Letter from Ramallah

I think an alternative voice is required to continue the analysis of the Palestinian election result (My Edinburgh armchair opining will resume shortly).

Intifada Kid lives in Ramallah, and observed first hand the recent elections. Here he presents a blistering response to those who would write off the Palestinian people.

Ok, I’ve had enough of reading the amateurish and/or wrong-headed analysis provided by people like Devil’s Kitchen and Emanuele Ottolenghi. Both effectively make the same point: that Palestinians democratically electing Hamas vindicates Israel’s argument that there is no peace partner. As Ottolenghi writes:

“[u]nless Hamas reneges on its ideology and endorses a new course, then Israel’s claim that there is no Palestinian partner is vindicated. The resulting Israeli policy of unilateralism is vindicated. Israel’s argument that the Palestinians do not want peace is vindicated. Israel’s argument that Islamists’ nuances and differences of opinion are just tactical, not strategic, is also vindicated. And the prospects of a Palestinian state will become even more remote.”

This is a re-branding of that old Israeli argument: “Palestinians are genocidal anti-Semites who really don’t want peace, and so (even though we’d love to) we can’t reward them with statehood.”

In one stroke, Israel is absolved of responsibility for occupying and colonising Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the past 38 years, for displacing Palestinians in 1948 and 1967, for continuing to discriminate against its own Palestinian citizens in a blatantly racist manner, and for rejecting the appeals of Palestinian leaders like President Abbas to return to negotiations. Instead, the onus is once again on the Palestinians to prove that they are “moderate” enough to deserve a state. If they fail, well, we’ll be forced to keep colonising and occupying their lands, demolishing their homes and shooting their kids- ensuring that they “taste Israeli steel,” as Ottolenghi puts it. And of course, we have to accelerate construction of the Wall: the animals must be encaged.

First off, let’s remember that it is the PLO – not the PA or PLC – that remains responsible for negotiating a final status peace agreement with Israel. Israel isn’t supposed to negotiate with Hamas simply because they are in the PLC, a body elected by the minority of Palestinans who happen to live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel is required to negotiate with the legitimate representatives of all Palestinians everywhere – the PLO.

Hamas may become members of the PLO’s Palestinian National Council by virtue of being in the PLC, but Fateh remains dominant in the PLO. And the PLO has, since the Declaration of Independence in 1988, accepted a two-state solution. To read more about PLO positions on peace, negotiations and final status issues, visit nad-plo.org, the Negotiation Affairs Department of the PLO.

Secondly, far from vindicating Israel’s unilateralist approach, Hamas’ victory is in part a Palestinian response to the relentless occupation and colonisation of their land and Israel’s refusal to negotiate with President Abbas – a man who was, you may remember, elected on a platform of peace and the resumption of negotiations by an overwhelming majority of Palestinian living in the oPt a year ago. Israel’s stubborn refusal to return to negotiations, or even honour its agreements with the Palestinians (the Condoleezza Rice-brokered agreement of November 2005 is only the most recent example) served to undermine President Abbas’s message that Palestinians’ liberty, peace and prosperity could be achieved solely through negotiations with Israel.

One major reason why Palestinians rejected Fateh was that it is the party responsible for leading the PLO’s recognition of Israel in 1993 and a 10 year ‘peace process’ that brought with it no peace. As Saeb Erekat, the Chief Palestinian Negotiator wrote in the Financial Times, Israel’s unilateralism and constant refrain that there was no partner on the Palestinian side was nothing but ‘Bypass Diplomacy’, designed to protect Israel from negotiating with Palestinians before imposing a final-status arrangment on the Palestinians. This would/will probably take the form of a number of cantons with “transportational contiguity” which Israel could label a “state”, but which would lack the natural resources and viability to function as such.

Another reason Fateh were ousted was that their leaders were considered corrupt and self-servicing while Hamas’s leadership has spent over a decade building a functioning network of social services that the PA should have been providing.

Hamas were not voted into office for suicide bombings. Hamas have not even carried out any suicide bombs since 2004. If Palestinians wanted a leadership committed to suicide bombings, they would have followed Islamic Jihad’s call to boycott the elections. It is the (highly marginalised) Islamic Jihad who claimed responsibility for the past few suicide attacks in Israel.

In fact, Palestinians have actually never been more willing to compromise than they are now, as a recent report for the US Institute of Peace concluded.

So how do we resolve the apparent contradiction that the overwhelming majority of Palestinans support the resumption of negotiations with Israel, leading to peace on the basis of a two-state solution, and yet voted Hamas into office at the PLC? Perhaps the Palestinian electorate is very much like the Israeli one. Although all polls suggest most Israelis also want a two-state solution, and peace with Palestinians, they elected the war criminal Ariel Sharon and his ultra nationalist Likud party into office in their last elections. In situations of conflict perhaps people trust their toughest leaders most to make the difficult compromises and display pragmatism.

For Israel to claim now that, after arguing for years that it does not have a Palestinian partner, Hamas’ win only confirms their claim is disingenuous, hypocritical and, worst of all, damaging to the prospects of reaching a peaceful two-state solution – a solution that both Israelis and Palestinians continue to support, and certainly deserve.

Update

Regarding the need for strong leaders, Andrew Sullivan points to a similar sentiment by Jonathan Zasloff at The Reality-Based Community: The American public wants a Democratic policy, enacted by Republicans.