With the stunning victory of Hamas last week, US officials and the Israeli government have turned up the decibels regarding calls to cut off US aid to the Palestinians. The cornerstone of President George W. Bush’s second Inaugural speech was centered around spreading democracy around the world but now it seems that if the results do not meet the satisfaction of our government the people’s will is to be ignored. Talk about a mixed message.
Advice? Rather than try to isolate the Palestinians and punish them for peacefully voting for change, the appropriate response is to engage the Palestinians in real negotiations where promises are kept. And when 78% of registered voters show up at polls, there is no question that there are serious frustrations that cannot be ignored any longer.
Corruption, a reality in Arab and Israeli politics, is no longer acceptable for Palestinians. Neither are the poor conditions on the ground.
For example, the Gaza disengagement which has been trumped as the greatest thing since sliced bread has resulted in Gaza now becoming the world’s largest prison, with Israel deciding who can enter and leave. Urgent medical requests are often denied and that includes barring entry to sixteen children who were regularly going to Tel Aviv for chemotherapy. Further, while thousands of Jewish settlers were evacuated in Gaza, the settler population increased by 15,800 in the West Bank.
With conditions not improving, it was only natural to turn to Hamas, which has built health clinics, schools, and distributed monies to families for food. Keep in mind that 2/3s of the Palestinian population now lives on less than $2 per day, which the World Bank squarely put the blame on Israel for its unreasonable restrictions and interference on the import/export of Palestinian goods and jobs. And now, Israel says it’s not sure if it’s going to hand over monies collected by Palestinians for taxes.
While the suicide bombings credited by Hamas deserve condemnation, it is odd that a brutal Israeli Occupation which has seen thousands of Palestinians killed and tens of thousands wounded doesn’t register a peep on the radar screen of condemnations. What are pro-justice advocates supposed to think when an Israeli soldier empties a whole magazine of bullets into the body of young girl and escapes without punishment? This lack of concern for Palestinian life has been a staple of Israeli Occupation.
And then there’s the rhetoric coming from many pro-Israelis that with the election of Hamas, the Palestinians have shown their true face because this “just shows they don’t want peace!” Actually, when one looks throughout Israeli history, one can make the same statement. From Yitzhak Shamir who assassinated a diplomat to Menachem Begin who masterminded the blowup of the King David Hotel and the Deir Yassin Massacre to Ariel Sharon who was found responsible for the 1982 Sabra and Shatila Massacre and had to resign as Defense Minister, the Israeli glasshouse is elusive.
Finally, but perhaps most interesting and unknown to Americans in all of the Israeli outrage about the Hamas win is this: Israel "aided Hamas directly — the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization)," Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies, told the United Press International (UPI) in 2002.
Most colorful are the statements by former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson who also told the UPI, "The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer. They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it.”
Perhaps the Biblically-inspired quote is most applicable here, “You reap what you sow.”
Of course, hindsight for the Israelis has been 20/20 and suffice to say, Israel would not have attempted to cause huge civil strife between the Palestinians by playing people up against each other. Palestinians, for all of their domestic issues, have generally been politically saavy enough not to fall into this trap for the simple fact they only have each other.
Ultimately, it’s uncertain as to whether the everyday lives of Palestinians will improve and my hope as a Palestinian-American Christian is that Hamas understands that it did not receive a mandate to impose a religious theocracy. But time will tell everything.
What is certain is that the world can expect a tougher negotiater in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations -” the days of wishful thinking and meaningless negotiating are over.