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Israel's next logical step

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                          VIEWPOINT
"Exploring The Powerful Issues & Emotions of The Middle East" 
  Reaching out to 51,228 Viewpoint readers around the globe
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Editor's Note:

We were out of the office last week and did not publish. 
We hope you read this week's offering from Ali Abunimah, 
a frequent contributor to Viewpoint.

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                  Video Clip Of The Week

       Israel Creates Humanitarian Crisis In Gaza

Israel has cut off fuel to Gaza and has illegally 
instituted collective punishment on 1.5 million 
Palestinians. Raw sewage runs in the streets, hospitals 
have no power and the world stands silent and MSM does 
not cover the story. 

View: Israel Creates Humanitarian Crisis In Gaza 
   
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Israel's next logical step -by Ali Abunimah

"The next logical step" for the Israeli government "will 
have to be a decision whether to target the top political 
leadership" of Hamas. So said an Israeli official quoted 
in The Jerusalem Post. Tzahi Hanegbi, a senior member of 
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party and chairman of 
the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, echoed 
the call, arguing that "There's no difference between those 
who wear a suicide suit and a diplomat's suit." 

Following a cabinet meeting on 10 February, Israel's 
Interior Minister Shimon Sheetrit specifically called for 
the execution of Ismail Haniyeh, the democratically-elected 
Hamas prime minister, and added that for good measure "We 
must take a neighborhood in Gaza and wipe it off the map." 

Last September, Yossi Alpher, the co-founder of the 
European Union-funded publication Bitterlemons, wrote an 
article advocating "decapitating the Hamas leadership, both 
military and 'civilian.'" Alpher, a former special adviser 
to Israel's defense minister Ehud Barak when the latter was 
prime minister, worried that Israel would "pay a price in 
terms of international condemnation," for "targeting legally
elected Hamas officials who won a fair election," but that 
overall it would be well worth it. 

Executing democratically-elected leaders may require more 
chutzpah than even Israel has shown, but the possibility 
and its disastrous consequences have to be taken seriously 
given Israel's track record. Israel executed Hamas' 
elderly, quadriplegic and wheelchair-bound co-founder, 
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in 2004, followed shortly afterwards 
by the execution his successor as the movement's leader, 
Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi. 

Aside from the United States, Israel is the only country 
where the murder of foreign leaders is openly debated as 
a policy option. 

Israeli official propaganda presents all its recent actions 
as defensive and necessary to stop the rockets fired by 
Palestinian fighters in Gaza. But if Israel's goal was to 
achieve calm and a cessation of violence, the first logical 
step would not be to contemplate new atrocities, but to 
respond positively to Hamas' repeated ceasefire proposals. 

When it was elected in January 2006, Hamas had observed 
a unilateral ceasefire for more than a year. After the 
election, Hamas' leaders offered a long-term total truce, 
tentatively following the political path of other militant 
groups including the Irish Republican Army (IRA), whose 
1994 ceasefire paved the way for the peace agreement in 
Northern Ireland. (In December, US President George W. 
Bush received Martin McGuinness, former second in command 
of the IRA, and now Deputy First Minister of Northern 
Ireland, at the White House.) 

Last December, Haaretz reported that Hamas had secured the 
agreement of all factions to end rocket fire on Israel, 
provided Israel reciprocated. Hamas was also engaged in 
indirect negotiations for the release of Palestinian 
political prisoners in exchange for an Israeli prisoner 
of war held in Gaza. 

Olmert rejected the December ceasefire offer. "The State 
of Israel," he said, "has no interest in negotiating with 
entities that do not recognize the Quartet demands." In 
other words there could be no ceasefire until Hamas 
unilaterally accepted all of Israel's demands before 
negotiations could even begin. 

The problem was not that Israeli officials did not believe 
Hamas could deliver. Barak was reported to be in favor of 
considering a hudna -- a renewed truce, and a "senior 
Israeli security official" told Haaretz that "There's no 
doubt that Hamas is capable of forcing a let-up on Islamic 
Jihad and the other small factions in the Strip ... It 
won't be a 100 percent decrease, but even 98 percent would 
be a big change." ("Olmert rejects Hamas cease-fire offer," 
Haaretz, 25 December 2007). 

If even Israel believed that Hamas could reliably enforce 
a truce, why does it refuse to accept one? Why has it 
refused to engage with Hamas, as American and British 
policy-makers did with the IRA? 

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For Israel the potential that Hamas could turn to politics 
presents a threat, not an opportunity. Israel has no 
interest in facing Palestinian leaders who are at once 
committed to basic Palestinian rights, capable of deliver-
ing, and enjoy popular legitimacy and support. 

So instead of engaging with Hamas, the US and Israel 
announced a complete boycott which was intended to turn 
the Palestinian population against the movement. 

At the same time, the peace process show relaunched in 
Annapolis last November, followed by the international 
donors meeting in Paris where pledges of cash were shower-
ed on the Palestinian Authority to elevate the unelected, 
Israeli-backed Ramallah "government" of Mahmoud Abbas and 
Salam Fayyad in the eyes of Palestinians. With this renewed 
patronage and prestige, Abbas and company were to be pushed 
to sign a deal giving up Palestinian refugee rights and 
agreeing to a Palestinian Bantustan under permanent Israeli 
domination. 

Of course much more than Hamas stands in the way of the 
fulfillment of this Israeli fantasy. The Palestinian 
people would unite against such a deal. But Hamas is the 
most visible and well-organized obstacle. 

Rather than breaking under pressure, Hamas has made some 
impressive tactical gains, even as Gaza's agony increases. 
Even the dubious opinion polls that come out of EU-funded 
non-governmental organizations showed Hamas enjoying an 
upsurge of support after the breach of the Gaza-Egypt 
border. But with Israel and its backers steadfast in 
refusing to grant Hamas a political role, not even in 
operating the border crossings, the movement has no way 
to translate these tactical victories into strategic 
gains. Except for one: in the arena of world public 
opinion. 

Israel and Egypt, the two countries most responsible for 
the blockade of Gaza, were deeply embarrassed by the 
popular surge that temporarily broke the siege. No recent 
event has done as much to bring attention to the plight 
of Palestinians and expose Israel's crimes to international 
scrutiny. But one such action is not enough; already, 
Israel and Egypt with support from the quisling regime 
in Ramallah, the EU and the US are trying to reimpose the 
blockade. (In a repulsive echo of Yitzhak Rabin's infamous 
order to Israeli soldiers during the first Intifada to 
break the bones of Palestinians, Egypt's foreign minister 
Ahmed Aboul Gheit promised to do the same to Palestinians 
if they continued to enter Egypt.) 

Some Hamas leaders appear to understand the necessity and 
indeed the risks of mass, nonviolent resistance. "The next 
time there is a crisis in the Gaza Strip, Israel will have 
to face half a million Palestinians who will march toward 
Erez [crossing with Israel]," said Ahmed Yousef, a senior 
advisor to Ismail Haniyeh. "This is not an imaginary 
scenario and many Palestinians would be prepared to 
sacrifice their lives." Properly planned, repeated mass 
actions of this kind could galvanize public opinion in 
Arab and European countries and even North America forcing 
some governments to abandon the pro-Israel consensus. 

But here is where the great danger lies: with its 
escalation in Gaza and refusal to accept a ceasefire, 
Israel may be trying to provoke more rocket attacks and 
force Hamas into abandoning its political strategy al-
together to provide the needed pretext to "decapitate" 
the organization. Unfortunately, there are signs that 
Hamas is jumping into the trap. 

Some Hamas political leaders appeared to have been taken 
by surprise when the movement's military wing took credit 
for a suicide attack inside Israel for the first time 
since 2004. The attack in the Israeli town of Dimona on 
6 February killed an elderly woman as well as the bomber. 
As a consequence of Israel's and the "international 
community's" rejection of all of Hamas' political 
initiatives, those within the organization advocating a 
resumption of full-scale armed struggle may be gaining 
the upper hand. 

If they make such a tragic miscalculation, Israeli leaders 
may breathe a sigh of relief. After all, Israel is much 
more comfortable with rockets falling on Sderot, than it 
would be with hundreds of thousands of Palestinian 
civilians marching on the checkpoints in Gaza or the 
West Bank. 

The next logical step is for all Palestinian leaders still 
loyal to their people's cause to work together to mobilize 
the population, not to gain factional advantage, but to 
expose Israeli apartheid to a sustained and irresistible 
surge of people power. 

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Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to 
End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 
2006).
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