Opinion: Hamas and the collapse of Palestine/Israel Peace Negotiations

Palestine_Jerusalem_Geopoint_Right_of_Return_NK24131Two weeks ago the Israeli Cabinet declared that the peace negotiations over Palestine were halted in view of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. The fact that the Cabinet Meeting took six hours perhaps suggests that this was not a unanimous decision. Was it a reasonable decision?

Background on Hamas can be found here. The essentials are that it was founded with the aim of liberating Palestine from Israel and had an armed wing that has indulged in terrorism.  (Sound like Sinn Fein and the IRA?) Nonetheless it won Parliamentary elections in 2006 and for a while worked alongside President Abbas who is from the rival Fatah Party. In 2008, following disputes between the Parties, Hamas retreated to Gaza, while Fatah was left in control of the West Bank. In July 2009 in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Khalid Meshal, the leader of Hamas, said that the organisation was prepared to cooperate in seeking a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict which included a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. He has made this clear on a number of other occasions since then. There is every sign that Hamas has stopped using military tactics, although there are disaffected elements that continue to fire rockets into Israel. (Sound like IRA fringe groups?). Ironically Israel, which considers itself (wrongly) as the only democracy in the Middle East, wasn’t prepared to accept that it should negotiate with a government elected by the Palestinians. The US and other Western governments supported Israel on this.

So why would the Netanyahu government be so keen to halt the Peace negotiations because of Fatah and Hamas appearing to be working together to hold new elections? Mr Netanyahu as the leader of the Likud (Settler) Party never seemed to have his heart in the negotiations.  His Party wants to continue evicting Palestinians from their properties and settling the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Some other Cabinet Ministers are even more extreme than him.  It also seems pretty clear that the negotiations would never have started but for American political pressure. The EU applied helpful economic pressure; it now requires that goods produced in (illegal) settlements be labelled as such, and not as produce of Israel which enjoys favourable tariffs.

The reluctance of the British and other Western governments to recognise Hamas as the winner of the last Palestinian General Election and as the de facto ruler of Gaza was a major mistake. In Britain’s case it was presumably because we don’t have an independent foreign policy and follow the US line on Israel fairly closely. It is also true that Fatah wasn’t prepared to recognise Israel, but the signs since then are of de facto recognition. The rift between Fatah and Hamas has not been helpful to the peace process and has certainly continued the misery of Palestinians especially in Gaza.

Cathy Ashton the EU Foreign Policy Chief welcomed the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and the proposal to set up a unity government, as reported by several Israeli news outlets.  But she stressed the importance  for “…any new government to uphold the principle of non-violence, to remain committed to achieving a two-state solution and to a negotiated peaceful settlement … including Israel’s legitimate right to exist.”  It would be good to see some similar signal from the Coalition Government – which would also signal to the US Congress that its own almost unqualified support for Mr Netanyahu is not shared by the government of its principal ally. It is to be welcomed rather than condemned that Hamas and Fatah have signed a new agreement that includes provisions for elections within a few months.

Looking forward, as a Liberal Democrat, one hopes that a new Palestinian Government will shake off the image of corruption that has bedevilled Fatah and the scant regard for human rights that has often been shown by both Parties – especially Hamas. The British government should be doing everything possible to welcome and encourage the new rapprochement and helping in this direction.  It could also usefully put pressure on Israel to release Marwan Bhargouti who is perhaps the best placed politician to lead a reconciliation government. He is the Secretary General of Fatah who was seized by Israeli forces from the West Bank in 2002 and is very popular throughout Palestine. Many consider him the nearest that Palestine has to a Mandela figure.

To those who still argue that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine would compare its position to that of Sinn Fein in Ireland prior to the Good Friday Peace Agreement. It wasn’t until Sinn Fein leaders (ironically with American pressure on the Blair government) were brought into negotiations and then into power sharing, that peace was brought to Northern Ireland.  A peace settlement in Palestine without Hamas’s agreement (which would of course include Hamas’s formal acceptance of Israel’s right to exist) is unlikely to survive.

If you sympathise with the Palestinian cause and wish to support LDFP you will find more information, including how to join, here.

* John Kelly is a member in Warwick District, Secretary of the Lib Dem Friends of Palestine, and a member of the Federal International Relations Committee.

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  • If comparing Northern Ireland and Palestine we should note that the IRA announced a ceasefire that was accepted as genuine a month or so later and THEN Sinn Fein were invited to the formal multi-party talks. You state that “There is every sign that Hamas has stopped using military tactics, although there are disaffected elements that continue to fire rockets into Israel” Again to compare to Northern Ireland Hamas would have declared a ceasefire prior to talks and policed it within their sphere of control.

    “Every sign” of turning from violence and “De-Facto” recognition of Israel’s right to exist is not the same as a formal statement from Hamas backed by an evidenced ceasefire. You rightly state that peace in Northern Ireland required Sinn Fein to be admitted to the cross party talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement. But PIRA had to take a formal and evidenced step before that invitation. To ignore this is to re-write history.

    None of the above is comment on Israel or their actions, which have at times been reprehensible.

  • Barney Rubble 12th May '14 - 2:34pm

    Given that Israel repeatedly demanded talks “without preconditions” I’m not sure why it would now be fussy over who it talks to.
    Has anyone other than Gandhi ever renounced violence ?
    And if the Palestinians have to recognise Israel’s right to exist before talks does than mean that all elements of the Israeli government, such as Danny Danon and Naftali Bennett, have to openly recognise Palestine’s right to exist ?

  • The UK should be pushing for peace and in particular pushing for Israel to get rid of the settlement policy which is a major obstacle. I just wish Nick Clegg endorsed this position in government.

  • From the Charter of Hamas:

    “Article Thirteen: Peaceful Solutions, [Peace] Initiatives and International Conferences
    [Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad: “Allah is the all-powerful, but most people are not aware.” From time to time a clamoring is voiced, to hold an International Conference in search for a solution to the problem. Some accept the idea, others reject it, for one reason or another, demanding the implementation of this or that condition, as a prerequisite for agreeing to convene the Conference or for participating in it. But the Islamic Resistance Movement, which is aware of the [prospective] parties to this conference, and of their past and present positions towards the problems of the Muslims, does not believe that those conferences are capable of responding to demands, or of restoring rights or doing justice to the oppressed. Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the nonbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam. Since when did the Unbelievers do justice to the Believers? “And the Jews will not be pleased with thee, nor will the Christians, till thou follow their creed. Say: Lo! the guidance of Allah [himself] is the Guidance. And if you should follow their desires after the knowledge which has come unto thee, then you would have from Allah no protecting friend nor helper.” Sura 2 (the Cow), verse 120 There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility. The Palestinian people are too noble to have their future, their right and their destiny submitted to a vain game. As the hadith has it: “The people of Syria are Allah’s whip on this land; He takes revenge by their intermediary from whoever he wished among his worshipers. The Hypocrites among them are forbidden from vanquishing the true believers, and they will die in anxiety and sorrow.” (Told by Tabarani, who is traceable in ascending order of traditionaries to Muhammad, and by Ahmed whose chain of transmission is incomplete. But it is bound to be a true hadith, for both story tellers are reliable. Allah knows best.)”

  • ” A peace settlement in Palestine without Hamas’s agreement (which would of course include Hamas’s formal acceptance of Israel’s right to exist) is unlikely to survive.”

    There is no realistic prospect of Hamas forcing a settlement through violence. The rocket attacks serve only to bolster support for the more regressive elements in both communities and detract from international pressure on Israel to curb settlements in Palestinian territory.

    In Northern Ireland the abandonment of violence included the decommissioning of weapons stores. I expect a similar process would be required of Hamas (together with formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist) to instil sufficient in confidence in Israel that joint political negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (PLO/Fatah) and Hammas could usefully be undertaken.

  • Steve Way questions the analogy between Sinn Fein and Hamas. Analogies are never perfect but this one is close enough to be taken seriously. Sinn Fein had to be coaxed to renounce violence and take part in negotiations. Hamas seems to be getting closer and should be encouraged not dismissed.

    To Steve’s comment that Israel’s actions “have at times been reprehensible” , please note that they continue to be reprehensible on many counts. One example is the fact that as of March this year there were 5124 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centres. This number includes 210 in adminsitrative detention i.e. they hadn’t even had the benefit of the dubious trial system that is used for Palestinians rather than Israelis. It also included 201 children, of whom 28 were under the age of 16. It is not uncommon for children to be seized from their homes in the middle of the night, denied access to family and lawyers and kept in threatening conditions.

  • Julian Tisi 13th May '14 - 8:53am

    I’d like to know in all of this – what does the UN Peace Envoy, Tony Blair, have to say in all of this? Where is his push for peace, now that the Palestinians appear to be moving in the right direction? Sadly, he’s AWOL, as he has been frankly since his appointment

  • @John Kelly
    You say the analogy is close enough without answering my specific points. The only way this analogy fits is by Hamas declaring and policing a ceasefire. I speak with more than a little experience of the situation in Northern Ireland and as a supporter off the peace process there (however imperfect it may at times appear). However, having watched friends and colleagues die in that particular conflict I would not have supported Sinn Fein’s inclusion into the process without that first, tangible, step to non violence.

    I didn’t expand on Israel’s actions as this is not a thread about them. To do so will only lead to a tit for tat examination of atrocities rather than examining whether Hamas are ready to be admitted to the peace process. Israel’s actions are a truly disgusting at times, but their insistence that they will only talk with organisations that recognise their right to exist is not.

  • Further to my last comment, I would disagree with Joe that decommissioning would need to take place prior to negotiations. In Northern Ireland this process followed progress at the talks and began once PIRA were given reassurance regarding the good faith of the negotiations.

  • Barney Rubble 13th May '14 - 10:55am

    Matthew Harris,
    you say ““…any new (Palestinian) government to uphold the principle of non-violence, to remain committed to achieving a two-state solution … including Israel’s legitimate right to exist.”
    does that apply to members of the Israeli government too ?
    Does Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home party have to publically recognise Palestine’s right to exist ? “I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state,” he says of the Palestinians. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/01/21/130121fa_fact_remnick
    Does Danny Danon have to accept Palestine’s existence ? “There is place only for one state on the land of Israel…. I do not believe in a two-state solution.” http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/talktojazeera/2011/08/201185103022120129.html reaffirming his stance in June 2013:“Oy vey! Is it such a criminal offense to oppose a two-state solution? http://www.timesofisrael.com/amid-uproar-danon-stands-by-rejection-of-two-states/
    Is it even true that Netanyahu or Likud generally support a two state solution – not according to his colleagues
    “A two-state solution is not part of the Likud platform, MK Tzipi Hotovely declared Monday at a panel discussion in Jerusalem, adding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2009 speech calling for one was a tactical maneuver to placate the world and not an expression of support.”
    no wonder the Palestinians were pessimistic re the peace talks given this and Israel’s refusal to freeze settlements as required by the 2003 Road Map, refusal to base talks on the 67 borders, insistence that Palestine be demiltarised etc etc

  • Geoffrey Payne 13th May '14 - 1:37pm

    If you want to know who is not serious about negotiating peace, then I would say to whom does the current status quo benefit?
    It is the Israelis who have the most land, have greater access to water, and who have the power to impose sanctions on the Palestinians rather than the other way round. The Israelis have largely solved the problem with suicide bombers thanks to the wall they built around the Palestinians. The Israelis have by far the most powerful army and can use it to punish the Palestinians at will. So why would they want to negotiate a deal with anyone? From their point of view, things are about as fine as they could realistically be. And the politicians they elect reflect that.
    The one big weakness that Israel has is their reliance on the US – a superpower in steep decline. Without US support, Israel would not be a viable country on the way it is today given the amount of aid they recieve. For now things there look fine too from their point of view. Politicians fall over themselves trying to be the most pro Israeli of all. The Obama administration is beginning to be a bit more critical, but for as long as the US remains such as important donar Israeli will believe it does not need to change.

  • @Matthew Harris
    “Israel and the international community (UK included) have been very clear that Hamas will be warmly welcomed into peace talks”
    Action speaks louder than words. If the UK is so keen for peace, why is it not pushing hard for the end of new settlements?

  • Thank you Barney Rubble . I think you have answered most points.

    To answer Mathew Harris the other Middle Easter democracies are Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey and Tunisia. Even Iran has democratic institutions.

  • “Israelis are desperate for peace”
    Hardly. They are still approving new settlements which they must know do not help peace but merely prolong the conflict for political reasons. And yes, if the Israelis do not fear sanctions, then I really do not see much changing.
    Is the UK in discussions with the US, probably the only country with much clout with Israel?

  • @John Kelly
    “Thank you Barney Rubble . I think you have answered most points.”

    No he has pointed out a few of Israel’s numerous failings….. Your thread was about Hamas and whether they are serious about peace. It is easy to Israel bash I think most reasonable people would agree their actions have been despicable. Their continued approach to settlements in particular is hugely provocative and shows that many on their side of the argument are simply not serious about peace.

    But that does not mean that the refusal of Hamas to recognise Israel’s right to exist is excusable, commitment to peace and a two state solution should be the pre-requisite from both sides.

  • Barney Rubble 14th May '14 - 9:39am

    thank you for your reply Matthew Harris – you say :
    “if the Palestinians ..are not to have the negotiated creation of an independent Palestinian state that will co-exist with Israel … What option other than statehood can Palestinians reasonably be expected to accept? ”

    You say “negotiated” Well there is another “radical” option given we accept the problems with negotiation with Israel !
    We (the US/UK) could adopt a totally balanced approach !!!! and recognise Palestine as a state without it needing to be negotiated with Israel (no need for Palestine’s existence to require Israel’s permission) – in much the same way as Israel’s creation did not need the support of the 2/3 Palestinian Arab population of the region – and we could demand that any dealing with the Israeli government would require them also to recogise the new state – much as we are requiring the same of the Palestinian unity government.
    In fact some would say there is already a Palestinian state (albeit occupied) given the increased UN recognition.
    Yes there are some nasty sentiments from Hamas – and also from some Israeli leaders though maybe not to the same degree. Ovadia Yosef saying of the Arabs: “It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable.” Rahaman Ze’evi describing the 180,000 Palestinians who worked and lived illegally in Israel as a “cancer” and that Israel should rid itself of those who were not Israeli citizens “the same way you get rid of lice.”

  • Barney Rubble 14th May '14 - 10:01am

    @Steve Wray
    “commitment to peace and a two state solution should be the pre-requisite from both sides”
    but that was my point !
    and picking up on the quote in Matthew Harris’s original post Catherine Ashton should also call for the Israeli government “to commit to to achieving a two-state solution and to a negotiated peaceful settlement” … including Palestine’s “legitimate right to exist” – we know much of that government does not abide by those prerequisites and since this Israeli government has been in power for a number of years why hasn’t she made these demands before ?

  • Barney Rubble 14th May '14 - 3:00pm

    thanks for your email and link , Matthew, but it really says nothing fresh regarding the double standards of the international community re the Israel-Palestine conflict – in fact it could almost have been issued by the Israeli government.
    it opposes unilateral declarations of statehood (except presumably for Israel’s in 1948) and opposes unilateral actions in the Occupied Territories and cites the Road Map -but Israel or at least Sharon rejected the Road Map in favour of continued unilateral settlement expansion in the West Bank (claiming it was to prevent abortions http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3020335.stm )
    So plenty of other “unilateral” actions in that conflict have been tolerated, I see no reason why recognising Palestine’s existence as a state cannot also be accepted.

  • @Barney Rubble
    You say that was your point, but at no point in your postings have you called for both sides to adopt a peaceful approach merely criticised Israel. I am happy to do likewise and have no axe to grind for them at all, but that is not the point of this thread which was to suggest Hamas were ready to be admitted to peace talks.

  • Barney Rubble 15th May '14 - 9:13am

    @Steve Way
    I’ve been addressing the balance if thats what you mean.
    I’ve pointed out that at no point have any of the politicians who are demanding that the Palestinian government recognise Israel been concerned that large parts of the Israeli government reject Palestine’s right to exist.
    I think thats an important point that needs to be made. Since you cite an interest in balance when it comes ot the views of little me aren’t you concerned at this one-sidedness and double standards of the international community in this regard ?

  • Barney Rubble 15th May '14 - 9:33am

    @Matthew Harris
    well I’m afraid we are going to disagree I think re the interpretation of Israel and 1948.
    The UN General Assembly, following much lobbying (threats to cut aid, Firestone threats to Liberia re rubber plantations)
    partition was voted for – much as the UN has now voted Palestine as a non-member state. Apparently the first vote is OK and the second unilateral.
    “he acted unilaterally because the other side did not want to negotiate, ”
    this is not so different to now – except now you seem to concede that the Israeli government has little interest in establishing a viable state but think that Palestine should try and negotiate for its very existence anyway. And bear in mind that it is now Israel that has pulled out of talks saying that talks which it had previously insisted should be “without preconditions” can only happen on .. erm … condition that Hamas is not part of the Palestinian government.
    I think Palestine has little option but to establish a state anyway much as Israel turned its back on bilateral negotiations in 1948.
    “today’s Palestinians are not being threatened with annihilation by an enemy that will not negotiate with them”
    Well again we can debate whether Israelis/Jews were threatened with annihilation in 1948, there may have been antipathy given the Arabs strong suspicions that the Jews felt they were entitled to all of Palestine … Netanyahu’s dad was among those who felt this … and evidence that Ben Gurion felt the same.
    Are todays Palestinians threatened with annihilation ? certainly the Palestinian state is actually being annihilated by settlement expansion that Israel is proceeding with apace, in defiance fof the Road Map, even during talks.
    Finally I would dispute that the Gaza withdrawal was a good thing or a concession. It was a good thing for Israel withdrawing from territory that was difficult and expensive to police in return from concessions from the US that settlements in the West Bank could be kept (the Bush realities on the ground letter)

    I did google a few names o you previous link, I see most are members of pro Israel groups – I wonder if any member of a friends of Palestine group would suggest that Palestine negotiate for its very existence with a government stacked with members who reject Palestine’s right to exist on principle. One of the signatories even gave an interview when he repeated the phrase “delegitimsation of Palestine” which is ironic given his support for a letter backed by so many people which in my view is delegitimising Palestine

  • Barney Rubble 15th May '14 - 10:06am

    sorry .. typo i last post at the end
    I meant:
    One of the signatories even gave an interview when he repeated the phrase “delegitimsation of **Israel**” which is ironic given his support for a letter backed by so many people which in my view is delegitimising Palestine

  • @Barney Rubble
    I am concerned about balance and every post I have made recognises the fact that Israel are at fault.

    However, this thread is about Hamas and their position. Do you believe that Hamas has done enough to be admitted to the talks, and is that analogous with Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. I would say no on both counts. The Hamas Charter is pretty clear as to their position regarding talks involving “nonbelivers” .

    Sinn Fein, who I would have personal reason to distrust, have a different approach. Take for example their “Charter for Unionist Engagement”


  • Barney Rubble 16th May '14 - 10:24am

    @Steve Way
    I’m glad we are both concerned with balance and really I’m concerned with consistency, lack of contradictions and doubel standards
    “Do you believe that Hamas has done enough to be admitted to the talks”
    Do I I think they’ve done enough or have they met the conditions for entry set by elements of the international community ??
    Well the conditions set by Israel and its Western backs have been clear : No preconditions
    “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t be clearer: Peace talks with the Palestinians will not come with strings”
    So obviously whereas I can see that having terrorists at the table might be not desired that seems not to be the stance of Israel and the West at least until now.
    And clearly “no preconditions” obviously means neither side has to recognise each other’s claim to statehood ahead of talks and I have discussed that a lot of the Israeli government rejects Palestine’s right to exist.
    And I am confused – and I hope I’m not caricaturing you here – when I comment on Baroness Ashton’s statement that the Palestinians must recognise a 2 -state solution by noting that this cannot be a condition as Israel doesn’t meet it and you seem to be saying to me: “ah but we’re not discussing Israel – you always talk about Israel – we’re discussing whether Hamas meets the preconditions” – is that an unfair summary of our exchange.

    And I’m afraid the “renounce violence” phrase has always puzzled me. Apart from Gandhi who has ever done this ? Of course like most people I am appaled by suicide bombing by what do we not say “renounce terrorism” – if I was cynical I’d say that although we can all agree suicide bombing of civilians is terrorism we’d then run into problems of definition. Accoring to the US state department terrorism is by a “sub national” body and so if Hamas is part of a government that what it does cannot be terrorism according to the US – it can be a war crime but then Israel has also been accused of war crimes.

    by the way you talk about Northern Ireland – we can only draw parallels that far – for starters the UK does recognise an Irish state and isn’t building British only settlements on Irish land. You say that Hamas has to declare a ceasefire and police it in its community. Hamas has declared ceasefires on several occasions and been successful (accordoing to ISraeli intelligence) in reducing roclet fire – and its arguably not always been Hamas thats broken the ceasefires – in 2008 Israel attacked what it says was a Hamas tunnel that would be usewd for kidnapping http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/nov/05/israelandthepalestinians
    in fact that happened on US election day (again was that to bury the event ?)
    Has SF succesfully policed republican terrorism as you ask of Hamas ?- would you call off relations as they didn’t stop the Omagh bomb – that was a few months after the Good Friday agreement not during or before talks but even so.

  • @Barney Rubble
    Sinn Fein / PIRA declared and policed a cease fire within their sphere of influence ( I have never asked for Hamas to stop all Palestinian terrorism just that within their control). They never could control all republican groups hence why several are outside the terms of the agreement. They did renounce violence, Omagh was not a PIRA attack.

    It is the author of this thread that drew the Irish analogy not me. Likewise when I raise commitment to non violence and acceptance of a two state solution these are directly linked to the originating piece. My points, if you read them from the first comment, are to point out that the analogy does not stand up to scrutiny. In answer to your points on settlements, I would point out that to a republican the fact that Northern Ireland exists is seen as Britain occupying their country….

  • Barney Rubble 19th May '14 - 8:56am

    ah well we can argue about what Hamas has done and I gave some discussion of that but, as I say, the situation is that according to Israel, the US and the UK there are no preconditions required of any of the participants to peace talks: which is pretty clear, no need to renounce terrorism or settlements expansion or any need to recognise statehood up front etc – not my rules !
    one point I forgot to pick up on from Matthew Harris’s post is that “agreement on the future of Palestinian territories” is required before Palestine is recognised as a state – but there is no need for any agreement before Israel is recoginsed as a state then ? and it seemsaccording to his post that only the future of the Palestinian territories needs to be negotiated, not the future of Ashkelon, Jaffa etc – I seem to recall Netanyahu saying that the 67 borders weren’t a basis so I’d have thought more generally the need is to decide the border between the 2 states “without preconditions”

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