The long-awaited peace in the Middle East can only come by accepting realities as they are, and by telling the American people the truth. Such honesty, of course, is in severely short supply.
(Rome) On July 20, 2010, Second Protocol, an Italian on line publication, self-proclaimed as a “defender of Human Rights”, posted a demand for the removal from her position as High Representative For Foreign Affairs of Catherine Ashton because she supports Hamas in Gaza.
SECOND PROTOCOL writes:
The visit to Gaza by the High Representative of European Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, coupled with her statements in favor of the oppressive polices of Hamas forces us to demand her immediate substitution or, as an alternative, an act of courage on her part and her immediate resignation.
The reasons for our request are as follows:
1. Speaking in the name of the entire European Union, Ashton has demanded that Israel open passages to Gaza, knowing quite well that such an eventuality would permit Hamas terrorists to enter Israel and carry out terrorist acts and to introduce arms of all types into Gaza. Her position is still more irresponsible in that the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip has never concealed its desire to destroy Israel. Ashton favors Hamas and the potential destruction of the Jewish state. This is not the position of the European Union.
2. Ashton deliberately ignores the continuous violations of fundamental human rights perpetrated by Hamas in Gaza. She is in total disaccord with European policies and the European Convention on Human Rights.
3. Ashton expresses her personal opinions as if they represented the common policy of the European Union.
4. Ashton supports openly Hamas which the European Union considers a terrorist group.
5. In her numerous visits to the Gaza Strip, Ashton has never taken into consideration the development projects there financed by European funds, and stolen by Hamas. She has proposed other projects, knowing quite well that the funds will end up in the hands of Hamas.
6. On last July 18, Ashton visited summer camps organized by UNRWA (the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees) for Gaza youth, expressing her satisfaction with the activities of these camps while not saying a single word of condemnation concerning the two UNRWA camps destroyed by Hamas because they admitted both boys and girls.
Ashton however did ask to see the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalt, as widely requested, but only whispering a generic call for his liberation. The European Union, of which Ashton is a representative, did express request the International Red Cross be allowed to visit Corporal Shalit.
For these reasons and for her declarations during recent months favoring support for Hamas (and not of Palestinians), we ask the European Union, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Italian deputies to the European Parliament, to demand the immediate removal of Catherine Ashton from her office as High Representative for European Foreign Policy (Minister of Foreign Affairs) because she is clearly opposed to the position of the European Union.
Hamas is a terrorist group that holds in hostage 1.5 million Palestinians and each day violates fundamental human rights. Europe cannot have as its Minister of Foreign Affairs or its equivalent who openly supports a terrorist group.
This request was sent to the President of the European Commission for Foreign Affairs, Gabriele Albertini, to its Vice-Presidents and in the form of a petition to the European Parliament.
The real Hamas is not the one described above. The above is lie from start to end. Three years ago the then Italian Premier, Romano Prodi, proposed dialogue with Hamas, prompting speculations that Italy had abandoned the American “umbrella.” The intimation was that Italy was edging toward a position shared by Russia, Norway and Canada in favor of negotiations with Hamas in Palestine. Predictably the Italian Right immediately launched vicious attacks on the center-left Premier, while Israel repeated the ritual, “Hamas has not changed.”
At that point, the electoral victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections of 2006 struck like a political earthquake in the Middle East. Hamas has been on America’s black list of terrorist organizations since 1997 and on the European Union list since 2003, along with al-Qaeda and various jihads. Today however Hamas green flags wave throughout Palestinian territories and some westerners shudder. With Israeli leadership in disarray, hardliners in power in Tehran, the non-war continuing in Iraq, and Lebanon in turmoil, relative to power at work in the Middle East, small and powerless outside Gaza, Hamas in power in that non-state today seems like the last straw for Israel, for the United States and part of Europe.
HAMAS. The very word truly rings ominous. To western ears. For many it means terrorism, kamikaze death squads and terrifying black-hooded militia armed with Kalashnikovs marching across TV screens of the world.
However in the eyes of the Palestinians of Gaza, just as is Hezbollah for Lebanese, Hamas means resistance to a foreign invader. In Palestinian eyes its hard line resistance to Israel has won out politically over the corrupt al-Fatah Party. In my opinion no peace will ever be achieved on the basis of Israeli-Fatah accords. Too many Palestinians have not forgotten the al-Fatah corruption.
Nonetheless, Hamas in power in tiny Gaza has turned the Middle East upside down. More hysterical commentators compared the Hamas electoral victory to that of Adolf Hitler elected by the German people. For all concerned, its electoral victory was a turning point in the Middle Eastern drama.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
The United States and Europe are now obligated to deal with the reality of the Hamas electoral victory, achieved in the democratic process, for which America allegedly went to war in Iraq. With fundamentalists and/or anti-Western governments now in power in Iran and Syria, and Hamas in this tiny Palestinian territory, the Pax Americana in the Middle East became shakier than ever. Reality dictates that the American Presidency eat Bush’s words that he would never negotiate with terrorists: the US defines Hamas as a terrorist organization but is obligated to negotiate with it.
Hamas is so deeply entrenched in Palestinian society that military action against it seems excluded. Though the Hamas’s tough position vis-à-vis Israel suits Palestinians quite well, that its statutes call for the elimination of Israel is unacceptable to the USA and most of Europe. Both Washington and European nations have warned Hamas that it must lay down its arms and recognize Israel before normal relations can be established with it. No problem, cynics and realists reply. Terrorists of yesterday can become friends today.
WHAT IS HAMAS?
It is a simplification and unjust to label Hamas just another terrorist organization. That has been the erroneous Western position toward Hezbollah, which has become a major political party in Lebanon.
Hamas is not al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden is not its leader. Its participation in western style elections violates al-Qaeda principles. Hamas is double-headed. It is both a nationalistic political party and a resistance organization, even more so than in the case of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Its success as a political party came about because of its success as a resistance movement.
Here is a historical note available on line: In 1973, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin founded the Gaza al-Mujamah, a social organization linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Israel itself encouraged the Yassin movement in order to counter Yasir Arafat’s Al-Fatah. This forerunner of Hamas established schools and clinics among poor Palestinians, founded newspapers and created a lively social life. The Islamic University of Gaza became its ideological base, gradually dominated by radicals, dedicated to resistance against foreign invaders.
The Hamas tie with the Muslim Brotherhood is fundamental. Born in Egypt in 1928 as a semi-political fraternal society with Wahabbist fundamentalist leanings, the Brotherhood has spawned various extremist organizations. The Muslim Brotherhood has a way of creating resistance organizations, then backing away from them, an effective policy of opposition. The Brotherhood’s most illustrious member years ago was Osama Bin Laden. The CIA supported both the Brotherhood and Bin Laden in Afghanistan during the Cold War because of their anti-Soviet position. And the Muslim Brotherhood is the major opposition party-organization in Egypt, with over 60 seats in Parliament.
On the foundations of welfare-oriented Gaza al-Mujamah, the Muslim Brotherhood created HAMAS, the Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement, to combat Israeli occupation. A distinction emerged between Hamas the nationalistic political party and Hamas the resistance organization. Arafat’s al-Fatah, the Palestinian party-state of some forty years, and Hamas took different paths. In the years before Arafat’s death six years ago, al-Fatah, while more and more corrupt, displayed traditional nationalistic aspirations, with a close eye on the international scene. Hamas instead was busily broadening its power base among the poor, especially in the refugee camps.
It is true that in 1991 Hamas created a military wing that organized kamikaze attacks on Israel. However, at the same time, a separation of objectives between the political and the military wings of Hamas took place. Hamas’s social welfare program on one hand and its armed resistance to Israel on the other combined to enhance its image among all the Palestinian people.
In Palestinian eyes it was the resistance of the weak against the strong, of the poor against the rich. Witness after witness testify that the masses of Palestinians today credit Hamas with chasing Israelis out of Gaza. The feeling is widespread that armed resistance pays.
On the other hand, Israel and the United States have never recognized the distinction between social Hamas and “terroristic” Hamas. In a raid in 2004, Israel killed Hamas founder, Sheikh Yassin, and announced it would continue its program of pinpointed killing of Hamas leaders. But until Hamas got on the infamous black list of terrorist organizations, Europe continued to distinguish between its two major factions, one welfare, and the other military. No longer.
It is clear that negotiations with Hamas do not mean acceptance of terrorism. Not to talk however would be to ignore the reality of its position in Palestinian society. What is terrorism or what is resistance has always been a point of view. The (once) democratic country of Israel itself came about on the back of its terrorism/resistance against British occupiers of the Holy Land.
Hamas has rightly boasted that what happened in Palestine has never happened in any other Arab country: free elections pointed toward democratic alternation in power between two parties. This development, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, thirty minutes from Jerusalem, seemed to point toward the foundation of peace in the area.
Not even Hamas expected such a crushing electoral victory in 2006 that awarded it 76 seats in the Palestinian Parliament, and only 43 to al-Fatah. Why, one wondered immediately, why did the Palestinian majority swing their vote to Hamas?
An Italian journalist who has spent much time in Palestine describes why one educated secular middle class Palestinian switched his vote to Hamas. Though this voter considered the use of force against powerful Israel madness, he lost faith in al-Fatah leaders to stop Israel’s colonization of the occupied territories. Negotiations could not gain Israeli recognition of the Palestinian state nor block the growing wall around his lands. Negotiations could not eliminate the roadblocks, the humiliations and crude treatment of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers, the uprooting and felling of their olive trees.
This voter shows how foreign invasion of Iraq, torture in Abu Ghraib, and arrests and trampling of citizens’ rights from Morocco to Indonesia have created new support for Islamic radical fundamentalism.
THE NEW SITUATION
Israeli writer David Grossman once noted the paradox that just at the moment a majority of Israelis were ready to negotiate a peace, Palestinians chose the radical path. The Hamas victory, Grossman charged, was a nightmare also for moderate Palestinians. He did not believe Hamas would change its real nature but he did think its leaders in power would become more pragmatic. At the same time however, a survey in Israel showed that 48% of Israelis favored dialogue also with Hamas.
Today Hamas has the support of many Arab states, some of which urge it to recognize Israel. Since Hamas never supported Saddam Hussein as did Arafat, the rich Emirates, enemies of Saddam, have rewarded it with funds that previously went to Arafat’s al-Fatah party, much of which apparently went to bank accounts abroad. Egyptians interviewed on the streets of Cairo by Italian TV favor Hamas. The European Union has been ready to continue its annual aid of 500,000,000 euros to the Palestinian Authority as long as Hamas observes the ceasefire.
Though the West is legally bound by the election results, the diplomatic question concerning peace between Palestinians and Israel remains: is there a meeting ground between the West and Hamas? Some European observers believe there must be. Since peace in Palestine has in recent years at least seemed achievable, many agreed with Grossman that Hamas in power would be more careful. As an uncontrollable party-movement-organization, its hands were free; as the political majority representative of the Palestinian people, Hamas must be more pragmatic, without however abandonment of its raison-etre. With the Palestinian majority behind it, Hamas is in a position to make peace with Israel, as al-Fatah could not.
It should be kept firmly in mind that Palestine is not a state. It is two territories, Gaza, relatively free of Israeli troops, and the West Bank still subject to Israeli occupation. The goal of both al-Fatah and Hamas is the creation of a Palestinian state. Since the USA claims to share that objective, both the al-Fatah Palestinian President Abu Mazen and Hamas strive for normal relations with Washington. Until today the problem has been the inclusion in the peace plan of an armed Islamic party, Hamas.
If Palestine is not yet a state, it is a laboratory in which optimists hope to recycle former “terrorists.” Some Hamas leaders appear to be ready for recycling as happened to a limited extent with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Meanwhile, Israel’s latest withdrawal from Gaza convinced Hamas and Arabs elsewhere that they can gain immediate advantages with armed resistance. However, Hamas’s successes can also convince its leadership to rally around a “truce-with-Israel” position in order to emerge from the nightmarish economic situation in Palestine.
The European Union classifies 40% of Palestinians as poor, living on less than $2 a day. Unemployment in the Gaza Strip runs up to 70%, on the West Bank 45%. Aid from abroad is essential. Aid from Arab states does not suffice. Hamas itself is aware of the utility of its two faces, the more pragmatic political wing on one hand, and the hard line radicals on the other. Recognition of this difference by the West is urgent. The political lesson is: Hamas exists. It is a complex reality that the West must help to evolve so that it works for peace.
Gaither Stewart, Featured Writer on Dandelion Salad, Senior Editor of Cyrano’s Journal Online and The Greanville Post and Special European Correspondent for both, is a novelist, reporter and essayist on historical and cultural topics. His observations, often controversial, are published on many venues across the web. He’s based in Rome. Stewart’s latest novel is The Trojan Spy, a thriller and morality tale in the tradition of John LeCarré.