted with Hamas Secretary-General Khaled Meshaal in Damascus in early November, Romanian researcher Manuela Paraipan conducted another one in Beirut recently with Hamas’s representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan. Her institution in Bucharest, MEPEI, has published this one in two parts (1, 2). Between them, they add more richness and granularity to the picture we already have of how the leaders of this interesting, durable, and popular Palestinian organization think about the challenges they face and how they plan to continue facing them.
On “durable and popular”, let us remember that ever since Hamas won the PA’s parliamentary elections of January 26, 2006 (my contemporaneous commentary on that is here), it has been subjected to a war of political extermination by both Israel and the U.S. Yes, the world’s biggest military power and its local sidekick defied all the norms of global “democracy” to try to crush Hamas– right after it had won a resounding victory in an election recognized by all local and international observers as “free and fair”… But, and this is the important thing to note, Hamas survived that lengthy and frequently bloody campaign and is probably stronger, politically, among the Palestinian people worldwide and inside the OPTs than it was five years ago.
So, back to Hamdan, and his conversation with Ms. Paraipan. Here are what I see as the highlights of it:

Continue reading “M. Paraipan: Another informative Hamas-leader interview”

Robinson and Brahimi: Wrong on Hamas and women

Mary Robinson and Lakhdar Brahimi have a piece in HuffPo today in which they argue, probably correctly, that it is Gaza’s women and children who are paying the highest price for Israel’s now years-long siege of Gaza.
They write:

    Women in this conservative society find their domestic responsibilities made all the more difficult and time-consuming by the blockade — and they bear the brunt of society’s frustration and anger in such trying times.

But they immediately go on to add this:

    Equally disturbing are the creeping restrictions on women’s freedom imposed by Hamas activists.

Equally disturbing??? That is, they are claiming that Hamas is just as culpable as the Israel of the crime of oppression of women??
Their evidence?
They cite allegedly Hamas-led “initiatives” to harrass schoolgirls not wearing headscarves (and leave the impression that this applies to even the youngest schoolgirls.) They write,

    Women are punished if they smoke in public, while their male compatriots are allowed to do so. And at the beach, Gaza’s main source of fun and entertainment, women and men are strictly segregated.

And then, this amazing untruth:

    The erosion of women’s freedoms is compounded by their lack of participation in politics.

And then they refer to an alleged “absence of women from politics.”
This last claim is simply untrue. Hamas has at least four women MPs on its roster, at least two of whom live in Gaza. One of them is the smart and dedicated Jamila Shanty, whom I interviewed in 2006.
Why do Robinson and Brahimi ignore these and the many other signs there are that Hamas supports the participation of women in public life?
It is true that there are many Islamist activists in Gaza who pursue campaigns to persuade people to live pious lives. Some of them are Hamas members; many others belong to much more fundamentalist Islamist movements. But I would love it if Ms. Robinson and Mr. Brahimi could cite one Hamas party document in which the party claims ownership of the kinds of campaigns of harrassment they describe.
I also really hate the faux “feminist” tenor of their closing line, which strongly implies that Gaza’s women somehow “yearn to be free” even more than their menfolk. What kind of nonsense is that?
… I am disappointed to see these two generally respected members of the generally wise “Elders” group engaging in this imperialistic kind of faux “feminism”… that is, the articulation by people strongly connected with the west (and that now certainly includes my old friend Lakhdar Brahimi) of a “particular” concern for the plight of the women living in non-western societies, based on the divisive argument that their own menfolk (based on their alleged backwardness, etc) repress them just as badly as their western colonial occupiers do.
Certainly the French used to adduce just exactly this same argument to help support the conceit that they were pursuing a mission civilisatrice in Brahimi’s own native Algeria, back in the day. It is really disappointing to see him dragging it out of the attic now, 50 years later.

Revealing interview with Khaled Meshaal

The enterprising, Bucharest-based researcher Manuela Paraipan published an interesting, revealing interview with Khaled Meshaal in Open Democracy last week. I’m sorry I don’t have time to analyze it very thoroughly right now– things are really hopping in the publishing business, with two JWB titles about to come out, and another following fast behind!
Anyway, Paraipan’s interview reveals several intriguing aspects both of the personality of Hamas leader Meshaal and of the movement that he leads.
When Paraipan asks Meshaal how he defines himself, he answers thus:

    I am a Palestinian, an Arab, a Muslim and a human being. I am looking for freedom and self-determination. I have two purposes in life: to serve Almighty God and my people.
    … In this struggle I am ready to pay any price in order to accomplish the aims of my people and the Ummah.
    I combine two personas; one, the soul of humanity, who loves people, who wishes them well, respects all of them and believes steadfastly in values of justice and equality. I do not discriminate based on race, or affiliation to any country or religion. The second persona will not surrender to any aggressor, and will never surrender to the occupiers. I am not afraid of any threats or other forms of intimidation. I have ‘a long breath’ and I am quite confident that together with my people, we will win through against our enemies.
    We will not relinquish our destiny to Israeli military might. We can endure and we have the patience to endure the stages of the resistance to come. This is Khaled Mashal.

That first sentence there is significant. See how Meshaal’s self-identification as a Muslim comes third– after “Palestinian” and “Arab”. Then, see how he seems to differentiate between “my people” and “the Ummah”, putting his commitment to serving “my people” before that to serving “the Ummah”. The Ummah is of course the entire body of Muslim believers worldwide. “My people” is presumably– and it would have been great if Paraipan had actually pinned this down– the Palestinian people.
Of course, the business about the “long breath” is also very important.
The periodization of Hamas’s history that Paraipan elicits from him is also significant. It ends with this exchange:

    [KM:] … From 2000 till 2006 there was another phase. This was a crucial stage but it was also one in which we lost the most senior members of our leadership to martyrdom: Sheikh Yassin, Dr. Abd al Rantissi and others. This was a huge loss but at the same time we also gained ground – especially once it became clear that Oslo and the peace process project had in practise, failed.
    Like other resistance factions at that time, we were able to offer an alternative.
    Q: What kind of alternative?
    A: As I was saying, given the failure on the ground of the Oslo agreement, we offered an alternative.
    Q: An alternative, meaning armed resistance?
    A: This is what I was about to say: we offered a practical alternative for our people, which is of course the resistance; a resistance that is able to defend its people and able to accomplish their goals. What was not accomplished by Oslo has been achieved through our resistance. It compelled Sharon to withdraw from Gaza and to dismantle the settlements.

This is interesting. Paraipan asks about “armed resistance”. He answers by referring only to “resistance”, without specifying what kind. This, too, would have been a good point to draw him out on a bit more… It is, after all, the case that in 2005, during the months that the Sharon government was pulling the Israeli soldiers and settlers out of the Gaza Strip, Hamas along with Fateh and all the other significant Palestinian movements all committed to, and implemented, a completely unilateral cessation of hostilities against Israel in Gaza. Without that unilateral ceasefire, it is highly probable that Sharon’s withdrawal plan would have been accompanied by high levels of Israeli violence, or would perhaps have been curtailed or abandoned altogether…
You could perhaps say that the policy Hamas (and the other Palestinian movements) were pursuing during those months constituted a form of resistance– but notably not armed resistance. You could also perhaps say that Sharon would never have been motivated to undertake the withdrawal policy if it had not been for earlier instances of armed resistance from Hamas and other movements. But even if we accede to both these arguments, it is still the case that Sharon did not execute his withdrawal under Palestinian fire; and that the withdrawal itself was not directly accompanied by Palestinian “armed resistance”.
In the next portion of his answer, Meshaal describes the extremely important decision Hamas made in 2005 or so, to enter into the two key Palestinian institutions that, until then, it had always both stayed out of and strongly criticized: the pan-Palestinian PLO and the Oslo-derived Palestinian Authority (which exercises some very limited forms of self-governance within Gaza and portions of the West Bank.)
As he described that decision:

    We looked then for a new framework of the Palestinian national political project, for a redefinition of authority and the role of leadership, at the level of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the PLO. Should we see our role as providing security for the Israelis, or should we seek a national outcome in favour of the Palestinian people? Through posing this question, we wanted to unite all factions and be part of the new programme going forward. Within the PLO our initiative succeeded in intensifying the call for real reform.
    The last stage, which has lasted from 2006 till now, started with the participation of Hamas in the [PA’s] election process and the sweeping victory which was such a surprise to everyone around the world.

Paraipan then asks whether the victory Hamas won in the PA’s 2006 parliamentary elections came as a surprise to Meshaal and his colleagues in the leadership. His answer:

    The winning as such was not so surprising to us but the size of the vote maybe was. In the immediate aftermath of elections the results were rejected by the Americans, some Palestinians and regional parties.
    The Palestinian people was now collectively punished for this result by besieging it and cutting off its aid. This is the first time in history that a people has been so punished for exercising its democratic choice.

Paraipan asks an important question– namely what Meshaal means when he says he is opposed to Israeli “occupation”. The sub-theme in the question seems to be to elicit whether he is referring only to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, or also to the Yishuv/Israeli military takeover of all of the land that became the State of Israel in 1948.
His answer clearly indicates that he holds to the latter view:

    The Palestinian people have lived in Palestine as of right: and we are not talking about history, or back in the middle ages. We are talking about 60 years ago. There is a land called Palestine which belongs to Palestinians. That it was a land for Christians, Muslims and some Jews also does not detract from this. They were living in peace under a Palestinian and Arab regime. A Jewish issue erupted outside the region. Europe wanted to get rid of this problem and it exported it to our region. It thereby ‘killed two birds with one stone’. There was no more ‘Jewish problem’ and, moreover, they were able to exploit a Zionist project designed to expropriate the region’s resources. It is clear to us that Israel was established as part of an offensive against our people. Israel deported them from their own land. To conclude: it is an illegal occupation and we consider its existence illegal in the region.

But he immediately goes on to add this:

    However, because Hamas is realistic we have come to an agreement among the Palestinian factions and Arab countries to accept the established state of Palestine on the basis of the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as the capital, and the right of refugees to return.

There is then another intriguing short exchange between Paraipan and Meshaal:

    Q: Maybe you are also calling for compensation for the refugees?
    A: No.
    Q: If you were able to participate directly in the negotiations, you would have to compromise on that position. In that eventuality, you would not only be representing Hamas as a group, but also those who support you as a political party.
    A: The biggest compromise has already been made by the Palestinian factions and the Arab states. It was to accept the 1967 borders, leaving us 20% of the whole piece of territory in dispute. [Actually, about 23% ~HC]
    It is no longer admissible for some powers to continue to put pressure on the Palestinian side asking it for further compromises, because it perceives it as the weaker player.
    What we offered then was the maximum. The pressure should now be redirected towards Israel. It is immoral to keep pressuring the Palestinians simply because the Americans and the international community are failing in the face of Netanyahu.
    Negotiating parties currently making up further compromises have no constituency and their action is without value, because a solution that does not cover the nation as a whole is no solution. The refugees still cannot return, yet they (Israel) pass a decree for every Jew who has never seen the land to come to Palestine.

Anyway, those are what I see as the highlights of the interview. There is a lot more there. Go read it all!

U.S. supports Taliban talks; Still opposing Hamas??

So here are Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and SecDef Bob Gates now saying they support– and are giving active support to– the Afghan government’s initiative to negotiate with the Taliban. But the U.S. government continues to completely oppose any attempt by any parties, Palestinian or other, to reach out and deal with the Hamas government that, lest we forget, was democratically elected in Palestine in January 2006.
How does that work again? And why?
Let us remember about those January 2006 elections that the ground-rules for their conduct, including who could run and how the elections would be organized, were all agreed to in advance by Washington (and Israel). And the elections themselves were universally judged free and fair. But when those candidates from the pro-Hamas “Change and Reform” party ended up winning, Washington and Israel immediately joined in throwing a tight blockade around Gaza and funding and mobilizing anti-democratic, Contras-like forces within Palestinian society with the aim of overthrowing the elected leadership.
Potent warnings also went out at that time– from israel but with Washington’s clear backing– that any Palestinian independent politician who would join a Hamas-led coalition would be a target for “the very worst outcome” possible.
Human rights and women’s rights? The records on these issues of the two movements– Taliban and Hamas– are like night and day. Hamas is an enthusiastic proponent of women’s education and the full integration of women into all areas of society. Hamas even has four or five female MP’s. Indeed, many Palestinians say it was the women’s vote that gave Hamas its victory in 2006.
So once again, could somebody tell me: Why support negotiations with the Taliban, but continue ruthlessly opposing and suppressing Hamas?

Haaretz’s Burston on Hamas’s resilience, smarts

Here is a must-read from Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston.
He writes about Hamas:

    Never has Israel had an enemy so perfectly attuned to the Jewish state’s weaknesses, so impervious to its strengths. For more than 20 years – ever since Israel inadvertently midwifed the founding of Hamas at the outset of the first intifada – the organization has leveraged Israel’s every tactic into tangible, stepwise political gain.

Burston argues in the piece tht the Israeli government should do what it has to to secure the release of four-year POW Gilad Shalit. In other recent articles, Burston has argued that the government should negotiate with Hamas on a far broader range of issues.
His espousal of these positions is noteworthy because until about six months ago, his writing seemed on the hawkish side on nearly every issue.
Today, he writes,

    Why is it that time after time, Israel sets a trap for Hamas and is shocked to find itself falling straight into it? Beyond everything else, our inability to successfully confront Hamas has to do with that most tragic and deep-seated of our misconceptions regarding the Palestinians: the unshakable, eternal faith among Israelis that “we know the Arabs.” Yet the actual equation is simple: It is Hamas that knows Israelis like no one else. Indeed, Israelis, at this point in time, don’t even know themselves.
    The long war with Hamas has changed Israel, and for the worse. It has in many ways robbed the country of the ability to make decisions courageously and independently. From suicide bombings to rocket attacks to its demands for Gilad Shalit – Hamas has made many Israelis grow callous to the plight of Palestinians, as a whole, and to lose faith both in the efficacy of their own government and in the very possibility of peace.
    Hamas remembers and exploits what we have forgotten: the underlying dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas understands that the basic motivating force of post-Holocaust Jews is fear, and that the basic motivating force of post-Nakba Palestinians is humiliation. Hamas understands that Israel’s attempts to address its fears often cause Palestinians additional humiliation. And Hamas knows even better that Palestinians’ attempts to redress their humiliation often deepen Israelis’ fears.

Within the U.S. political system, of course, the whole idea of talking to Hamas remains a complete (AIPAC-enforced) anathema. Personally, I’ve thought for a long time that– just as with the PLO in the 1980s/90s– the authoritative players in the U.S. political system will not be prepared to deal in any way with Hamas until after the Israeli government does so.
In September 1993, it was quite hilarious to see the entire U.S. political establishment turn on a dime and give Yasser Arafat and the PLO a warm embrace, when just days earlier these politicians and officials had all still been unanimous in excorating and accusing the PLO of the worst possible things.
What changed, of course, was the revelation that the Israeli government had been secretly talking to the PLO in Oslo for many months and had indeed reached an agreement with it. (Which turned out, over the years that followed, to signal the political death of Fateh and to a great extent also the PLO. But that’s a slightly different story.)
However, even in those “dark” days of the mid-1980s in the U.S. when no-one with any authority was allowed to even hint at talking with the PLO, there were people deep in the bowels of the Pentagon who understood that, from a military planning point of view, they did need to understand the organization’s political dynamics and explore the possibilities of the U.S. dealing with it in the future.
Amd the descendants of those military intel/planning officers are still in the bowels of the Pentagon today, it seems, ‘war-gaming’ and doing contingency planning regarding the possibility of the U.S. dealing with Hamas. Mark Perry had this important piece on the Foreign Policy website on Wednesday, describing some of their efforts…
Perry, who has proven the quality of his Pentagon sources in his earlier writings, writes this time:

    “There is a lot of thinking going on in the military and particularly among intelligence officers in Tampa [the site of CENTCOM headquarters] about these groups,” acknowledged a senior CENTCOM officer familiar with the report. However, he denied that senior military leaders are actively lobbying Barack Obama’s administration to forge an opening to the two organizations. “That’s probably not in the cards just yet,” he said.
    In the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said that those on board the Mavi Marmara, the scene of the May 31 showdown between Israeli commandos and largely Turkish activists, had ties to “agents of international terror, international Islam, Hamas, al Qaeda and others.” The same senior officer wasn’t impressed. “Putting Hizballah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda in the same sentence, as if they are all the same, is just stupid,” he said. “I don’t know any intelligence officer at CENTCOM who buys that.” Another mid-level SOCOM [Special Operations Command] officer echoed these views: “As the U.S. strategy in the war on terrorism evolves, military planners have come to realize that they are all motivated by different factors, and we need to address this if we are going to effectively prosecute a successful campaign in the Middle East.”
    The most interesting aspects of the report deal with Hizbollah. The Red Team downplays the argument that the Lebanese Shiite group acts as a proxy for Iran…

You need to go read the whole article if you don’t understand the role a ‘Red Team’ plays in Pentagon planning exercises.
But my bottom line remains that a ‘breakthrough’ in U.S. policy towards Hamas is much more likely to stem from an antecedent ‘breakthrough’ in Israeli policy (and hence in the arm-twistings of AIPAC). As of now, it looks as if there may indeed be some imminent change in the Israeli policy– at least regarding the prisoner exchange issue. And if there is a breakthrough on that issue, its effects may well cascade fast through the whole of the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic…

Yezid Sayigh’s paper on good governance in Gaza

I only just discovered that Yezid Sayigh’s paper on the unexpectedly (for many westerners) good quality of Hamas’s governance of Gaza is now up on the website of Brandeis University’s crown Center. PDF here.
Close readers of JWN will recall the post I wrote back in March, about the presentation Sayigh gave at the Palestine Center in Washington DC, in which he compared the quality of the governance in Gaza and by the (actually, unconstitutional) administration led by Salam Fayyad in Ramallah– to the favor of Gaza’s Hamas government, which ws elected in January 2006.
The summary posted on the Crown Center website concludes thus:

    Prof. Sayigh argues that Hamas has demonstrated its ability to innovate and survive. He concludes that the international sanctions policy has created a durable stand-off: Rather than spark mass discontent leading to the collapse of the Hanieh government, it enables Hamas to enhance its ruling party status.

The very well-documented, eight-page paper itself gives a wealth of detail obtained from the public record and from a week-long research trip Sayigh made to Gaza back in January.
It looks as though Brandeis did just a little bit of “political” editing of the piece– at least, by comparison with the way Sayigh spoke during his presentation at the Palestine Center.
Thus, he spoke openly at the Palestine Center about the bifurcation of power between Gaza and the West bank back in June 2007 having been primarily the responsibility of “”the president’s men [i.e. Abu Mazen’s men– though notably not Abu Mazen himself] and certain people here in the Bush administration.” And he referred to the Ismail Haniyeh government in Gaza as being “partly constitutional”, while saying the Fayyad government in Ramallah was wholly unconstitutional.
In the Brandeis/Crown paper, responsibility for the bifurcation of June 2007 is vaguely directed elsewhere, with the relevant events being referred to only as “The assertion [by Hamas] of exclusive control over Gaza in June 2007… ”
Yeah, well. It was not so much that Hamas asserted exclusive control, as that there had up till then been a Saudi-brokered National Unity Government under Haniyeh’s premiership… but Mohamed Dahlan and Elliott Abrams together mounted a Contras-style coup to topple it. The elected Hamas leaders were, however, able to rebuff the coup attempt.
Ah well, that seems to be the main point on which there seems to have been some political intervention by Brandeis/Crown. The rest of Sayigh’s analysis is well developed and well documented in the published version.
Interesting that it is the major Jewish university in the U.S. that sponsors such work, eh?

A great resource on the Hamas women

Kudos to Conflicts Forum, which a few months ago published (PDF) a very informative study by the Hebron-area journalist and researcher Khaled Amayreh on the role of women in Hamas.
Amayreh’s study is in two parts. The first consists of interviews with three of Hamas’s female MPs: Sameera al-Halayka from the Hebron area, and Jamila Shanti and Huda Naim from Gaza. The second is Amayreh’s own analysis of the significant role women have played in bolstering Hamas.
In my 2006 article “Sisterhood of Hamas”, I had some good material from some time I spent with Shanti and other Hamas women right after the January 2006 elections. But this 26-page paper from Amayreh is much richer than the material I was able to get during that rushed reporting trip.
There’s a huge amount of really important material in this study. So many westerners still seem to have the completely erroneous idea that all Islamist movements are just like the Afghan Taliban in the very repressive way they treat women. Nothing could be further from the truth! All women in Palestine have access to basic good education– and Hamas and its supporters fully support the right of all females not only to study but also to work in paid jobs and in voluntary societies, and to participate fully in local and national politics. (Hence, the “phenomenon” of female Hamas MPs, like the three whom Amayreh interviews.)
At one point, Amayreh has this exchange with Halayka:

    Q: Have you sought to learn and benefit from Muslim women activists outside occupied Palestine?
    A: On the contrary, it was women activists from outside occupied Palestine that sought to learn from us. In the aftermath of elections, we were contacted by women organizations, Palestinian (mostly those functioning among expatriate Palestinian communities) and non-Palestinian, enquiring about the modalities we used in our activism. It is true that our situation is unique because of the Israeli occupation and cannot in that sense be copied. However, it is clear that women’s groups can learn much from us in terms of empowerment and activism as well as Islamic education.

He has these exchanges with Shanti:

    Q: You have been active in Hamas’ women’s department for many years. How would describe the status of women within Hamas? Do they take you seriously?
    A: Irrespective of western stereotypes, I can say that Hamas – a movement I know very well – is a moderate Islamic movement that adopts a comprehensive approach to society. This is probably the reason why Hamas has been able to receive widespread support from people. Hence, I can say that Hamas’ philosophy stems from Islam which gives women their rights and dignity. So, it is only natural that the status of women within Hamas is very advanced as women are considered a fundamental component of the movement. In fact, I can say for sure that women are more representative in Hamas than they are within any other Palestinian political movement. Take for example colleges and universities in occupied Palestine and you will find that a clear majority of the supporters of the Islamic student blocks are women. Similarly, it is widely believed that a majority of those who voted for Hamas in the 2006 elections were women. It is true though that formal representation of women within Hamas is still smaller in proportion to their proportion in the population. However, we view this as an evolutionary and cumulative process, which means that we will continue to make progress toward a more equitable representation of women within the
    Islamic movement.
    … Q: How did you cope with the mass arrest by Israel of Hamas’ Legislative Council members?
    A: That was a real burden as more than 40 MPs were arrested as an act of political vendetta. But the bigger problem was the harassment of our sister MPs both by the Israeli occupiers and the PA. You know the sisters Mariam Saleh and Muna Mansur were both arrested by the Israelis and Samira Halaika was also harassed. This meant that Hamas in the West Bank became nearly voiceless which placed on us an additional burden here in the Gaza Strip since we had to make up for our colleagues who had been arrested and detained…
    Q: How would you evaluate your experience in politics in the past five years?
    A: We have been able to learn much in terms of working with the media. We have also acquired new skills in dealing with the public in ways that differ from our previous activities in the field of daawa (inviting people to Islam). In our new capacity as MPs, we have had to be constantly available to help people in every conceivable aspect. We also have gained a profound understanding of the judicial and legislative systems. For example, we had to have a thorough grasp of the laws, bylaws, regulations and norms pertaining to parliamentary processes. This has helped us assert ourselves as effective MPs. Nonetheless, the paralysis of parliamentary life following 2007 has not allowed us to reach our potentials.

And he had this exchange with Naim:

    Q: What role have Islamist women played in the resistance?
    A: The resistance is more than just shooting and fighting. Strengthening our society against Israeli infiltration and manipulation is also a form of resistance. In fact, Islamist women and Palestinian women in general, have played an extremely important role in securing and protecting the internal front without which the resistance front would collapse. But there are, of course, many women who played an active role in the resistance, such as Reem al Rayashi and Fatema al Najar who were martyred, and Ahlam Tamimi who was imprisoned for life. Nonetheless, the main role of Islamist women has been to shield and fortify our society against moral decay.

I’m sorry I hadn’t known about this paper earlier. (Khaled, why didn’t you send it to me? You know I’m interested in the topic!)
Anyway, go read the whole thing. As I said, it’s a great resource.
CF has also, more recently, published another study on Islamist women. This one is “A Study on Women in Islam: An Islamic Vision of Women From the Viewpoint of Contemporary Shi’i Scholars in Lebanon”, by Amira Burghul (PDF). It looks mainly at texts written by Imam Mousa al-Sadr, Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah and Imam Sheikh Muhammad Mahdi Shams al-Din.