Thursday, April 06, 2006

Recognition double-speak

There is a lot of talk about Hamas refusal to recognize Israel at the moment: when would it do so, if, and on what terms, and what if not... all this is very much a double-speak; things are not what they seem. I'll try to explain why.

Hamas has never 'recognized Israel', and as far as I know its platform still calls for an Islamic state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. However, by participating in the parliamentary elections, winning them, and forming the government, Hamas has given Israel a de-facto recognition that is far more important the any formal one. First, the legal basis for the Palestinian Authority is the Oslo accords, and a Palestinian (PLO at the time) recognition of Israel. Any attempt to change this basis will require Israeli or international approval. Second, on a more practical level, Israel retains complete control over the Palestinian territories: in the West Bank through direct military occupation, and in Gaza by controlling the air, water and borders. The Palestinian Authority, as Hamas leaders are now finding out, is a body which has the powers of a municipal authority. It has some control over civil matters (health, education), and a grotesequly inflated police force. But it has no sovereignty in any real sense of the word. Anything that you might think of as sovereignty: border control; population register; water and electricity - all depend, in one way or another, on Israel. In many ways, a Israeli non-commissioned-officer in a check-point in the West Bank has far more power over the life of Palestinians than Ismail Haniya, the new Palestinian PM.

These are the rules of Oslo, which form the legal basis of the Palestinian Authority, which Hamas is now running. And so far Hamas was careful not to repudiate Oslo. Palestinians elected Hamas for many reasons, but the desire to see full-scale confrontation with Israel was not one of them. If Hamas attempts any radical, unilateral changes to the terms of reference of Oslo, this may lead to such escalation.

The demand for 'recognition of Israel', which is voiced from Israel, Europe and the U.S. has several reasons. It can be seen as an attempt to coax Hamas into the Oslo game, to play the part Fateh has been playing for 13 years: first recognize Israel, then 'prove yourself' through implementing endless lists of demands, while Israel continues its unilateral policies (settlment, closures etc) without interference. Hamas is unlikely to play this part, for good reasons (see Alastair Crooke article on Laila's blog).

But as it comes from Israel, the demand for recognition is used to justify Israeli unilateral policies. For this purpose, Israeli politicians deliberately conflate recognition of Israel's existence, with recognizing Israel's historical right to be established - most Palestinians (in historical Palestine) would have no problems with the first, but will never agree to the second.

Another excuse for the boycott on Hamas is that it is a 'terrorist organization'. True, Hamas were the first to use the deplorable, hideous tactic of suicide bombing of civilian targets, in the early 1990s, but in the last Intifada Fateh has used it as well, and sadly it has become a legitimate military means in the eyes of most Palestinians (only to their detriment). There is no real difference between the Hamas and Fateh on moral ground. Only that Hamas has proved that it is much more able to abide by the cease-fire.

However, the Israeli demand for recognition is a double-edged sword. Embargo on Hamas-led PA will inevitably bring its demise, sooner rather than later. The PA budget relies heavily on European aid money. If Israel witholds the Palestinian tax money it collects (in the customs), and pressures Europe to stop the aid, then the PA cannot possibly go on for much longer: with 50% unemployment and more, Palestinian revenue from taxes is pitiful. I personally don't think Arab/Iranian aid is likely to bridge the gap. The end of the PA will be against Israeli interests, because it would force Israel to assume responsibility over, and pay for, health and education in the occupied territories. The present occupation deluxe state of things - a Israeli military occupation funded by European money - can continue only as long as the PA survives.

To sum up, both sides do not mean what they say. Hamas may be playing the card of recognition (it's the only card they've got), and pretending 'not to recognize Israel' but they know well that (a) by running the PA they de-facto recognize Israel and the Oslo accords and (b) if they are serious about making life better for Palestinians (which I think they are) they will have to come to terms with Israel.
And Israel may pretend to be advocating a total boycott of Hamas-run PA, but its biggest nightmare is that such boycott will succeed; if the PA collapses, this might spell the end of the 2-state solution, and Israelis' worst fear is a Palestinian call for one state, one man, one vote.

Where will this catch 22 lead to? I don't know. But I am afraid that this game of pretence will lead to an escalation that nobody actually wants.

6 Comments:

At 2:35 AM, Blogger johnie said...

dear mink, thanks for another fine piece, there're a couple of points I'm not quite sure on, and I wondered if you could help me out.

1. if Israel's "biggest nightmare is that such boycott will succeed" what do you think they are aiming to achieve by continuing the policy? Surely by collapsing the PA you promote an increased level of violence which helps disengagement and the creation of new borders to be seen not as a land grab but as a legitimate means of defense. If Olmet fixes his borders where he intends doesn't that remove a truly viable Palestinian state of the map anyway.

2. No disrespect to 'Mink in Jerusalem' but with writing and analysis of this standard why are you not published more widely?

 
At 12:08 PM, Blogger mink said...

1. The PA has been useful for Israel in the last 5 years in a number of ways. First, as I said, it saved Israel the need to deal with civil matters; Second, it was one of the factors preventing complete economic collapse - it was more or less the only source of emplyoment; and third, it was an internationally-recognized entity that could be blamed for the situation and occasionally bombed (to make the Israeli public feel better). Thus, although everybody agreed Oslo was dead, the legal framework of Oslo was kept alive and it's not changed for 13 years.
The demise of the PA would be a major earthquake. It might, as you say, serve as a pretext for unilateral pull-out, but in a scenario of anarchy and humanitarian disaster, it would be a surprise if an international peace-keeping force would not be sent in. This is seen as a serious threat by the Israeli military and political establishment. Foreign presence in the West Bank will make it harder for Israel to draw the line as it pleases. So the survival of the PA is really a requirement for any unilateral plan.
The problem (I think) is that the hard-headed arrogant neo-con approach is now leading the way, both in Washington and in the Israeli military. The fact that it would be extremely stupid for Israel to destroy the PA, does not mean that they won't go ahead and do it anyway. Just as in Iraq the sheer stupidity of the project did not stop it from happening. Things may change with the forming of new government, but I'm not putting money on it.
As for your second question - that's very kind of you to say so - I have various excuses but the fact is that I've not tried to get published so far. I'm quite busy with writing my thesis but I am thinking of a journalistic carreer later. Thanks for the compliments!

 
At 2:18 AM, Blogger Calgacus said...

Fine post; aside from Crooke, you, Jimmy Carter and some Hamasniks, I've seen little sense on the subject of Hamas recognition - a bizarre request in itself - did the PLO demand that the Likud party recognize it? I strongly disagree on one point. The surprise would be an international peace-keeping force being sent in even in a "scenario of anarchy and humanitarian disaster" - maybe if it rose to the level of genocide it might happen. On the other hand, people tend to be a bit less stupid about doing stupid things on their borders, rather than thousands of miles away, so I agree that destruction of the PA is unlikely, and no one has the personal authority of the vanished Sharon to do it.

 
At 4:13 PM, Blogger johnie said...

despite reading crooke's and mink's pieces I still have problems with the whole recognition issue. If Hamas turned round and said ok we recognise the state of israel based on 1949 borders but all other settlements and areas outside of this have been taken over by military means and we refuse to accept their legitimacy, that puts the international focus back onto Israel, and the areas of lands that are under dispute.

 
At 5:11 AM, Blogger mink said...

For many in Hammas, recognition of Israel is not a tactical issue. It runs against the very principles of the movement, which reject the two-state solution, and any willingness for a real compromise over Palestine, although they were willing to discuss an extended cease fire. So this is not an easy one for them.
But as I said, by joining the Palestinian political system Hamas had put itself on a course to abandoning these positions. But I don't they expected they'd have to do it so quickly.

It is difficult after saying for years that the whole of Palestine is holy land which cannot be given away to come round and denounce these positions. For years they criticised Fateh for recognizing Israel and getting nothing in return. Now they find themselves in the same spot.

 
At 10:20 AM, Blogger solitarioh2005 said...

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What really moves people is Israel.

This is antisemitism disguised as defense of human rights.

You can claim you are Israeli or Jew.
During the warsaw guetto many jews collaborated with the Germans.

To be or not to be a Jew is not the issue.

Many jews can be antisemites(Self Hating Jews).

Nothing that the Arab, muslims do is bad enought.

All Israel do.., is criminal.
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It`s all Israel fault.

It is unbelievable.
People that claim to be muslims slam airplanes into skycrappers..., kill women..,( 11/04/2006
Four brothers indicted for murdering sister in 'honor killing' brutalize news anchors...( Saudi Arabia),do not honour their commitements...;
(Arafat, 99 agreements).., but people seem not moved by such events.

What really moves people is Israel.

This is antisemitism disguised as defense of human rights.

You can claim you are Israeli or Jew.
During the warsaw guetto many jews collaborated with the Germans.

To be or not to be a Jew is not the issue.

Many jews can be antisemites(Self Hating Jews).

Nothing that the Arab, muslims do is bad enought.
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