Bible Commentator

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Rabbi Moshe Reiss

moshereiss@moshereiss.org

The Israeli - Palestinian conflict: Part E

HAMAS: ‘Honey Traps’:

 

Many months the Asia Times posted a column of mine entitles “The Breakup of Iraq: A Country No More”; given today’s news it is worth rereading. “http://www.moshereiss.org/columns/19_iraq.htm”

 

 

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raison in the sun? Or does it explode? (Langston Hughes, Black American Poet, 1902-1967)

 

“The United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats.” (NYT, Feb. 14)

 

Was Hamas a poor choice for Palestinians?

Only if you believe the election was about the Peace process. However to Palestinians   Hamas appeared as a normal, viable, and reasonable choice with a good stand on internal violence and a clear anti-corruption agenda.

 

Can a significant (almost a majority) of the Palestinian society be ignored?

Khalid Abu Toameh, a Palestinian journalist, recently described American policy toward the Palestinian elections: "If you don't vote for the same thieves who have been stealing your money for ten years, we are going to punish you." (JINSA Feb. 18) Does this mean America, the West and Israel have to observe the Arab street - Arab public opinion?

 

Can those who are already driven to rioting by fury and frustration (note the Cartoon rioting; http://moshereiss.org/columns/22_cartoons.htm’) be helped by increased poverty?  Is it really possible to expect that more punishment from the Israelis and the Americans, this time for not voting the way we wanted them to, would lead them to abandon Hamas?

 

Will that not guarantee the prospects of Hamas’ terrorist wing as against its social welfare wing? Is confrontation better than integration?

 

Mahmoud Abbas who in one year as President has failed is now the Savior of the West who will preserve Palestine society. He continued from Arafat a corrupt, inefficient and ineffective government. The man who failed to consolidate the twelve security forces (formerly in charge of three) will now be in charge of them all. Abbas succeeded in two ways; he ran a free and fair election which his opponents won and he arranged a relatively successful truce.

 

Can we from the West really understand Hamas:

Two well known and respected authors both from the Washington Institute for Near East policy have different perspectives.

 

David Makovsky writes in a new book ‘Engagement through Disengagement’ that “felicitous change in Palestinian leadership at a time of bold new Israeli policies has thrown open the proverbial window of opportunity. The coming year promises renewed prospects for movement toward peace, and the United States, more than any other third party, has a vital diplomatic role to play during this crucial period. How can Washington take advantage of the momentum created by the imminent Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip?”

 

Matthew Leavitt writes in a new book ‘Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad’ that “real Hamas: an organization that threatens peace and security far beyond the borders of the West Bank and Gaza. Its military, political, and social “wings” are distinct from one another is belied by ample evidence. In fact, the records show, Hamas meets in the mosques and hospitals it maintains to plan terror attacks, buries caches of arms and explosives under its own schoolyard playgrounds, and transfers and launders funds for terrorist activity through local charity committees. This book catalogues the alarming extent to which Hamas’ political and social welfare leaders support terror.

 

Part of this problem is the difference between External Hamas leaders Khaled Mashal and Mousa Abu Marzouk living in Damascus versus internal leaders and recently elected leaders of the new PLC Ismail Haniyyeh (prospective Prime Minister) and Mahmoud Zahar likely to be a high ranking Minister. The former may be interested in violence, but the latter living in Palestine and running on a platform of ‘Reform and Change’ need a non-violent calm to accomplish their objectives.

 

The New P.A. Government:

In his opening speech to parliament, Abbas established his basic policies for a Hamas government; to recognize prior agreements with Israel and abandon violence. He did not state that he expected Hamas to recognize Israel.

 

What will be the platform of Prime Minister designate Ismail Haniyeh? He has previously stated, "We will go for arms and a parliament, for there's no contradiction between the two."

 

Haniyah immediately responded to Abbas pronouncements: “There were many points of disagreement, [Abbas] was elected according to his program, and we were elected according to a different program."

 

Not much will probably happen until the end of March when Israel has its own election. Assuming suicide bombers do not occur before the election the centrist party Kadima will win. Hamas will not choose suicide bombing but Islamic Jihad have declared war not only on Israel but also on Hamas and they may. Will Kadima continue it stated policy of not talking to Hamas. I hope not.  Hamas’ win can work in Israel's favor if Israel and Western leaders intelligently calibrate their responses to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. The Israeli government can ‘talk’ to Hamas without negotiating a peace treaty which neither party has an interest in anyway. (See my column Does Anyone Want A Peace Treaty?

‘http://moshereiss.org/special/17_peace.htm”)

 

It appears that Hamas may offer Israel the following: to uphold the agreements already negotiated with Israel and the willingness to enter into a long-term ceasefire (hudna) if Israel withdraws to the line of 4 June 1967, but they will never recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel. This can be considered a ‘Honey Trap’ for Israel.

 

Israel’s reaction appears to be a No to any talks to Hamas, similar to its previous No to Fatah unless they destroyed the infrastructure of Jihadists including Hamas. There was no Peace Partner and the new government means there still is not! Furthermore the Israeli government with the apparent approval of American and Europe will stop funding the P.A.

 

The Palestinians are the most subsidized and dependent people in the world. The PA budget is $190 million a month; these are currently funded by $40M in tax revenue, $40M from Israel from custom taxes (based on the Paris Protocol) and the remainder primarily from Europe and America. If Israel and the funding sources dry up can the PA survive? The IMF has recommended $20M reduction of spending and increases in tax collection. (This did not include reducing corruption by any significant amount.) Saudi and the Gulf states have committed $33M after Hamas’ victory, leaving a budget deficit of almost $57M. Israel has stated that it will declines to pay the taxes they collect for the Palestinians as of February, thus increasing the deficit becomes $97. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Focus #53, February 18). In addition Israel (with some International help) could attempt to have a boycott of Palestine implemented – after all international boycotts have been implemented towards South Africa and Iraq in previous years and some have even boycotted Israel.

 

What are the likely results of this No reaction to the Hamas ‘Honey Trap’?

 

How are the approximately 1.4 million people of Gaza Strip (49% under 14 years of age) and the West Bank approximate population of 2 million (44%  under 14 years of age) going to survive? How will this young generation (too young even to vote) react to economic collapse and a humanitarian disaster? The health and education sectors in Palestine happen to be almost completely governmental services. Ninety-nine percent of all educational services are governmental. More than 95 percent of the primary health care sector and more than 80 percent of secondary and tertiary healthcare is governmental.

 

Is economic collapse likely to increase or decrease the level of terrorist attacks and Israeli counter measures? Or is likely to be counterproductive?

 

In the long, history of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, there is not a shred of evidence to support the notion that pushing the Palestinian population into more economic desperation would somehow cause them to moderate their political views.

 

Many Israeli analysts have their doubts. A crackdown could backfire and cause Palestinians to close ranks. They warn of the unintended consequences when American or Israeli money stops arriving. A deepening chaos in the West Bank and Gaza as economic conditions deteriorate is likely. That could spur a return to terrorism, which has been at a low ebb since Hamas approved a cease-fire a year ago.

 

“Israel’s refusal to open channels of communication actually frees the [Hamas] movement from any need to show the sort of flexibility on basic ideological and strategic principles that would blur the distinction between itself and other factors in Palestinian politics, especially Fatah” (Anat Kurz, Tel Aviv University Notes, 161, February 20). This would further complicate Hamas’ efforts to consolidate its control over Gaza and the West Bank and fail in its ‘Reform and Change’ platform. Is that actually to Israel’s interest?

 

Another alternative is for Iran to pay that difference. The $97M amounts to approximately $1 a barrel of oil they sell, perhaps four percent of the oil price increase in the last several years.  Could Iran accomplish if they choose? Certainly! Does anyone think it is advisable to allow President Ahmadinejad, the obsessive anti-Semite, to fund Hamas as it already funds Hizbollah for $10 million per month? Without stated an amount Ahmadinejad has stated he will support Hamas.

 

Could Israel instead of simply saying No create a counter ‘Honey Trap’?

 

What would such a counter ‘Honey Trap’ look like? The following is intended as an example.

 

  1. To allow continued humanitarian funding of the P.A. through Non-Governmental Agencies (N.G.O.’s) as determined by John Wolfensohn, current Middle East Quartet envoy and former World Bank president (but not to exceed previous amounts).
  2. To have Lieutenant General Ward, former U.S. advisor and security coordinator for the P.A. who evaluated security consolidation establish a security budget for a consolidated P.A. security services. 
  3. To have Salam Fayyad, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and former P.A. Finance Minister (and employee of the World Bank) reappointed as Finance Minister and control money going directly to the P.A.

 

All these would be subject to a (say) two month long period of no rockets being fired unto Israel. The consolidation of security consolidation would take place within the same two months; thereafter the government of the P.A. would be responsible for stopping any suicide bombing.

 

In exchange for this Israel would agree to a long term cease fire and agree to support American and European funding. It is worth noting that Hamas accepted a ceasefire for almost an entire year (since March 2005) without a withdrawal to the 1967 borders. The cease fire would be voided if any rocket fly toward Israel or a suicide bomber comes into Israel after the two month period.

 

Would this force Hamas to either accept or counter Israel’s proposal to achieve its own platform objectives? Would this be more favorable to Israel than economic chaos and increased terrorism? Would this not confront Hamas with the problems of fulfilling its own platform without having the excuse of Israel, America and European refusal to fund?

 

Many commentators have stated Hamas did not want or expect to win but rather be the loyal opposition. That arrangement had undeniable appeal. Hamas would not have to be involved in participating in a government, let alone control it. They would not have to directly deal with Israel, recognize and abide by past agreements, and meet the conditions for receiving continued outside aid. They would have been spared the internal tensions between the more radical and more pragmatic wings of the Islamist movement. In might have been able to preserve its ideological purity while gaining the freedom to carry out its program.

 

As George F. Will, an American Conservative spokesman has stated  about that ideological group having come out of the wilderness; “Having honed strong, clear convictions about government before experiencing the inevitable compromises involved in actually governing, many conservatives have found governance discomfiting.”

 

Hamas has stated its desire to create a national unity government which would help President Abbas in his moderate positions. Abbas's gambled that integrating Hamas into Palestinian politics would moderate its behavior. As part of that understanding Hamas has demonstrated its willingness and ability to honor a cease fire for almost a year. As part of this local Hamas officials have maintained practical coordination with Israel when necessary.

 

Could this allow Hamas to negotiate the Israeli ‘honey trap’?

 

On Sunday February 25 Lally Weymouth of the Washington Post published an interview with the designated Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. He stated as follows:

“If Israel withdraws to the '67 borders, then we will establish a peace in stages.”

Weymouth - “Do you recognize Israel's right to exist?”

“The answer is to let Israel say it will recognize a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, release the prisoners and recognize the rights of the refugees to return to Israel. Hamas will have a position if this occurs.”

Weymouth - “Will you recognize Israel?”

“If Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian people a state and give them back all their rights, then we are ready to recognize them. . .  Our only position will be declared once Israel recognizes our right to exist.”

 

Should this not be a mutual recognition? Why should Israel recognize the Palestinian right to a state if the Palestinian quasi government refuses to recognize the Israeli state?

 

Shibley Telhami (Saban Center for Middle Eastern Policy – Brookings Institution) stated the result of Islamic parties winning elections requires the West to involve in “partial engagement, patience, and a willingness to allow such new governments space and time to put their goals to the test of reality. Hamas, in fact, could provide a place for testing whether careful engagement leads to moderation. If we are not willing to engage, there is only one alternative: to rethink the policy of accelerated electoral democracy and focus on a more incremental approach of institutional and economic reform of existing governments. There is no realistic third party that's likely to emerge anytime soon.” (Washington Post, February 17)

 

(The term ‘Honey Traps’ in this context was first mentioned briefly by Anat Kurz in the Tel Aviv University Notes, 161, February 20, but did not define or flesh it out.)