December 18, 2009

It’s the occupation, stupid!

Ari Shavit of Haaretz writes:

The cat is out of the bag: Palestine, all of Palestine. Standing before 100,000 people in the center of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh this week declared the objective of the Hamas movement. The moderate prime minister of the moderate faction of the Palestinian religious movement publicly announced the peace solution for which his government is aiming.

The ultimate solution is not the total liberation of the Gaza Strip or a Palestinian state. It is the liberation of all of Palestine.

Shavit here refers to the following comments made by Haniyeh at Monday’s rally in Gaza City:

This movement, with the help of the militant factions liberated the Gaza Strip, and we say, brothers and sisters, we will not be satisfied with Gaza. Hamas looks toward the whole of Palestine, the liberation of the strip is just a step to liberating all of Palestine.

Shavit continues:

In recent years, quite a number of experts have promised us that Hamas does not really mean it. Hamas is only playing tough, but its intentions are lofty: cease-fire, Green Line, coexistence. Live and let live. But no message conveyed by any senior Hamas member to any diplomat behind closed doors is equal in status to the message conveyed by Haniyeh to the masses. What counts is only the direct and open statement made by the Palestinian leader to his people. Palestine, all of Palestine. Every piece of Israeli land on which any Israeli citizen lives. His home, your home, our home. The land beneath our feet.

Now there are several points I’d like to make here.

First, it’s important to be clear about what exactly Haniyeh did and did not say. He very clearly said that Hamas intends to liberate all of Palestine. But he did not say that Hamas intends to achieve this end through force. Over the years, numerous Hamas leaders have made it clear that, once Gaza and the West Bank are liberated, they intend to gain control of Israel Proper through nonviolent means. For example, “Abd-al Aziz Rantisi, a prominent radical [and the group’s cofounder], said: ‘The intifada is about forcing Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 boundaries’, while adding this ‘doesn’t mean the Arab-Israeli conflict will be over’, but rather that its armed character would end.”

Now don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not trying to create the impression that Haniyeh is some misunderstood peacenik. And I’m certainly not saying I can read his mind. It’s possible that he intends to use force to achieve his end goal. I’m merely suggesting that we should focus on what he actually said and put his words in their proper historical and cultural context.

But let’s assume the worst. Let’s assume that Shavit is right and that Haniyeh and Hamas leaders will not stop fighting until they rule all of Historic Palestine. For several years now, most Israeli leaders have held this belief. And consequently, they have contended that, for the protection of their own people, they’ve been obligated to continue the occupation. For, the argument goes, it would be suicidal to give the Palestinians a state that they would just use as a base for more terrorist operations.

The problem with this argument is that, far from keeping Israelis safe, the occupation is the very reason why Israelis are not safe. The occupation is what fuels hatred among many Palestinians; it’s what motivates some to blow themselves up on Tel Aviv buses and others to fire rockets into Sderot. The occupation, now in its forty-second year, is why in 2006 the majority of Palestinians turned to Hamas, which, along with rejecting a two-state solution, had long claimed that Israel could only be persuaded through violence. Poll after poll reveals that most Palestinians support an end to conflict and a two state settlement. But as the hopes of Oslo started to slip away, many lost faith in negotiations and turned to Hamas. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Shavit understands that the occupation is harmful to Israelis. “The occupation,” he writes, “is destroying Israel. It is undermining Israel’s ethical, democratic and diplomatic foundations.” But he believes that Hamas isn’t really interested in a two-state solution and is therefore essentially preventing Israel from ending the occupation. But again, the only reason that Israel has to contend with Hamas is because it has persisted in violating international law and has deprived millions of Palestinians of their basic human rights. If Israel really wants its own citizens to live in safety, then it should end its war against the Palestinian people. It should end the blockade on Gaza; it should stop hoarding water resources in the West Bank; it should stop building settlements in East Jerusalem.

Such actions certainly wouldn’t appease everyone. Some would continue in their determination to destroy Israel. But only a small minority fall within this category; most Palestinians just want to live in freedom and security. So if Israel took these actions, if it proved that it’s truly committed to international law, then I’m convinced that the radicals in Palestinian society would soon find themselves marginalized, and Israel would find itself closer to true peace.

1 comment:

traducteur said...

Every piece of Israeli land on which any Israeli citizen lives. His home, your home, our home. The land beneath our feet.

Those words, mutatis mutandis, might have been uttered by any Palestinian, Israeli citizen or not. It's important not to lose sight of the fact that there is only one exterminationist ideology on the loose in the region, and that is Zionism. The Palestinians are seeking to live as equal citizens in their own ancestral homeland; the Zionists are seeking not merely to liquidate the Palestinian people but to erase every trace of their former presence in the land and to delete even the memory of them from history.