Thursday, 14 June 2007

Bitter fruits of boycott

Thursday June 14, 2007
The Guardian

Alvaro de Soto is not the first experienced diplomat to have entered
the Middle East a moderate and to have left it two years later angry at
the role of Israel and the US in subverting the search for peace. Nor
will he be the last. In his confidential 52-page report, published by the
Guardian this week, the former Peruvian foreign minister describes the
reality of diplomacy. Informed observers already suspected that US
pressure had "pummelled into submission" the UN's role as an impartial
negotiator, that it had made the Middle East peace process subservient to
wider policies on Iraq and Iran, and that the US had got the other
members of the Quartet negotiating team - the EU, Russia and the UN - to
impose sanctions on the government formed after painful negotiations
between Fatah and Hamas. The sanctions did not encourage the unity
government to function properly. They killed it off.
Mr de Soto does not spare Hamas either, with its "abominable" charter,
its links to Iran and its abysmal record on stopping violence directed
at Israeli civilians. What makes his report so prescient is the
full-scale civil war now raging in Gaza. Far from being a success, the
international boycott on the Hamas-led national-unity government has proved to
be a disaster. Its bitter fruits could be seen in Khan Younis
yesterday, when the Islamic militants demolished Fatah's security headquarters
and took over the town. Last night they began a fierce assault on
security bases in Gaza City after members of the Fatah-allied Bakr clan
encamped in a seaside neighbourhood surrendered. If the fighting is not
stopped soon, the whole of Gaza could fall to Hamas.
Setting aside the internal reasons for Palestinian blood-letting, the
assumption on which Israel and the international community have been
operating is that the longer the boycott is maintained, the more likely it
is that Hamas will split and accept the three conditions that were
imposed on it: ending violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of
previous agreements including the road map. Israel has refused to pay the
Palestinian government money it is owed in tax revenues, which would
allow it to pay 160,000 workers. It has argued that this down payment
would be seen as a sign of weakness, a sign that the rocket attacks on the
Israeli town of Sderot had worked.
But as Mr de Soto argues, the three conditions for the lifting of the
Israeli siege on Gaza were phrased in such a way as to make it
impossible for Hamas to accept them. If they did, they would cease to be a
militant Islamic movement and they would lose their core of 20% of the total
vote. If there was little evidence of a carrot in the Quartet's
conditions, there was plenty of stick. Unable to pay its workforce, or to
maintain control in Gaza, the national-unity government ceased to exist
some time ago. Hamas has not changed heart, and if an election were to
take place tomorrow the party would keep the 43% of the vote it won in
January last year.
The Palestinians can be blamed for weak leadership, for allowing
missile attacks that have no strategic value, other than to harden the view
in Israel that if they allowed the same thing to happen in the West
Bank, missiles would rain down on the runway of Ben Gurion airport. But the
impoverishment and fragmentation of Gaza is a result not just of tribal
Palestinian politics, but of the cumulative despair generated by living
in an open-air prison. As Israel is the jailer it bears responsibility
too for the conditions inside. The election of Ehud Barak as the Labour
party's leader may embolden Ehud Olmert to start a new initiative, such
as talking to Syria. The return of the former prime minister bolsters
the battered authority of Mr Olmert's government. But if there is no
partner for peace, Israel has to start creating the conditions for one to
emerge. If that means negotiating with Hamas before it relinquishes its
rejectionist position then it has to do that

No comments: