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Pray to avert a war!

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"Exploring The Powerful Issues & Emotions of The Middle East" 
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Editor's Note:

Folks, we may be headed for war very soon. Cheney will be
in the Middle East soon. He is not a carrier for peace.
Pray to avert a war!

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                  Video Clip Of The Week

               News Flashback: Lies of 2003

In a devastating montage of statements and counter state-
ments, a web of deceit unfolds. What emerges in this video 
clip is the way in which we were manipulated as a nation 
to go to war. Of course, 'they' needed a compliant media. 

View: News Flashback: Lies of 2003
By Ali Abunimah
Palestine Center Fellow

Since Hamas won the legislative elections in the Occupied 
Palestinian Territories in January 2006, the United States 
has attempted to isolate the Islamist resistance movement 
in Gaza while propping up the leadership of Palestinian 
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his defeated Fatah 
faction in Ramallah in the hope of reversing the election 
result and restoring Fatah to power. This fit the U.S. 
strategy of fostering so-called "moderate" regimes in the 
region, allied with the United States and dependent on it 
to a greater or less extent, and confronting indigenous 
forces such as Hamas in Palestine and Hizballah in Lebanon, 
which the United States portrays as being mere extensions 
of regional rival Iran. 

This strategy has backfired. In Palestine, Hamas withstood 
an extraordinary military, economic and political campaign 
waged against it by Israel with the encouragement of the 
United States. After its breach of the border wall with 
Egypt, allowing hundreds of thousands of desperate 
Palestinians to break the blockade on Gaza, Hamas is 
arguably more popular than ever. U.S.-sponsored peace 
negotiations between Israel and Abbas' U.S.-recognized 
Palestinian Authority have gone nowhere. There is a growing 
realization that the approach to Hamas must change. This 
brief assesses movement towards engagement with the group 
among various key actors. 


The election to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) 
was held on 25 January 2006, with support from President 
Bush, as part of his announced agenda of promoting 
democracy in the Middle East. On a turnout of 75 percent, 
the Hamas-backed Change and Reform list won 74 of the 132 
seats while the U.S.-backed Fatah won just 45. The election 
was judged to be free and fair by international observers, 
and Hamas won a larger overall share of the vote than 
Fatah. The PLC election was conducted according to a mixed 
system with each voter receiving two ballots, one to select 
a national party list with seats to be allocated by a 
system of proportional representation widely used around 
the world and one to select individual candidates in a 
local district. Hamas won a majority of the 66 seats 
allocated by proportional representation and an even larger 
share of the local district seats. Hamas's disproportionate-
ly large share of the seats in local districts was 
attributable to divisions in Fatah, which led rival Fatah 
candidates to run against each other in many areas, 
splitting their potential support. 

Within weeks of the election, Israel and the Quartet (the 
ad hoc group representing the United States, the European 
Union, Russia and the U.N. Secretary-General) had agreed 
to the complete isolation of Hamas unless it met certain 
conditions: renouncing armed struggle, recognizing Israel's 
main political demand that it has a "right to exist" as a 
Jewish state and agreeing to abide by all previously signed 
agreements. No reciprocal conditions were imposed on Israel—
which did not have to recognize Palestinian political 
demands a priori—was free to continue military attacks on 
Palestinians, expand settlements in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories and could violate signed agreements with 

With hindsight, it appears that the conditions were tailor-
ed to be unacceptable to Hamas. The United States, in 
collaboration with Israel and elements of the Fatah leader-
ship, put in place a plan to squeeze Hamas and the civilian 
population in Gaza militarily, economically and diplomat-
ically in the hope that the population would turn against 
Hamas and back to Fatah. The United States sponsored what 
amounted to an attempted coup against Hamas by contra-style 
militias, resulting in Hamas's complete takeover of the 
interior of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. 

This setback prompted the United States to support even 
greater pressure on Hamas while attempting to do an end-
run around the group by boosting economic and military 
support for Fatah in the West Bank. With the November 2007 
Annapolis meeting, the Bush administration relaunched peace 
talks between the Israeli government and Abbas. These 
talks, however, have made no reported progress; both 
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas are seen as 
weak leaders lacking the authority or mandate to negotiate 
or compromise on key issues. This political process has 
been overshadowed and further undermined by the humanitarian
crisis in Gaza, resulting from the Israeli siege and the 
escalating armed conflict that has claimed hundreds of 
Palestinian and several Israeli lives. 

Is Hamas Ready for Engagement?

One of the common claims of Israeli and other opponents 
of any engagement with Hamas is that the movement is an 
irrational "jihadist" organization with no identifiable 
or satiable political goals. It is presented exclusively 
as a "spoiler" for whom violence is its raison d'etre. In 
fact, Hamas is a complex, dynamic and diverse movement 
whose leadership has set its sights on a nationalist 
political strategy that cannot succeed without engagement 
with the group's adversaries, including Israel. 

The claim that no agreements can be reached with Hamas is 
belied by the fact that the group has observed indirectly 
negotiated hudnas in the past and has conducted indirect 
negotiations with Israel over the release of prisoners 
for several months. 

While media reports in the United States repeat the mantra 
that Hamas is committed to the "destruction of Israel," 
citing its 1988 charter as evidence, the Change and Reform 
platform did not make any such call and focused on good 
governance and fighting the corruption widely viewed as 
endemic under Fatah rule. On the political front, Hamas 
had suspended its campaign of armed resistance against 
Israel for a year prior to the elections, observing a 
hudna indirectly negotiated with Israel via Egypt and 
other intermediaries. Both before and after the election, 
Hamas leaders broadcast their interest in extending this 
truce on a reciprocal basis with Israel for ten to twenty 
years after which it could be renewed. 

Hamas leaders appear to have undertaken a fundamental shift 
in their strategy. After years of boycotting the political 
institutions set up under the 1993 Oslo Accords, they 
entered the political arena—as many critics had called on 
them to do. They appeared to have recognized the limits 
of what armed struggle could achieve without political 
engagement. Ahmed Yousef, a senior advisor to Hamas Prime 
Minister Ismail Haniyeh (who was dismissed by Abbas in June 
2007), explained the logic behind the extended hudna which 
calls for an end to violence without declaring an end to 
the conflict: "[w]hereas war dehumanizes the enemy and 
makes it easier to kill, a hudna affords the opportunity 
to humanize one's opponents and understand their position 
with the goal of resolving the intertribal or international 

Yousef proposed as a potential model the truce between the 
Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British government that 
laid the ground for an end to their conflict. He noted that 
the IRA "agreed to halt its military struggle to free 
Northern Ireland from British rule without recognizing 
British sovereignty." Irish Republicans, he observed, 
"continue to aspire to a united Ireland free of British 
rule, but rely upon peaceful methods." A crucial point 
from Hamas's perspective was that "[h]ad the IRA been 
forced to renounce its vision of reuniting Ireland before 
negotiations could occur, peace would never have prevailed."

Is it possible to find statements from Hamas figures, 
including some of high rank, that contradict this 
conciliatory tone and strategy and put forward more 
militant positions? Of course it is, which is exactly 
why Hamas cannot be pushed to move away from long-
established positions too quickly. Like the IRA and all 
other organizations in a similar position, it must move 
incrementally as its own concerns and the needs of its 
constituencies are addressed. To do otherwise would be 
to risk splits and provoke rebellion from the rank and 
file. The British and U.S. governments understood this 
in the IRA case but have made no such allowances for 

Hamas's escalation of its armed response to Israel's 
siege, extrajudicial killings of its members and attacks 
on the Gaza Strip does not contradict the desire to reach 
an extended hudna. Rather, it appears to be a calculated 
gamble that such action can force Israel to agree to 
pursue a long-term truce with new "rules of engagement" 
and at the same time veto any political process, such 
as Annapolis, that attempts to bypass Hamas. The group 
also wants a deal to re-open Gaza border crossings in 
which it will have some role. 


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The Palestinian Authority

It is likely that the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud 
Abbas would engage in a rapprochement with Hamas absent 
the significant U.S. pressure on it to maintain a boycott 
of the group. Abbas, after all, infuriated the Bush 
administration by agreeing to form the short-lived national 
unity government in February 2007 as part of the Saudi-
sponsored Mecca agreement. Rank and file Fatah members tend 
to favor reconciliation, as do some key figures within the 
movement. Nevertheless, some powerful Abbas advisors have 
an entrenched interest in the status quo; their patronage, 
financing, privileges and recognition by the United States, 
Israel and the E.U. stems from their willingness to confront
and work against Hamas. They may be the last to consent to 
any accommodation as they would stand to lose most from it. 

Is Israel Ready for Engagement?

The debate within the Israeli political-military establish-
ment is between those on the one hand who believe that 
reoccupying the interior of the Gaza Strip and possibly 
assassinating senior Hamas civilian leaders can "solve" 
Israel's problem, and those on the other who have recognized
that some form of accommodation is inevitable and is the 
only means to stop the escalation of violence. The position 
of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, while nominally 
closer to the former camp, may be driven by political 
expediency rather than ideology. Olmert, like Abbas, is a 
politically vulnerable leader heading a fractious coalition;
his position depends to a large extent on U.S. political 
support. This support in turn depends on Olmert going along 
with U.S.-set goals: a continuous negotiation process with 
Abbas, even if it achieves nothing, and the isolation of 
Hamas as part of the broader U.S. regional strategy of 
confronting "extremists" and supporting U.S.-anointed 

Yet within Israel, there appears to be a shift in public 
and elite opinion towards supporting cease-fire negotiations
with Hamas. Two thirds of Israelis, including half of Likud 
voters and large majorities of Kadima and Labor voters, now 
support direct negotiations with Hamas to achieve a truce 
and release prisoners. There is a growing sense that 
"[p]ower has limitations. The Israel Defense Forces cannot 
solve everything." 

Perhaps the most hawkish advocate of engaging Hamas has 
been Efraim Halevy, the former head of Israel's Mossad 
intelligence service. Halevy rejects the oft-made claim 
that Hamas cooperates with or is ideologically similar 
to Al-Qaeda or that the group is subservient to Iran. 
Hamas is "more credible and effective as a political 
force" than Fatah, which Halevy estimates is "more than 
ever discredited as weak, enormously corrupt and politi-
cally inept." Halevy notes that Hamas "pulled off three 
'feats' in recent years in conditions of great adversity. 
They won the general elections to the Palestinian Legis-
lative Council in 2006; they preempted a Fatah design to 
wrest control of Gaza from them in 2007; and they broke 
out of a virtual siege that Israel imposed upon them in 
anuary 2008." In doing so, he argues, "They affected a 
strategic surprise upon all other players in the region 
and upon the United States, and in each case, no effective 
counter strategy mounted by the U.S. and Israel proved 
effective." Halevy has been critical of the political 
condition imposed on Hamas that it recognize Israel. The 
demand for "a priori renunciation of ideology before 
contact has been made," Halevy points out, "has never been 
made before either to an Arab state or to the Palestinian 
Liberation Organization/Fatah." 

Despite this apparent shift in Israeli opinion, there 
remains significant opposition to any engagement with 
Hamas, not least from opposition parties seeking to cast 
the government as "weak" in the face of "terrorism."  
While Israel may tacitly agree to short-term deals with 
Hamas, a fundamental change in the Israeli approach seems 
remote without significant external pressure. 

The U.S. Role

Up to this point, United States policy has been to foster 
and deepen internal Palestinian divisions, collude with 
Israeli policies that have caused significant harm to the 
Palestinian population and employ rhetoric that presents 
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as part of a regional or 
even global confrontation with Iran and "militant Islam," 
as opposed to a local conflict that can be resolved through 
mutually satisfactory political arrangements and guarantees.

Yet, the shift in view apparent in Israel is also evident 
among U.S. foreign policy elites, where some prominent 
Middle East policymakers have long been critical of the 
policy of shunning Hamas. One barometer of changing senti-
ment is that both The New York Times and The Washington 
Post recently published editorials criticizing the current 
approach and calling for a negotiated truce with Hamas. It 
is too much to expect that the Bush administration will 
abandon its entrenched positions and publicly reverse 
course, however. The best that can be hoped is that the 
United States will not stand in the way of third parties 
mediating between Israel and Hamas. A positive sign is 
that the United States appears to have blessed recent 
efforts by Egypt to broker a truce ending the upsurge in 
violence in Gaza and southern Israel. 

An additional factor is the U.S. presidential election 
campaign. Rather than promote sober discussion of policy, 
this tends to push candidates towards more hawkish 
positions. Already, one of the major Democratic contenders 
has publicly endorsed the Bush administration policy of 
refusing to talk to Hamas, even while stating that he 
might engage with other groups currently shunned by the 
United States. Nevertheless, what is said in an election 
may not serve as an accurate guide to what a new 
administration might do. 

Above all, the United States must abandon the policy of 
picking sides in internal Palestinian politics and allow 
Palestinian factions to reach an internal accommodation, 
as the vast majority of the Palestinians desire. 

Europe Uneasy

Once seen as an independent and more even-handed actor with 
respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the European 
Union has in recent years hitched its wagon to the United 
States policy of unconditional support for Israel. This 
tendency has been more pronounced since 2003 after which 
date European policy has been driven by an imperative to 
heal the internal and transatlantic rifts caused by the 
Iraq war and the absorption by some European elites of 
the rhetoric of a "clash of civilizations" with Islam. 
Nevertheless, while publicly committed to the Quartet 
conditions, some European governments have maintained 
low-key channels with Hamas, and there is growing unease 
with the isolation strategy. 

Notably, the European Parliament passed a resolution 
declaring that "the policy of isolation of the Gaza Strip 
has failed at both the political and humanitarian level" 
and calling on the Abbas Palestinian Authority to work with 
"all parties concerned in the Gaza Strip"—code for Hamas—
for a reopening of the Gaza crossings. Calls for direct 
engagement with Hamas have also been growing from European 
civil society. A joint report issued by eight leading human 
rights and humanitarian agencies, including Amnesty Inter-
national, Oxfam, Save the Children U.K. and Christian Aid, 
called for talks with Hamas, concluding that "the inter-
national policy of isolating Hamas has not reaped any 
benefits. On the contrary, it has led to increasing polar-
ization across the Occupied Palestinian Territories and 
resulted in a political stalemate with Israel." Israel's 
ambassador to the E.U. has reportedly warned his government 
of "an overall European policy change toward Israel and 
the Palestinian Authority, which could even lead to a 
recognition of Hamas," and Marc Otte, the E.U. Middle East 
envoy has declared, "We must consider a change of policy 
in everything regarding Gaza." 

These changes, while welcome, are again unlikely to result 
in a complete reversal in European policy. However, they 
are likely to lead to more contacts with Hamas outside the 
public eye and perhaps European efforts to persuade the 
United States and Israel to moderate their own hard-line 
approaches. If this happens, it may help diminish violence, 
foster internal Palestinian unity and lay the groundwork 
for a genuine peace process that has popular consent and 
therefore a chance to succeed. 

Ali Abunimah is a fellow at the Palestine Center in 
Washington, DC. He is an expert on Palestine, the 
Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is the author of One 
Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian 
Impasse. Abunimah also co-founded The Electronic Intifada, 
an online publication about Palestine and the Palestine-
Israeli conflict, Electronic Iraq and Electronic Lebanon. 


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