By John O’Mahony
Throughout the second intifada, the revolt of the Palestinians against Israeli colonial rule, there could be seen a tragic entanglement, almost a tacit alliance, between Hamas on the Palestinian and Likud on the Israeli side. Together they made impossible any progress out of the conflict.
Again and again, their actions strengthened each other at the expense of more conciliatory forces on both sides.
The use of vastly disproportionate military force, against civilians and in circumstances in which civilians were predictably going to be the victims, by the Israeli state. Suicide bombings, inflicting maximum slaughter on Israeli civilians, by Hamas and the other groups which sent out young men with explosives strapped to their bodies, revenge in their hearts, and in their heads the demented expection of an immediate reward in a virgin-rich paradise.
In a tit-for-tat war, Likud and Hamas destroyed what progress towards a Palestinian state side by side with Israel there had been in the last half of the 1990s.
Now, the election of a Hamas majority in the Palestinian parliament — a majority rejecting Israel’s right to exist (which the PLO has accepted since 1988) and making a principle of not even talking to Israel. And in Israel, the election of a Knesset which will probably produce a government determined to impose a unilateral Israeli “settlement” — an Israeli-decided border within which the Jewish state will exist behind the Great Wall of Palestine which Israel has constructed over the last four years, cut off as much as possible from the Palestinians.
Kadima, the party which is likely to be the senior partner in the next Israeli government (with the Israeli Labour Party as its main junior partner), fought the election as a referendum on a commitment to impose a unilateral Israeli border. And on a commitment to a border that will cut the West Bank territory left to the Palestinians in two, thus making a minimally territorially-united Palestinian state impossible.
The election by the Palestinians of Hamas, a party of religious fundamentalists with the “destroy Israel” policy which the PLO moved away from two decades ago, cannot but recommend the policy of unilateral Israeli action to “settle” the border to even Israelis who for choice would prefer a negotiated settlement. And unilateral Israeli action can not but cut the political ground from under those Palestinians who would choose a negotiated settlement on the basis of two states, an independent and viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.
That the Palestinian majority, according to reports, voted for Hamas out of disgust with Fatah corruption, rather than for its policy towards Israel, only adds an extra element of tragic farcicality to the situation. Hamas is cleaner and less venal in day-to-day affairs than Fatah.
What happens next? That will depend not on either Israelis or Palestinians, but on the international ringmasters, in the first place the USA.
International pressure on, in fact bullying of, Hamas has followed the Palestinian election, in an attempt to compel it to recognise Israel and commit itself to a negotiated settlement. Opposition to that international pressure, on the grounds that Palestinian self-determination is thereby violated, is misguided. Unless the pressure succeeds, Hamas’s policies will shunt the Palestinians into a ghetto-state. Israel’s desire to act unilaterally will be made to seem both reasonable and, in the circumstances, inevitable.
It is desperately in the most basic interests of the Palestinians that Hamas should be forced to cover the political ground, towards accepting a two-states solution, which it took the PLO decades to cover. The chance that it will be so compelled seems very remote.
Hamas is a radically religious-political movement, not a pragmatic secularist formation. It has indicated that it will de facto, tacitly, accept Israel’s existence as for now an unchangeable fact, leaving the future uncertain. Beyond that it will not, it seems, go.
If the worst Israeli chauvinists had controlled the outcome of the Palestinian elections, they could not have done better for their own cause than to secure the victory of their religio-chauvinist Palestinian alter ego.
Might a unilaterally-imposed Israeli border “work” and provide a framework, far from ideal but still a framework, for the building up of a Palestinian state, in receipt of the massive international aid it would need, and an evolution towards Palestinian-Israeli mutual acception in their neighbouring states, separated at first by the Wall?
That will surely depend on how near to be “reasonable” and “just” a unilateral Israeli-imposed settlement is — on how much of a brutally unjust, chauvinist, great power outrage against Palestinian rights it is (and, compared to the Palestinians, Israel is a great power).
That too will surely depend on the international pressure exerted on Israel, in the first place by the USA. The “roadmap” for peace was allowed to die because the Israeli government was allowed to pay lip-service to it while in practice acting against it.
For instance, will Israel be allowed to cut in two the West Bank territory remaining to the Palestinians outside the Great Wall? In their own long-term interests, the USA and the EU should ensure that it is not.
But in so far as it was in their interest to secure a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — and surely it was — they should have insisted on Israeli compliance with the roadmap. They did not. They thereby ensured that the carnage would continue. Much of the responsibility for what has been happening rests on them.
There are no grounds for confidence that, this time round, they will restrain Israeli chauvinists from unilaterally inflicting on the Palestinians a “settlement” and borders that will ensure that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues, hideously, for decades ahead.
The hope for the future lies with the serious secularist Israeli and Palestinian left, against the chauvinists on both sides. Honest socialists in Britain must make political war on the brain-dead, irresponsible, political Neanderthals who back such groups as Hamas for their supposed “anti-imperialism”.