[News] Did Clinton sabotage a Palestinian reconciliation?
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
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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