01/26/2006, 00.00
PALESTINE - ISRAEL
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For Israel, it's time to negotiate peace with Hamas

by Arieh Cohen

Palestinian election results are the fruit of Israeli policy.  Israel discredited Fatah's leadership for years and provided favourable conditions for the rise of Hamas.  To put a stop to fundamentalism, it's time for dialogue with the enemy.

Hamas emerges victorious from Palestinian elections, winning at least 77 parliamentary seats.  And never has a surprise been less surprising than this result.  The long years in government of secular nationalist party Al-Fatah were characterized by a poisonous mix of corruption and impotence.

It was however Israel, which has never hidden its disdain and disapproval for Al-Fatah's governments, to have determined the shift of such a large part of the Palestinian electorate from Al-Fatah.  Israel repeatedly rejected the invitations extended by President Abu Mazen and his government to return to the bargaining table to jointly work out a peace treaty.  Israel arrested and sentenced to five life-sentences Al-Fatah's most accredited political figure, Marwan Bargouti.  Israel passed on the opportunity to make a grand gesture of clemency towards the thousands of jailed Palestinians, a gesture that would have indicated to Palestinian civil society the effectiveness of Al-Fatah's governments in reaching some kind of understanding with Israel.  Israel decided that the withdrawal from Gaza was to be a strictly unilateral act, instead of letting it take place through publicly negotiated accords with the Palestinian Authority, thus assuring that, from the perspective of the Palestinian population, all the credit went to Hamas' "armed struggle" and that of other "armed organizations", and not to any (inexistent) diplomatic ability attributable to Al-Fatah.  In short, Israel lost no opportunity to show the Palestinian electorate that it holds Al-Fatah politicians in no consideration, but is instead ready to spectacularly bend itself to Hamas' hard line, as happened – at least as perceived by the people – last summer in Gaza.

But the strange relationship of Israeli institutions with the Hamas' ascent stems even further back, to the 1980s, when the Israeli secret service – and the matter has always been in the public domain – was favourable , at least tacitly, to Hamas' emergence in the occupied territories, for the sake of dividing the Palestinian population, and to better hinder its central movement, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the Al-Fatah party that predominated in it.  Thus, in a certain sense, the results achieved by Hamas are the culmination of a quarter century of Israeli policy.

As already observed on the eve of voting, Hamas' election results could fuel the fire of those in Israel who have consistently rejected the prospect of a negotiated and fixed peace accord with Palestine, but should not change anything with respect to the expectations of those who feel that Israel owes peace, not only to its neighbours, but also to itself.

After having insisted so much, and often with much impetuousness, carelessness and by even resorting to arms, on the need for democracy in Arab nations, the U.S., Europe and Israel will not be able to disregard or delegitimize  Palestinian election results, perhaps the most democratic that have ever occurred in the Arab world.  The perfect electoral organization, the calm and order on the day of voting, the solemn yet festive atmosphere that characterized January 25, the almost sacral reverence shown by many electors as they went through the voting ritual – all this honours the Palestinian civil society, especially when considering that elections took place in the almost impossible context of life under military occupation.

Peace, as is often said in this Land – but never enough – is made with enemies.  It is precisely with an armed and violent enemy that peace is looked for: in these parts, no one has ever looked for peace with a defenceless enemy.  Unfortunately, Israel never looked for it, for instance in the two decades between 1967 and 1987, when the Palestinian people was quite patient and relatively acquiescent, being as they were under the weight of occupation and colonization.  There was no need for peace then; peace existed, in the minds of Israeli leaders of that day, the peace to dominate, to take land and water away from the Palestinians.  Those who did not want peace with the native population of the occupied territories, with their locally elected representatives (who were often removed from office and deported under the threat of force), found themselves forced to discuss peace with the PLO and Al-Fatah, which were initially demonized just as is being done with Hamas today; and those who today will not want to negotiate with Hamas risk finding themselves forced to do so tomorrow with the Islamic Jihad…but, by then, negotiations may no longer be an option…

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