Briefing Paper March 2006

Palestine’s War of Independence

A promise by Israeli leaders to ‘punish’ Palestinians for electing the Islamic Resistance party, Hamas, in Jan. 25th legislative elections, appears to be coming to fruition as ongoing invasions and aerial attacks on Palestinian areas have resulted in the deaths of 31 Palestinians, and 74 Palestinians injured since the elections. Still, the monthly total for February has not reached the average of 59 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces each month since September 2000. The most Palestinians killed in a single month during the last five years was in April 2002, when 245 Palestinians were killed, mainly civilians killed in a massive attack on Jenin refugee camp which Palestinians have termed the ‘Jenin Massacre’.


A Message from Hamas

The Guardian Khalid Mish’al 31/01/ 2006

We will not sell our people or principles for foreign aid Palestinians voted for Hamas because of our refusal to give up their rights. But we are ready to make a just peace.

It is widely recognised that the Palestinians are among the most politicised and educated peoples in the world. When they went to the polls last Wednesday they were well aware of what was on offer and those who voted for Hamas knew what it stood for. They chose Hamas because of its pledge never to give up the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and its promise to embark on a programme of reform. There were voices warning them, locally and internationally, not to vote for an organisation branded by the US and EU as terrorist because such a democratically exercised right would cost them the financial aid provided by foreign donors.

The day Hamas won the Palestinian democratic elections the world’s leading democracies failed the test of democracy. Rather than recognise the legitimacy of Hamas as a freely elected representative of the Palestinian people, seize the opportunity created by the result to support the development of good governance in Palestine and search for a means of ending the bloodshed, the US and EU threatened the Palestinian people with collective punishment for exercising their right to choose their parliamentary representatives.

We are being punished simply for resisting oppression and striving for justice. Those who threaten to impose sanctions on our people are the same powers that initiated our suffering and continue to support our oppressors almost unconditionally. We, the victims, are being penalised while our oppressors are pampered. The US and EU could have used the success of Hamas to open a new chapter in their relations with the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Muslims and to understand better a movement that has so far been seen largely through the eyes of the Zionist occupiers of our land.

Our message to the US and EU governments is this: your attempt to force us to give up our principles or our struggle is in vain. Our people who gave thousands of martyrs, the millions of refugees who have waited for nearly 60 years to return home and our 9,000 political and war prisoners in Israeli jails have not made those sacrifices in order to settle for close to nothing.

Hamas has been elected mainly because of its immovable faith in the inevitability of victory; and Hamas is immune to bribery, intimidation and blackmail. While we are keen on having friendly relations with all nations we shall not seek friendships at the expense of our legitimate rights. We have seen how other nations, including the peoples of Vietnam and South Africa, persisted in their struggle until their quest for freedom and justice was accomplished. We are no different, our cause is no less worthy, our determination is no less profound and our patience is no less abundant.

Our message to the Muslim and Arab nations is this: you have a responsibility to stand by your Palestinian brothers and sisters whose sacrifices are made on behalf of all of you. Our people in Palestine should not need to wait for any aid from countries that attach humiliating conditions to every dollar or euro they pay despite their historical and moral responsibility for our plight. We expect you to step in and compensate the Palestinian people for any loss of aid and we demand you lift all restrictions on civil society institutions that wish to fundraise for the Palestinian cause.

Our message to the Palestinians is this: our people are not only those who live under siege in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but also the millions languishing in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria and the millions spread around the world unable to return home. We promise you that nothing in the world will deter us from pursuing our goal of liberation and return. We shall spare no effort to work with all factions and institutions in order to put our Palestinian house in order. Having won the parliamentary elections, our medium-term objective is to reform the PLO in order to revive its role as a true representative of all the Palestinian people, without exception or discrimination.

Our message to the Israelis is this: we do not fight you because you belong to a certain faith or culture. Jews have lived in the Muslim world for 13 centuries in peace and harmony; they are in our religion “the people of the book” who have a covenant from God and His Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) to be respected and protected. Our conflict with you is not religious but political. We have no problem with Jews who have not attacked us – our problem is with those who came to our land, imposed themselves on us by force, destroyed our society and banished our people.

We shall never recognise the right of any power to rob us of our land and deny us our national rights. We shall never recognise the legitimacy of a Zionist state created on our soil in order to atone for somebody else’s sins or solve somebody else’s problem. But if you are willing to accept the principle of a long-term truce, we are prepared to negotiate the terms. Hamas is extending a hand of peace to those who are truly interested in a peace based on justice.

(Khalid Mish’al is head of the political bureau of Hamas)

The international community has rightly called on Hamas to renounce violence and acts of terror. Would the UK Govt acknowledge Hamas’s upholding of its truce for the last year and also agree to seek assurances from Israel that it will end its policy of illegal targeted assassinations of Palestinians which it has not ceased and which result in the death of civilian bystanders, including children? Furthermore, last week 2 Palestinian children were shot dead by the Israeli army: a 9 year old girl in Gaza, Aya al-Astal, who wandered too close to the border fence with Israel and got shot several times in the neck and stomach; and near Ramallah in the West Bank a 13 year old boy, Munadel Abu Aaalia, shot in the back as he walked along a road reserved for Jewish settlers with two friends. The army said the boys planned to throw rocks at Israeli cars, which the military defines as terrorism.

(LMEC extract 2/2/06)

The strong man

Karma Nabulsi 6/1/ 2006

Sharon has shaped everything for us: young, or old, in exile, or at home in an Israeli prison under occupation. He is emblematic of our condition; worse than emblematic, it is his very fist we feel. To this day I have not been able to watch him on television, but must avert my eyes at the immense presence of this avatar – there is no one else who evokes this terrible reaction. Sharon is no statesman and his motives have never been opaque – conquest by military means.

Everybody knows that Ariel Sharon had a dark past. For us Palestinians, for me as a Palestinian, he is our dark present. The entire destruction of the fabric of our civic and political society over the past five years has had the looming presence of Sharon at its black heart. That single moment when in the year 2000 Sharon went to the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) to light the chaotic, atavistic fuse of his return to political power – the moment that sparked our revolt against everything that he represented, and which began his rise to power – that single moment was the essence of his persona, the uniquely ruthless, relentless dynamic of his role as conqueror.

With the return of this man, we were lost, again, and one could not let his return be witnessed without an active daily resistance to it, and the fate he had in store for us. It was this single fact that mobilised me to work again in the political realm. Having lived in Beirut with my family and friends, and having worked, and fought, and stayed alive throughout the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that Sharon engineered in the spring and summer of 1982, I had no doubt what he had in store for us when he began his final climb back to power. And just so: in February of 2001, within three days of being elected prime minister, he was replaying across the West Bank and Gaza his dark arts, a mad echo of his practices of 20 years before in Lebanon: the assassination and destruction of the fighters, the local defence committees, the refugee camps. Women and children and young men killed, our buildings demolished, our institutional infrastructure, our records, our art, broken, gone. And, of course, our leadership encircled and besieged.

If he destroyed our leader, he believed, he would destroy our collective aspirations for freedom and for an independent Palestine. His vision of our destiny was quite simply one of apocalyptic proportions, he was no politician, nor elder statesman. To us, he was always the classic military conqueror and adventurer – we never found him “controversial”, nor his motives opaque. He never left us guessing. His practices, his aims, his intentions were made clear through his policies. Every Palestinian man, woman and child witnessed, lived, or died under that vision, and they each understood it well.

But during the new war launched by Sharon against our people, the generation of 1982 that I was part of were more scattered, further flung to the four corners of the world, farther away from being able to do anything to help, even more powerless than before. So to those of us who had fought in those earlier battles and were still living, his return did something more cruel than simply bring back haunting reminders of those days, and of how many friends had died. It changed the look of what we did, our luck, our motives, how we had failed to stop him when we were younger.

Sharon has shaped everything for us: young, or old, in exile, or at home in an Israeli prison under occupation. He is emblematic of our condition; worse than emblematic, it is his very fist we feel. To this day I have not been able to watch him on television, but must avert my eyes at the immense presence of this avatar – there is no one else who evokes this terrible reaction. I know this is shared by Palestinians everywhere, especially the survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, for which, let us not forget, he was culpable, according even to an Israeli tribunal, the Kahane Commission. They recommended that he never be allowed to return to public office.

To us, to me, his mission had always been thus: to kill our resistance, our organisations, our solidarity, our institutions, and above all our national liberation movement. He did not want us to have a national framework, his desire was to reduce us to small quarrelling groups and factions trapped under his prison rule, disorganised, disintegrated, or coopted; he planned actively and provocatively (and carefully) to create such an impoverishment of our people’s public and private life.

This he did through the iron tools of military rule: assassination, imprisonment, violent military invasion. His fate for us was a Hobbesian vision of an anarchic society: truncated, violent, powerless, destroyed, cowed, ruled by disparate militias, gangs, religious ideologues and extremists, broken up into ethnic and religious tribalism, and co-opted collaborationists. Look to the Iraq of today: that is what he had in store for us, and he has nearly achieved it.

His great skill was breaking ceasefires whenever he felt cornered to make a political concession towards peace, he sought to provoke an inevitable response, which could then be used to advance his military aims, and free his hands to expand settlements, expropriate land in Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank. He never cared for Gaza, it was a military asset. Indeed, he won internationally uncontested control of the West Bank (which was always his goal), by returning it. An empty gesture anyway: in practice, it is still owned and run by Israel, but now turned into a tragedy of heartbreaking proportions, a destroyed place, corrupted beyond description by the devastation of Israel’s terrible role there since 1967.

We Palestinians saw how he well he understood the west, how far he could push it – he had an almost magical ability to measure how craven the response could be to his violations of common decency and international law, how much he could get away with. He would test, and test the limits of his actions, would he get a red light? Would the Americans stop him?

I watched him at this, day after day, during the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, from besieged Beirut, which was in flames. Every time he would break the ceasefire, break his word to the Americans. We, on the other side of this equation, were waiting, hearts in mouths, for international protection, intervention, help of any kind not to be left at his mercy. How many times in these last years did he break the ceasefire in Gaza through a provocative assassination, an aerial assault, a military raid killing dozens of civilians to provoke Hamas to attack Israel? His pattern was set in stone, a stone around our necks.

Two summers ago, I went back to Shatila Camp where I had lived and worked for so many years, the first time since 1982, and I have returned many times in the past two-and-a-half years. Twenty-three years ago we had been evacuated from the city, with the rest of the PLO, at the end of the siege of Beirut, and only two weeks before the massacres. But we only agreed to leave with international guarantees that the civilian refugee camps would be protected from the fascist Lebanese militias. Instead Sharon invaded Beirut (that he could not take while we were there), surrounded the refugee camps, and had his forces light up the night sky with flares, while the Lebanese militia did their work with knives and axes and guns, day after day. He let busloads of them in, no Palestinians allowed out. I have talked a lot about those days with old friends who survived the camps, exiles now living far away in snowy northern Europe. What it meant to have left under orders, what it meant to have been trapped behind. For the ones who had to stay behind when the fighters left, you see, already understood Sharon well.

(Karma Nabulsi is a politics fellow at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and a former PLO representative)

When faced with the criticism about the killing of innocent women and children, Ben Gurion ordered full compliance with Zionist discipline. He rejected suggestions of warning civilians because that would endanger the lives of the attackers. Such were the violent practices that gave birth to the state of Israel. They have continued to the present under the pretext of security.

(Return Review 2 February 2006)

Police arrest Palestinians hanging campaign posters


Six Palestinians were arrested Wednesday for hanging campaign posters on billboards in East Jerusalem ahead of the Palestinian parliament elections set for January 25. Police arrested and fined the activists, despite Israel’s official announcement that it would permit campaigning in the city, providing it was coordinated with the police and would not involve more than 20 billboards. However, government officials and police have yet to reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority on the matter, despite the fact that the Palestinian campaign season began on January 2.

Police fined the activists NIS 450 and released them after extracting from them a NIS 1,000 deposit as part of a commitment to refrain from campaigning in East Jerusalem or hanging campaign material in the streets.

The police and Jerusalem municipality intend to indict the activists for engaging in forbidden campaigning and spoiling land. They also will impose a NIS 450 fine on the candidates – mostly independent ones – whose portraits were on the placards.

In addition to Wednesday’s arrests, Israeli authorities have arrested, detained and on some cases beaten about 10 candidates from East Jerusalem in recent days. Meanwhile, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat are to meet two White House envoys, David Walsh and Elliott Abrams, and Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn Thursday in an attempt to reach an agreement on the East Jerusalem elections. The PA’s official position is that elections in East Jerusalem must be held in the same format as those in 1996 and last January’s PA leadership elections.

We are getting near to the point when the Palestinians say – okay we don’t want a state, just give us the vote [to the Knesset]. When that happen,s we have a huge problem. You can see how difficult it is to get international support, even when they use terrorism. If they ask for the vote, the whole world will support them, and we will lose everything, all that we built in more than 100 years. Before that happens, we must draw the border according to demographic principles, to have no more than 20% Arabs compared with 80% Jews inside Israel (Acting prime minister Ehud Olmert -Jan 2003, reprinted from Yediot Aharonot 13/01/2006)

Hamas drops call for destruction of Israel from manifesto

The Guardian 12/01/2006

Hamas has dropped its call for the destruction of Israel from its manifesto for the Palestinian parliamentary election in a fortnight, a move that brings the group closer to the mainstream Palestinian position of building a state within the boundaries of the occupied territories. The Islamist faction, responsible for a long campaign of suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis, still calls for the maintenance of the armed struggle against occupation. But it steps back from Hamas’s 1988 charter demanding Israel’s eradication and the establishment of a Palestinian state in its place.

The manifesto makes no mention of the destruction of the Jewish state and instead takes a more ambiguous position by saying that Hamas had decided to compete in the elections because it would contribute to “the establishment of an independent state whose capital is Jerusalem”. The shift in emphasis comes as Hamas finds itself under pressure from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and from foreign governments to accept Israel’s right to exist and to end its violence if it wants to be accepted as a political partner in a future administration.

The manifesto continues to emphasise the armed struggle. “Our nation is at a stage of national liberation, and it has the right to act to regain its rights and end the occupation by using all means, including armed resistance,” it says. Gazi Hamad, a Hamas candidate in the Gaza Strip, yesterday said the manifesto reflected the group’s position of accepting an interim state based on 1967 borders but leaving a final decision on whether to recognise Israel to future generations. “Hamas is talking about the end of the occupation as the basis for a state, but at the same time Hamas is still not ready to recognise the right of Israel to exist,” he said. “We cannot give up the right of the armed struggle because our territory is occupied in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. That is the territory we are fighting to liberate.”

But Mr Hamad said the armed resistance was no longer Hamas’s primary strategy. “The policy is to maintain the armed struggle but it is not our first priority. We know that first of all we have to put more effort into resolving the internal problems, dealing with corruption, blackmail, chaos. This is our priority because if we change the situation for the Palestinians it will make our cause stronger. “Hamas is looking to establish a new political strategy in which all Palestinian groups will participate, not just dominated by Fatah. We will discuss the negotiation strategy, how can we run the conflict with Israel but by different means.”

Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian cabinet minister and member of the secular Palestinian People’s party, said he believed Hamas was being forced to face reality as it prepared to sit in parliament, and that it would have to embrace a negotiated settlement with Israel: “Having Hamas inside the system is a positive development whereby they have to abide by the rules of the majority and respect the arguments of the administration they are part of, which includes a state built on 1967 borders. It will take time but Hamas will no longer have their own militia. It will be solely a political force.”

Israel objects to Hamas’ participation in the East Jerusalem elections. This could sabotage the vote, because the Hamas candidates’ names will be on the official PA ballots. However, no Hamas candidate or activist has yet to be arrested since the campaign began. Washington urged the PA on Wednesday to ensure that the elections run smoothly, despite concern that they will boost the influence of Palestinian militants. “It remains the view of the United States that there should be no place in the political process for groups or individuals who refuse to renounce terror and violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and disarm,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement. Rice was referring to Hamas, which the U.S., European Union and Israel consider a terrorist group, but which has a growing political constituency in the Palestinian-controlled areas of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Washington has leaned on Israel to lift a threat to block voting in East Jerusalem.

Six years of Herzliya conferences prove that peaceful negotiations over Palestinian statehood have never been of concern to Israel’s leadership. It will matter little whether Hamas or Fatah are heading the Palestinian Authority. The Jewish state made up its mind long ago about how best to protect its interests.

The Electronic Intifada

Jonathan Cook 27/01/06

Acres of analysis will be dedicated over the coming days to the significance of this week’s Palestinain general election and what it heralds for the Middle East conflict. But that spectacle and Hamas’ starring role in it have overshadowed a far more important drama playing out in the wings.

Barely anyone has remarked on the unfolding events at the Herzliya Conference, Israel’s most important annual policy-making jamboree. This week politicians, businessmen, generals, academics and journalists converged on the exclusive seaside resort of Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, to share their thoughts on the country’s central concern, as expressed in the conference’s title: “The balance of national strength and security in Israel”. Based on past form, the discussions and speeches are revealing more about the direction of Israeli policy over the next year than all the Knesset debates, cabinet meetings and press conferences put together.

The first Herzliya Conference, in December 2000, set the tone. It concentrated on the key anxiety facing Israeli policy-makers as the intifada took hold in Palestinian areas. Senior politicians of the left and right, from Shimon Peres to Ariel Sharon, strode on stage not to talk about military strategy but to discuss the “demographic demon” threatening the collapse of the Jewish state.

The debate marked a political sea change. For decades Israel had made a sharp distinction between the two main Palestinian population groups under its rule: the “Israeli Arabs”, who hold Israeli citizenship and whose Palestinian identity has traditionally been denied by the state, and the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. From Herzliya onwards that policy was abandoned. All the Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan were lumped together and reclassified in demographic terms — as an ethnic enemy poised to achieve numerical dominance. If unchecked, Herzliya’s speakers warned, Palestinian population increase would force Israel either to adopt apartheid rule or to commit national suicide.

Following the conference, the organisers issued a report in which they made several recommendations to defuse the “demographic timebomb”. Many more Jewish immigrants had to be brought to Israel; the citizenship rights of some Israeli Arabs should be revoked; and the Palestinian Authority had to be encouraged to sign up for “land swaps”, handing over areas adjacent to the West Bank heavily populated with Israeli Arabs in return for much of the territory on which Jewish settlements have been built.

The new strategy was confirmed by the Herzliya Conference of December 2003. It was then that Sharon revealed his unilateral disengagement from Gaza, a tiny strip of land but nevertheless one that posed the most immediate demographic threat to Israel. By cutting adrift Gaza’s 1.4 million Palestinians, the Jewish state was buying itself a few years of breathing space.

But the loss of Gaza offers only a temporary reprieve. This week, in a chorus presumably designed to keep the Herzliya delegates’ eye on the ball, Israel’s demographic gurus, Professors Sergio Della Pergola and Arnon Sofer, separately warned of the imminent destruction of the Jewish state unless further action was taken against the “menace” of Palestinian birth rates.

Della Pergola advised that even after the Gaza withdrawal, the moment of numerical parity was fast approaching. “If the [demographic] tie doesn’t come in 2010, it will come in 2020,” he cautioned in the liberal daily Haaretz. Sofer, meanwhile, told readers of the biggest-circulation newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, that Ehud Olmert, the acting prime minister and the man widely believed to have converted Sharon to the cause of disengagement, had written reassuring him: “The time has come to stop thinking in theoretical terms and to take ethical decisions and provide real answers to ensure Israel continues to have a clear, overwhelming Jewish majority.” That was also Olmert’s message this week at the Herzliya Conference, as he delivered the keynote address on the eve of the Palestinian elections. The man who has inherited the leadership of Sharon’s Kadima party and is expected to be Israel’s next prime minister, is far less coy than his predecessor about the demographic imperatives at the heart of Israeli policy-making.He hinted that a further disengagement, this time from the West Bank, was all but inevitable. Israel was going to have to establish its “final borders”, he said, and thereby create a Palestinian state. “The choice between allowing Jews to live in all parts of the land of Israel and living in a state with a Jewish majority mandates giving up parts of the Land of Israel. We cannot continue to control parts of the territories where most of the Palestinians live.”

So what sort of “state” do Olmert and his political rivals — most of whom will end up joining together in a coalition government the far side of the Israeli general election on March 28 — intend to offer the Palestinians in order to salvage their Jewish state and its Jewish majority? Herzliya again offers clues. Speakers from Amir Peretz, leader of the Labor party, to Shaul Mofaz and Tzipi Livni, high-profile Likud recruits to Sharon’s new party, insisted that the Palestinians would be given a state on whatever is left after the large settlement blocs in the West Bank had been enveloped on Israel’s “side” of the wall. All agreed that such a state most certainly will not include the eastern, Palestinian side of Jerusalem, illegally annexed by Israel after the 1967 war.

Even Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of the rump Likud and arch-opponent of Sharon’s disengagement, set his own priority at Herzliya as moving the wall deeper into the West Bank to annex more territory, presumably to determine unilaterally the shape of a future Palestinian state.           Israel’s leaders are agreed. A Palestinian state will be minus its only possible capital, East Jerusalem, and squeezed into a series of enclaves behind a “security barrier”. If, as appears likely, Israel also refuses to allow any connection between the West Bank and Gaza, the job of destroying the unity of the Palestinian people and any chance of a meaningful Palestinian state will be complete. There will be one compensation, though: the Jewish state will have been saved.

(Jonathan Cook’s book “Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State”, published by Pluto, is due out in April.)

A state lacking justice cannot survive . . . even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger for ever, it won’t work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall.   Avraham Burg (

Hamas’s victory is the inevitable result of the failure to do anything about the oppression which Palestinians suffer

The Guardian Gerald Kaufman 28/02/06

Lying in a coma in Hadassah hospital, Jerusalem, Ariel Sharon has achieved his final triumph. The Hamas victory in Wednesday’s Palestinian elections is not only the inevitable outcome of everything Sharon did as prime minister, but is precisely what he would have wished.

Last week I argued in the House of Commons that “If Hamas does well [in the elections] as it may well do, the responsibility for that will lie with the Israeli government for nourishing the roots of Hamas. The sad thing is that Hamas and Likud and Kadima need each other. Israelis can say, ‘We’ve got to do what we’re doing because Hamas and Islamic Jihad are so dangerous’; Hamas and Islamic Jihad can say, ‘We’ve got no alternative because the Israelis are oppressing us’.” The Hamas landslide is the direct outcome of the utter frustration felt by Palestinians at the failure of anybody to do anything about the abject poverty and oppression under which they spend every day of their lives.

Neither the present Israeli government nor Hamas want a negotiated settlement bringing about a two-state solution. Hamas has been in a constant state of insurrection throughout its existence; and that suited Sharon perfectly. The current issue of the New Yorker contains a long article by the Israeli journalist Ari Shavit, reporting on 20 hours of conversations he had with Sharon stretching over six years, right up to Sharon’s stroke. Shavit traces the development of the Sharon policies which, as he puts it, “led to the transformation of a relatively modest and ascetic state [Israel] into an occupying bully”. He provides conclusive evidence that Sharon never wanted a settlement with the Palestinians. What he did was to take unilateral actions to reinforce Israel’s dominance of the old British Palestinian mandated territory. When, not out of generosity or as part of a staged settlement, Sharon withdrew settlers from the Gaza strip and Shavit asked if the next step would be a major Israeli withdrawal on the West Bank, Sharon responded: “There isn’t any possibility of doing this… There is only one unilateral move. There will not be another unilateral move.”

Western politicians were gullible enough to believe that the Gaza withdrawal was a stage in the road map that would bring about a two-state solution. Palestinian voters, living in their hopeless predicament, knew better. Their vote for Hamas tells the world: “If we can’t have our state, we will opt for armed resistance.” When Yitzhak Rabin was defence minister and refused to negotiate with Yasser Arafat, I warned him: “If you don’t talk to the PLO you’ll be left with Hamas.” Rabin learned. Sharon did not want to learn. Nor does the Israeli policy that deliberately fostered support for Hamas end with Sharon. Ehud Olmert, who has succeeded Sharon as prime minister, is even more recalcitrant than Sharon, as I found when I interviewed him for a BBC film a little while ago. When he talks, as he has done since taking over from Sharon, about withdrawals on the West Bank, he does not do so foreshadowing productive negotiations with the Palestinians, but as part of a plan to make Israeli military deployments more secure. His immediate response to the election result was to assert that he would not negotiate with a Palestinian government that included Hamas.

The American neo-cons who surround President Bush swooped with grim glee at the Hamas victory. It suits their plans for the next stage for the region. Binyamin Netanyahu, extremist leader of Likud, stated his and the neocons’ position with glib clarity: “Today Hamastan has been formed, a proxy of Iran in the image of the Taliban.” The Israeli government has already warned of possible reaction if Iran proceeds with its nuclear programme: an act of especial hypocrisy, in view of the fact that Israel played a key role in supplying Iran with arms in Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra conspiracy – not to mention that Israel has possessed nuclear weapons for nearly 40 years.

The consequences of the Iraq war are plain for all to see, as many of us warned before the war began. An American-Israeli war against Iran – even if on this occasion Britain resists being dragged into it – would be a catastrophe, not simply for the region but for the world. Regardless of the undeniably odious nature of Iran’s government, it is a fact that Iran (unlike Iraq, Israel and, for that matter, the United States) has never waged an aggressive war against another country.

Our own government, in statements by Tony Blair and Jack Straw, has reacted sensibly. We must now use any influence we have with the White House to insist that the road map must be implemented. Bush’s own reaction has so far been less bleak than might have been expected: “When you give people the vote, give them the chance to express themselves at the polls and they’re unhappy with the status quo, they’ll let you know.”

We must build on that, and we must lose no time. Armageddon, after all, is a place in Israel.

In the West Bank, the reality speaks for itself. The phased “transfer” of Palestinian from their villages and places of livliehood continue with the mad proliferation of security and by pass roads. They push more and more Palestinians into isolated enclaves. Every major town is now enclosed and sealed by Jewish settlements. In the 21st century Palestine children are subjected to the daily horror of climbing through iron bars and over concrete slabs to reach their schools. (Return Review 2/02/06)

Analysis: Hamas history tied to Israel

Richard Sale UPI Terrorism Correspondent

[Editor’s note: the thrust of this article is recommended reading}

“the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism.” “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,”

Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years. Israel “aided Hamas directly — the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization),” said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Centre for Strategic Studies. Israel’s support for Hamas “was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative,” said a former senior CIA official. According to documents United Press International obtained from the Israel-based Institute for Counter Terrorism, Hamas evolved from cells of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928. Islamic movements in Israel and Palestine were “weak and dormant” until after the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel scored a stunning victory over its Arab enemies.

After 1967, a great part of the success of the Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood was due to their activities among the refugees of the Gaza Strip. The cornerstone of the Islamic movements success was an impressive social, religious, educational and cultural infrastructure, called Da’wah, that worked to ease the hardship of large numbers of Palestinian refugees, confined to camps, and many who were living on the edge. “Social influence grew into political influence,” first in the Gaza Strip, then on the West Bank, said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity. According to ICT papers, Hamas was legally registered in Israel in 1978 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the movement’s spiritual leader, as an Islamic Association by the name Al-Mujamma al Islami, which widened its base of supporters and sympathizers by religious propaganda and social work.

According to U.S. administration officials, funds for the movement came from the oil-producing states and directly and indirectly from Israel. The PLO was secular and leftist and promoted Palestinian nationalism. Hamas wanted to set up a transnational state under the rule of Islam, much like Khomeini’s Iran. What took Israeli leaders by surprise was the way the Islamic movements began to surge after the Iranian revolution, after armed resistance to Israel sprang up in southern Lebanon vis-à-vis the Hezbollah, backed by Iran, these sources said. “Nothing provides the energy for imitation as much as success,” commented one administration expert.

A further factor of Hamas’ growth was the fact the PLO moved its base of operations to Beirut in the ’80s, leaving the Islamic organization to grow in influence in the Occupied Territories “as the court of last resort,” he said. When the intifada began, Israeli leadership was surprised when Islamic groups began to surge in membership and strength. Hamas immediately grew in numbers and violence. The group had always embraced the doctrine of armed struggle, but the doctrine had not been practiced and Islamic groups had not been subjected to suppression the way groups like Fatah had been, according to U.S. government officials.

But with the triumph of the Khomeini revolution in Iran, with the birth of Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorism in Lebanon, Hamas began to gain in strength in Gaza and then in the West Bank, relying on terror to resist the Israeli occupation. Israel was certainly funding the group at that time. One U.S. intelligence source who asked not to be named said that not only was Hamas being funded as a “counterweight” to the PLO, Israeli aid had another purpose: “To help identify and channel towards Israeli agents Hamas members who were dangerous terrorists.” In addition, by infiltrating Hamas, Israeli informers could only listen to debates on policy and identify Hamas members who “were dangerous hard-liners,” the official said.

In the end, as Hamas set up a very comprehensive counterintelligence system, many collaborators with Israel were weeded out and shot. Violent acts of terrorism became the central tenet, and Hamas, unlike the PLO, was unwilling to compromise in any way with Israel, refusing to acquiesce in its very existence. But even then, some in Israel saw some benefits to be had in trying to continue to give Hamas support: “The thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the others, if they gained control, would refuse to have any part of the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place,” said a U.S. government official who asked not to be named.

According to former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson, “the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism.” “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,” he said. Aid to Hamas may have looked clever, “but it was hardly designed to help smooth the waters,” he said. “An operation like that gives weight to President George Bush’s remark about there being a crisis in education.” Cordesman said that a similar attempt by Egyptian intelligence to fund Egypt’s fundamentalists had also come to grief because of “misreading of the complexities.”

An Israeli defense official was asked if Israel had given aid to Hamas said, “I am not able to answer that question. I was in Lebanon commanding a unit at the time, besides it is not my field of interest.” Asked to confirm a report by U.S. officials that Brig. Gen. Yithaq Segev, the military governor of Gaza, had told U.S. officials he had helped fund “Islamic movements as a counterweight to the PLO and communists,” the official said he could confirm only that he believed Segev had served back in 1986. The Israeli Embassy press office referred UPI to its Web site when asked to comment.

If terrorism is the reason for Israel’s opposition to Hamas, Israeli journalist Simha Flapan recalls that it was the Irgun and their like that had established a pattern of terrorism 30 years before Arafat’s Fatah would contemplate such methods.

Among its methods, he cites ‘were the wheeling of a vegetable barrow containing a bomb into an Arab market in Jerusalem, firing at a bus and throwing bombs into market places’

(Tivnan, 1987:21 quoted in Retun Review 2/02/06))

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