Friday, August 18, 2006

Rethink on Gaza

It's time for the EU to think again in the light of events in Gaza and change its policy with regard to Hamas. As the ICG report says:
The strategy of Fatah, the wider Arab world, Israel and the West alike since the 25 January parliamentary elections has been to isolate and squeeze the Palestinian government in order to precipitate its collapse. The approach was always short-sighted and dangerous and it urgently needs to be revised. [Executive Summary]
This needs to be delinked from the situation in Lebanon, as I argued myself.
First, the Gaza and Lebanon crises need to be dealt with separately. Though related both chronologically and in terms of the sparks that triggered them, the reasons behind Hamas’s action have little to do with those motivating Hizbollah’s. Bundling them together only complicates efforts at resolution. [ES]
Some background:
Although Hamas and other Palestinian organisations announced a unilateral ceasefire [or “quiet”, tahdi’a] in March 2005, armed conflict never came to a halt. Israel refused to negotiate a reciprocal and comprehensive cessation of hostilities. Neither the PA nor Hamas took effective steps to end the launching of rockets by others; the truce was rejected by the Popular Resistance Committees, a militia based in the southern Gaza Strip; and Islamic Jihad over time gave an increasingly liberal interpretation to the right of reprisal it insisted on retaining. [...] until June 2006 Hamas was virtually absent from the battlefield. And while Israel continued to arrest Hamas members and militants in the West Bank, it refrained from anything resembling the comprehensive campaigns against the Islamist movement of previous years.[p2, 5]
Early on the morning of 9 June, 'Israel assassinated Popular Resistance Committee leader Jamal Abu-Samhadana, who had shortly before been appointed commander of a new PA security force controlled by the interior minister and who was accused of involvement in lethal acts against Israelis and Americans, as well as senior Hamas leader Said Siam.' The same afternoon, seven members of the Ghalia family of a Gaza beach were killed in a much disputed incident. 'That evening, the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing, renounced the March 2005 ceasefire and launched several Qassam rockets toward southern Israel.'

Nonetheless, 'the intra-Palestinian dialogue has made noteworthy albeit still tentative strides, with the achievement of the National Conciliation Document between Hamas, Fatah and other political organisations on 25 June.' This contained an 'affirmation of the Palestinian “right to resist the occupation”, while pledging to “concentrate the resistance in the territories occupied in 1967, alongside political action and negotiations and diplomatic work”. '  It 
does not explicitly provide for recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence or endorsement of existing Palestinian commitments – the three demands put forth by the Quartet4 as conditions for a renewal of relations with the PA government. Nevertheless, it represents a considerable development in Hamas’s positions. As a Palestinian Islamist journalist put it, anyone can see the difference between this document and Hamas’s “anachronistic” charter. (Crisis Group telephone interview, 24 July 2006.) [p3]
On 25 June, militants tunnelled into Israel killed, two soldiers and captured a third. The motivations for this attack will doubtless continue to be debated. The report puts forward an alternative view to that whereby hardliners sought to undermine the agreement that PA prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, was close to reaching with Mahmoud Abbas. They also minimise talk of splits between Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus-based Hamas leader (see here). As the leader of Hamas’s parliamentary faction, Salah Bardawil put it:
Haniya cannot control policies alone, nor can Mashal control the military alone. The military wing reflects political trends. If Mashal opposed the Consultative Council, they’d expel him. We’re not like Fatah with its lack of leadership. The Kerem Shalom attack was not intended to scupper the National Conciliation Agreement, but rather to accelerate the negotiations. It put pressure on Abbas to sign. After the attack, he backed off from insisting on amendments and on concessions to the Israeli and U.S. position, and the parties agreed to sign. [p6-7]

[note 27] Crisis Group interview, 10 July 2006. Fatah Revolutionary Council member Qaddura Faris concurred: “I don’t buy the argument that Mashal is Hamas’s commander in chief, directing the actions of the military wing. He simply can’t do it”. Crisis Group interview, Ramallah, 6 July 2006.
In the light of all this, it is clear that the policy of the EU (which is part of the Quartet) - of starving the Hamas government of funds (*) - is simply not working.
Moreover, the Lebanese flare-up has concentrated EU minds, convincing some policy-makers of the dangers of violence and radicalisation on two fronts simultaneously and of the possible snow-ball effect. Wisely, some EU officials have concluded that lumping Hamas and Hizbollah together would not serve Europe’s interests: it would make both crises harder to resolve, risk regionalising the conflict, solidify the perception of a Western war against Islam and therefore undermine efforts to promote the political evolution of militant Islamism. [...] As a result, some in Brussels and other European capitals are advocating a more nuanced policy toward Hamas, premised first on decoupling it conceptually from Hizbollah and secondly on reaching some kind of realistic accommodation with the Palestinian government. An EU official suggested that if a national unity government were formed on the basis of the Prisoners’ Initiative, included one or two “reputable members” in key ministries and maintained an effective ceasefire (perhaps with third party monitoring), this – though admittedly falling short of the three conditions – might well constitute a sufficient basis for a fundamental re-evaluation of EU policy toward the PA, even, perhaps, over Washington’s objections. (interview, EU official, Brussels, July 2006) [p8] 
(*) Note 34: “The Quartet did not give Hamas an opportunity to deal with anything. Within three minutes of its electoral victory, a number of officials convened at Davos with Solana at their head and talked about boycotting the Palestinians, while the U.S. and Israeli immediately did this. The Quartet did not even give Hamas the customary 100 days to learn about its program and policies; instead it immediately announced its boycott and siege”. Crisis Group interview, Abu Marzuq, Damascus, 11 July 2006.

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