[News] Did Clinton sabotage a Palestinian reconciliation?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Mar 4 12:21:52 EST 2009

Did Clinton sabotage a Palestinian reconciliation?

Hasan Abu Nimah and Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 4 March 2009

Still reeling from the Israeli massacres in the occupied Gaza Strip, 
Palestinians have lately had little to celebrate. So the strong start 
to intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks in Cairo last week provided 
a glimmer of hope.

An end to the schism between the resistance and the elected but 
internationally-boycotted Hamas government on the one hand, and the 
Western-backed Fatah faction on the other, seemed within reach. But 
the good feeling came to a sudden end after what looked like a 
coordinated assault by United States Secretary of State Hillary 
Clinton, European Union High Representative Javier Solana, and Fatah 
leader Mahmoud Abbas whose term as president of the Palestinian 
Authority (PA) expired on 9 January.

On Friday 27 February, the leaders of 13 Palestinian factions, 
principal among them Hamas and Fatah, announced they had set out a 
framework for reconciliation. In talks chaired by Egypt's powerful 
intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the Palestinians established 
committees to discuss forming a "national unity government," 
reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to include all 
factions, legislative and presidential elections, reorganizing 
security forces on a nonpolitical basis, and a steering group 
comprised of all faction leaders. Amid a jubilant mood, the talks 
were adjourned until 10 March.

Then the blows began to strike the fragile Palestinian body politic. 
The first came from Clinton just before she boarded her plane to 
attend a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh ostensibly 
about pledging billions in aid to rebuild Gaza.

Clinton was asked by Voice of America (VOA) whether she was 
encouraged by the Cairo unity talks. She responded that in any 
reconciliation or "move toward a unified [Palestinian] Authority," 
Hamas must be bound by "the conditions that have been set forth by 
the Quartet," the self-appointed group comprising representatives of 
the US, EU, UN and Russia. These conditions, Clinton stated, require 
that Hamas "must renounce violence, recognize Israel, and abide by 
previous commitments." Otherwise, the secretary warned, "I don't 
think it will result in the kind of positive step forward either for 
the Palestinian people or as a vehicle for a reinvigorated effort to 
obtain peace that leads to a Palestinian state."

The next strikes came from Ramallah. With the EU's top diplomat 
Solana standing next to him, Abbas insisted that any national unity 
government would have to adhere to the "two-state vision" and abide 
by "international conditions and signed agreements." He then demanded 
that Gaza reconstruction aid be channeled exclusively through the 
Western-backed, but financially bankrupt and politically depleted PA. 
Solana affirmed, "I would like to insist in agreement with [Abbas] 
that the mechanism used to deploy the money is the one that 
represents the Palestinian Authority." Solana fully endorsed the 
campaign waged by Abbas ever since the destruction of Gaza that the 
PA, plagued by endemic corruption, and which only pays salaries of 
workers deemed politically loyal, be in sole charge of the funds, 
rather than neutral international organizations as Hamas and others 
have suggested.

Was the Sharm al-Sheikh summit then really about helping the people 
of Gaza or was it about exploiting their suffering to continue the 
long war against Hamas by other means? Indeed, Clinton had already 
confirmed the politicization of reconstruction aid when she told VOA, 
"We want to strengthen a Palestinian partner willing to accept the 
conditions outlined by the Quartet," and, "our aid dollars will flow 
based on these principles."

Hamas warned that Clinton's and Abbas's statements set Palestinian 
reconciliation efforts back to square one. "Hamas will not recognize 
Israel or the Quartet's conditions," said one spokesman Ismail 
Radwan, while another, Ayman Taha, said Hamas would "reject any 
preconditions in the formation of the unity government." Khaled 
Meshal, head of the movement's political bureau, insisted that the 
basis for national unity must remain "protecting the resistance and 
the rights of the Palestinian people."

Such statements will of course be used to paint Hamas as extremist, 
intransigent and anti-peace. After all, what could be more reasonable 
than demanding that any party involved in a peace process commit 
itself to renouncing violence, recognizing its enemy, and abiding by 
pre-existing agreements? The problem is that the Quartet conditions 
are designed to eliminate the Palestinians' few bargaining chips and 
render them defenseless before continuous Israeli occupation, 
colonization, blockade and armed attacks.

None of the Western diplomats imposing conditions on Hamas have 
demanded that Israel renounce its aggressive violence. Indeed, as 
Amnesty International reported on 20 February, the weapons Israel 
used to kill, wound and incinerate 7,000 persons in Gaza, half of 
them women and children, were largely supplied by Western countries, 
mainly the US. In a vivid illustration, Amnesty reported that its 
field researchers "found fragments and components from munitions used 
by the Israeli army -- including many that are US-made -- littering 
school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people's homes."

For Palestinians to "renounce violence" under these conditions is to 
renounce the right to self-defense, something no occupied people can 
do. Palestinians will certainly note that while Abbas stands 
impotently by, neither the US nor the EU have rushed to the defense 
of the peaceful, unarmed Palestinians shot at daily by Israeli 
occupation forces as they try to protect their land from seizure in 
the West Bank. Nor has Abbas' renunciation of resistance helped the 
1,500 residents in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan whose 
homes Israeli occupation authorities recently confirmed their 
intention to demolish in order to make way for a Jewish-themed park. 
A cessation of violence must be mutual, total and reciprocal -- 
something Hamas has repeatedly offered and Israel has stubbornly rejected.

While Israeli violence is tolerated or applauded, Israel's leaders 
are not held to any political preconditions. Prime minister-designate 
Benjamin Netanyahu emphatically rejects a sovereign Palestinian state 
and -- like his predecessors -- rejects all other Palestinian rights 
enshrined in international law and UN resolutions. When told to stop 
building illegal settlements on occupied land, Israel responds simply 
that this is a matter for negotiation and to prove the point it 
revealed plans in February to add thousands of Jewish-only homes to 
its West Bank colonies.

Yet Quartet envoy Tony Blair, asked by Al-Jazeera International on 1 
March how his masters would deal with a rejectionist Israeli 
government, said, "We have to work with whoever the Israeli people 
elect, let's test it out not just assume it won't work." Unless 
Palestinians are considered an inferior race, the same logic ought to 
apply to their elected leaders, but they were never given a chance.

It is ludicrous to demand that the stateless Palestinian people 
unconditionally recognize the legitimacy of the entity that 
dispossessed them and occupies them, that itself has no declared 
borders and that continues to violently expand its territory at their 
expense. If Palestinians are ever to recognize Israel in any form, 
that can only be an outcome of negotiations in which Palestinian 
rights are fully recognized, not a precondition for them.

During last year's US election campaign, Clinton claimed she helped 
bring peace to Northern Ireland during her husband's administration. 
Yet the conditions she now imposes on Hamas are exactly like those 
that the British long imposed on the Irish nationalist party Sinn 
Fein, thereby blocking peace negotiations. President Bill Clinton -- 
against strenuous British objections -- helped overturn these 
obstacles by among other things granting a US visa to Sinn Fein 
president Gerry Adams, whose party the British once demonized as 
Israel now demonizes Hamas. Like Tony Blair, who as British prime 
minister first authorized public talks with Sinn Fein, Hillary 
Clinton knows that the negotiations in Ireland could not have 
succeeded if any party had been forced to submit to the political 
preconditions of its adversaries.

Former British and Irish peace negotiators including Nobel Peace 
Prize winner John Hume, and former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo 
Ben-Ami made similar points in a 26 February letter they co-signed in 
The Times of London. "Whether we like it or not," the letter states, 
"Hamas will not go away. Since its victory in democratic elections in 
2006, Hamas has sustained its support in Palestinian society despite 
attempts to destroy it through economic blockades, political boycotts 
and military incursions." The signatories called for engagement with 
the movement, affirming that "The Quartet conditions imposed on Hamas 
set an unworkable threshold from which to commence negotiations."

Those who claim to be peacemakers should heed this advice. They 
should allow Palestinians to form a national consensus without 
external interference and blackmail. They should respect democratic 
mandates. They should stop imposing grossly unfair conditions on the 
weaker side while cowering in fear of offending the strong, and they 
should stop the cynical exploitation of humanitarian aid for 
political manipulation and subversion.

There are many in the region who were encouraged by US President 
Barack Obama's appointment of former Northern Ireland mediator 
Senator George Mitchell as Middle East envoy. But in all other 
respects the new president has continued the Bush administration's 
disastrous policies. It is not too late to change course, for 
persisting in these errors will guarantee only more failure and bloodshed.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at 
the United Nations.

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

A version of this article first appeared in The Jordan Times and is 
reprinted with the authors' permission.

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