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Edition 41 Volume 4 - November 09, 2006

The Quartet conditions on Hamas

The white man's club  - Alastair Crooke
Quartet members have determined they cannot talk to those with whom it is necessary to resolve the present impasse.

Unity offers another opportunity  - Ghazi Hamad
The election of Hamas represented an unprecedented opportunity for improving relations between the West and Islamic movements in the region.

Between Europe, Israel and Palestine  - Denis MacShane
What is missing in Europe is a clear-headed political analysis of the new Islamist ideologies that are driving politics in the region.

Why we must insist on the Quartet's conditions  - Ephraim Sneh
Such a concession would prolong Hamas' rule, and that would be dangerous for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The white man's club
 Alastair Crooke

He stepped in from the harsh sunlight of Egypt. He had just crossed the Sinai with two Arab friends, one of whom had died during the journey. The news that he and his friend brought was of huge import. This slight figure, still dusty and grimed from travel by camel, stepped from the Cairo hubbub into the cool starched interior with his companion and strode across to the bar for water. The interior with its comfortable leather chairs, white linen and discreet servants breathed the comfort and certainty of upper class England. The barman gave a disdainful glance at the pair: "What is he doing in here?" he demanded to know, glaring at the Arab.

Lawrence had come to the officers' mess at the British military headquarters in Cairo to tell General Allenby that the Arab army had done what no one believed was possible--the army had crossed the Nefu desert to take the Turkish army by surprise--Turkish guns faced only outward toward the sea. He had taken Aqaba! This mattered little however in the Officers' mess in Cairo: Lawrence had actually brought his Arab companion to the bar to demand water!

Another club, the International Quartet, reacted with similar disdain and indignation to the news that--against an entrenched power structure--an unexpected figure had walked in on their officers' mess: Hamas had won the Palestinian elections that the Quartet had prescribed as part of its roadmap. An Islamist movement was seeking western recognition of their popular mandate!

Like most clubs, the Quartet sets its rules--post hoc if necessary--to keep out those who do not quite "fit in" to its ethos. Hamas would need to comply with three hurriedly agreed-upon conditions if any club member were to speak to the new candidate.

At its meeting in New York in September of this year, however, it became clear that even if the new candidate did comply with the three new club rules and abandon its mandate to more "respectable" albeit unelected persons to govern in its place, this still would not allow the new sanitized government to "step in". An EU member who participated at the Quartet said that if a sanitized arrangement were to be formed under the guise of national unity, and club rules were appropriately "reflected" by the incoming government, "stepping in" was still not assured: the club membership committee (aka the Quartet) would first need to scrutinize the suitability of each member of the government--to ensure, presumably, that each new minister fitted with the club ethos. Additionally, the club wanted assurances that the new government knows how to behave: Ministers are not required to wear ties, but their policy guidelines would be vetted. Only if these additional scrutinies were positive would the Quartet consider whether to talk to the new candidate.

The Quartet saw the language drafted in New York this September as a big step forward: In their view it was intended to be both helpful and positive. Club candidates who wish to be addressed by members need now only "reflect" the three new rules. But the reality is that whereas there were three rules, now there are five. In addition to recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and required re-commitment to all past agreements (whether or not they represent flawed and failed instruments), candidates also needed the extra two conditions of being validated for allocation of portfolio and policy guidelines.

The metaphor of an officers' club may seem a harsh parallel to draw in respect to the Quartet for some, but it reflects two aspects of the Quartet's current posture that are important to draw out. The first--and this has been a persistent trait--has been its disconnect from reality with its smug officers' mess ethos; and the second has been its failure to do politics or as Senator George Mitchell used to say, to do the "choreography": That is, it is easy to post new rules and make declarations, it is much harder to do the hard shuttle diplomatic work of patching together the moves and accompanying statements which is how political progress in reality is achieved. Doing this work does of course require talking. And of course Quartet members have determined they cannot talk to those with whom it is necessary to resolve the present impasse.

On the basis of the Quartet's reluctance either to do choreography or to reflect reality, it is likely that candidate Hamas will not be addressed in discussion by members. Like Lawrence's Arab companion, Hamas is unlikely to be welcomed. Quartet members, however, might care to reflect on the future. That earlier officers' club, which was also so remote in its cool white linen Britishness and that also did not think Muslims should play a part in deliberations about the future of Muslim societies, was swept aside by the flow of events: The bar at which Lawrence's Arab companion was refused water after his journey from Aqaba in 1916 gave place to a swank hotel. That hotel, which became a refuge for European elites visiting the city, has now also been swept away.

If the Quartet persists in its present vein it should not be surprised if before long voices are heard asking why Muslims are not a part of this "white man's club" that decides on the legitimacy of election outcomes and the future of their society. And the answer to the question, "what is he doing here," will be obvious: they happen to live here.- Published 9/11/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org

Alastair Crooke is a director of Conflicts Forum.

Unity offers another opportunity
 Ghazi Hamad

The election of Hamas in the January parliamentary elections represented an unprecedented opportunity for improving relations between the West and Islamic movements in the region. For one brief moment, the Hamas-led Palestinian government could have acted as a bridge to forge better understanding between the two and build a relationship characterized by dialogue rather than confrontation.

The opportunity was not grasped, however, and the moment passed. The decision instead by the West to undermine Hamas has done just the opposite: attempts from the outside to promote democracy in the region are viewed with greater suspicion than ever, as are the motives of the West in doing so.

The Quartet took an uncompromising and unequal position from the beginning. It insisted on imposing preconditions on the Palestinian government before it would even talk to it. Then it proceeded to impose the strictest sanctions on the Palestinian Authority without ever giving the Hamas-led government a chance to govern.

At the same time, the Quartet imposed no conditions on Israel, whether to stop its assassinations, house demolitions or the construction of the West Bank wall, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice.

Nor did the Quartet offer any incentive to Hamas for accepting its three conditions. The Quartet insisted on Hamas recognizing Israel, but did not ask Israel to recognize a Palestine on 1967 borders or the Palestinian refugees' right of return. Hamas was asked to abide by existing agreements signed between Israel and the PLO, but Israel was not. It was demanded of Hamas that it reject its resistance against the Israeli occupation, but it was not demanded of Israel that it end that illegal occupation.

Economic conditions are now critical. The unemployment rate has risen to over 50 percent. Once the international siege was imposed, the government's priority became to provide salaries for the 160,000-plus civil servants who were suddenly plunged into poverty. This has been at the expense of other important and pressing issues such as dealing with the internal security chaos and carrying out much needed reform.

Hamas has come a long way in its political vision. There are a number of positions that Hamas used to reject out of hand. Today it adopts much greater flexibility toward them. They include the issues of signed agreements, international legitimacy and negotiations with Israel.

From the start, furthermore, Hamas wanted a national unity government. No agreement could be reached immediately after the elections. Now, after the broad guidelines for a unity government have been set down in the form of the National Conciliation Document, such a government is closer than ever.

It is hoped that the formation of a national unity government, which balances Palestinian and international considerations, will lead to an end to the siege and the resumption of international aid. It is also hoped that this will open the door to international and local investment in addition to carrying out economic reforms.

But this depends on progress in the political arena. Israel still controls the crossings, the movement of goods and people and is withholding over $500 million in tax revenue that is owed the Palestinian government.

It also depends on us getting out of the current stagnation. Unfortunately, Israel appears to want to thwart any progress toward Palestinian agreement on a unity government, and has instead adopted a policy of military escalation to drain the PA.

A priority needs to be given to forming a united Palestinian front. President Mahmoud Abbas believes a unity government will lead to an end to the siege. We all hope the international community will offer such a government the opportunity for coordination and assistance in overcoming the economic crisis.- Published 9/11/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org

Ghazi Hamad is a Hamas official from the Gaza Strip.

Between Europe, Israel and Palestine
 Denis MacShane

Is there a European approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict? At first sight the answer is yes. The European Union Council of Foreign Ministers meets regularly and draws up declarations and statements. Occasionally, one of its envoys is sent to talk to the respective leaders in the region. The EU helped bankroll the Palestinians in various forms. This was done in full agreement with the United States and Israel, who were happy to see some source of money flowing to the Palestinians to pay for salaries and build infrastructure. There was predictable criticism of the corrupt abuse of this funding to help pay for the lavish life-style of the Arafat clan in Paris and elsewhere. But without EU money, the level of despair and anger and the consequent turn to violence among Palestinians would have been much higher.

But, having taken part for some years in EU foreign ministers' deliberations, what was striking was the lack of an effective and coherent joined-up EU policy. Nor was there sufficient understanding that firmness was needed in making clear to the Palestinian political leadership that its quest for legitimacy demanded a renunciation of the ideology of conquest. In that sense, the Quartet's demands should be the irreducible minimum for bringing Hamas out of the language of "resistance", which is just code for violence, and into the harder politics of peace.

But questions remain over whether Europe can itself find a common way forward. Each European state has its own tortured relationship with the region. Germany, for example, can never break with its historic obligation to Israel and the Jewish people. This is not a Holocaust-industry, Shoah-guilt syndrome as the vile anti-Jewish propaganda of the Islamist-Left ideologues in the United States and Europe proclaim. It is a stated given, part of the ineradicable DNA of German politics.

President Chirac's approach to Syria typifies the personalization of foreign policy in France. He has sought to make Syria a pariah state, refused to have normal relations with Damascus, and worked intimately with the US in shaping anti-Syrian resolutions at the United Nations. Little matter that the murdered Lebanese political leader, Rafiq Hariri, used to visit Damascus every week to get guidance from the Syrian regime. Chirac's intimate personal relationship with Hariri, who spoke perfect French and kept much of his personal $6 billion fortune in France, is the tail wagging the dog of France's relationship with Syria.

Le Monde (Nov. 2) has just revealed the depth of French oil, gas, automobile and other interests in Iran. It has suggested that France is breaking ranks with the rest of the EU and the US in cozying up to Tehran in order to protect its soldiers now deployed in Lebanon. This may be well-informed Paris political speculation, but it remains the case that France acts as a cavalier seul in the Middle East.

The key test will be whether the French soldiers now in Lebanon stop Hizballah from rebuilding its massive networks of tunnels from where it can launch well-hidden and protected rocket attacks on Israelis. If reports are true that Hizballah is rearming and restocking its missile arsenal and that the French, Spanish and Italian troops in place are allowing this to happen, then the claim that Europe is now helping to bring calm and peace on the Israel-Lebanon front will prove hollow. It is one thing not actively to disarm Hizballah; it is another for France's finest fighting soldiers to sit around enjoying the wines of the Bekaa Valley and do nothing to stop Hizballah rearming in preparation for another assault on Israel.

It remains unfortunate that Israeli politicians ignore Europe, preferring to make Washington their only reference point for active international politics. It is also unclear if setting down non-negotiable conditions for talks or relations with the elected representatives of the Palestinians helps or hinders effective forward movement. But Hamas' charter with its disgusting language on Jews (plus Rotarians and masons!) and the statements of its Damascus-based leader, Khaled Meshaal, represent to most Europeans intolerable barriers to finding a way forward to effective talks.

Still, Europe, unlike the United States, has long experience of living with the politics of rejection, compromise and impossible demands. Sinn Fein-IRA in Ireland and ETA in the Basque country are two recent examples of terrorist political groups that made such demands--the withdrawal of the elected UK government from northern Ireland despite the majority of people there wishing to stay UK citizens, or the separation of the Basque area of Spain from the rest of the country--despite there being no electoral, democratic mandate for this process.

But these issues have been overcome. Contexts have been enlarged so that processes can begin. The key difference in the Middle East is the presence of non-state, Islamist ideological actors who refuse all the norms of interstate relations as defined by international law over many centuries. And what is missing in Europe is a clear-headed political analysis of the new Islamist ideologies that are driving politics in the region. Of the three motor forces in international politics--state interests, national politics and ambition and totalizing ideological belief--it is the latter that is always the most difficult to deal with.

In confronting Islamist fundamentalist politics, which Europe is now seeing steadily implanting itself in domestic politics in most of the richer EU member states, a new rulebook needs to be written. The conditions laid down by the Quartet--recognition of Israel, an end to violence and abiding by past agreements--need to be sustained.

Ever since 1967, Europe has seen a growth of a "blame Israel first" politics. Politicians of left and right, in government and opposition, have bent over backwards to find excuses for Palestinian, Arab, or Islamist extremist or rejectionist politics, and have been quick to blame all that is a problem in the region on the Israelis. Clear, unequivocal firmness in support of Israel's right to exist, not routine lip-service but a real philosophical, democratic commitment to Israel's survival would be welcome from Europe.- Published 9/11/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org

Rt. Hon. Dr. Denis MacShane MP is a former British Foreign Office minister and was deputy to the UK foreign secretary in 2002-2005 as minister of state for Europe. He remains a personal envoy for PM Tony Blair to European governments and political parties.

Why we must insist on the Quartet's conditions
 Ephraim Sneh

Not a few people of genuine good will would like to adopt a more lenient approach toward the Palestinian Hamas government with regard to the Quartet's three conditions for entering into contact and renewing aid: renouncing terrorism, recognizing Israel and accepting the previous agreements the PLO signed with Israel.

The naive illusion that informs this approach is based on the assumption that the very act of governance, with all the responsibility it entails, will generate a gradual and pragmatic process of moderation within Hamas. Relaxing the three conditions would facilitate the provision of assistance to Palestinians caught in a crisis of poverty, prevent the bloody internecine Palestinian clashes and perhaps even reduce acts of Palestinian terrorism against Israel for a long period of time.

I don't believe in Hamas becoming moderate. And not because there are no pragmatic Hamas leaders in the territories capable of being flexible. I don't believe in it because we are talking about a religious movement whose negation of the existence of the Jewish state is rooted in religious belief rather than merely in a national aspiration toward sovereignty over all of Palestine instead of a portion of it. I know religious Jewish politicians who are amazingly pragmatic and flexible. Yet the most moderate among them will not eat pork or travel on the Sabbath to achieve some sort of political gain. I don't expect the leaders of Hamas to act differently.

I oppose canceling the demand that Hamas accept the Quartet's three conditions not only because I believe those conditions are indispensable to any Israeli-Palestinian settlement. I oppose doing so because such a concession would prolong Hamas' rule, and that would be dangerous for both Israelis and Palestinians.

From the Israeli point of view, the danger is that a Hamas government would entrench the movement in power and increase its military strength in anticipation of an armed confrontation with Israel similar to that with Hizballah in South Lebanon. It would ensure that another generation of Palestinian children is educated to hate Israel and dream of its destruction and enable agents of global terrorism to enter the territories and take root there.

From the Palestinian standpoint, the danger is that Hamas will strengthen its grip on the administrative and security mechanisms, entrench itself in power and alter the very nature of Palestine by turning it into a religious society similar to Iran or Saudi Arabia. The Palestinians who have struggled for an independent state dream of a modern, democratic country, not a Somalia-like entity.

To ease the pressure on Hamas means to pull the rug out from under the feet of those Palestinians who want a settlement with Israel and a free society and who constitute a majority, as they did even in the January 2006 elections.

The Hamas government must be removed from power, the sooner the better. When that happens, the peace camps on both sides will confront both a challenge and an opportunity.- Published 9/11/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org

Ephraim Sneh, a retired IDF general, served in Israeli governments as minister of health, minister of transportation and deputy minister of defense. He is currently chairman of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College.

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