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GI Update

GI, 27.03.06

Sent out in March 2006
Dear Friends,

With elections in Israel rapidly approaching, this is an opportunity for a quick update on the activities of GI Israel as well as some of the current thinking and perspectives that we are trying to advance.
Our events and activities update for the last quarter can be read here, including a section on US efforts. One activity that particularly merits a mention is a weekend workshop we held for Kadima prospective MKs and activists along with Likud Central Committee members, in addition to further Jerusalem tours (contrasting the GI and Separation Barrier routes – see the maps here) for opinion leaders and the Russian-speaking community, work with high school teachers and much more. GI Israel has also been running a back-to-basics Billboard campaign on the principles of a permanent status two-state solution and an internet campaign calling for negotiations with President Abbas. In the run-up to the elections, GI Israel has ceased to hold events with politicians from any party.

In terms of policy advocacy, the implications of the Hamas PLC election victory means this is not business as usual. It is neither a source of comfort nor help that we have long been warning that the effects of unilateralism and paralysis in any peace process with Abbas/Fatah would be the strengthening of Hamas (see this piece from a year ago as an example). The Hamas victory was obviously about Fatah corruption, bad government and hopeless electoral management at the local level. But this is not the whole story, as it was also a rejection of a peace process that had failed in Palestinian eyes and become discredited in the face of a unilateralist Israeli policy. By failing to strengthen Abu Mazen and thereby not allowing him to show his people any boon for his position of non-violence and negotiations, the United States and Israel helped confirm the notion on the Palestinian street that negotiations would go nowhere and only Hamas could advance Palestinian aspirations.  Click here to read an excellent assessment along these lines by Israel Policy Forum's M.J. Rosenberg.
The right wing and neo-con echo chamber was characteristically cheerful and lacking in any self-criticism as it jumped all over the Hamas victory like this was manna from heaven (see Daniel Pipes here and Dore Gold here for typically shrill reactions). Yet these voices will need to be, and are being, challenged in order to develop a sane and coherent policy that can serve a shared Israeli and Palestinian interest of non-violence and working towards a viable (and ultimately agreed) two-state solution, that by the way would also be good news for the Quartet.

It is worth remembering at the outset that a plurality of Palestinians voted for Hamas, but not a majority.  Whereas Hamas was highly disciplined in the elections, Fatah and its allies were less organized, often running multiple candidates in one district and thereby splitting their votes.  In this way, Hamas won 56% of the parliamentary seats with only 44% of the vote, a respectable mandate to be sure, but by no means a landslide.   Click here to see the statistics.
Beyond this, even amongst Hamas voters, a majority of Palestinians support continuing negotiations with Israel and honoring previous agreements.  In polls taken after the January 25th election, 84% of Palestinians overall and 77% of Hamas voters were found to be in favor of an agreement with Israel.  86% wanted Fatah leader Abu Mazen to remain as his post.  Click here for this polling.

The question of 'what to do' with a Hamas-led Government does not lend itself to easy answers. But this might be a relevant case for testing the hypothesis that democratic participation and governing responsibility can have a sobering, moderating effect. In other words – that democratization might work!
To test Hamas' capacity for moderation once it is saddled with the burden of government, Israel and the Quartet will need to set realistic benchmarks that focus first and foremost on security deliverables, non-use of violence and its prevention.  Action first and declarations later.  Ultimately there may be real limitations to how far down a positive path one can go with Hamas, given their track record of targeting civilians and rejectionist rhetoric, yet policy should be calibrated to check this over time and not simply to conform to a predetermined type cast.

The case for 'cautious engagement' as opposed to 'isolate and undermine' is most eloquently made by Israeli reserve Brig. General and fellow GI-er Shlomo Brom in this (click here) USIP report.  President Carter makes the case in this Op-Ed (click here) and in more detail in this CFR briefing (click here). This is uncharted terrain for Hamas as well as everyone else and it would be highly advisable to work overtime to understand the real options. Alistair Crooke, long-term interlocutor with Hamas and other factions, formerly in an official EU capacity, now unofficially, is a very good starting point – read an interview with him here.  ICG (click here) have produced an excellent background primer that also maps out policy options, and the Economist explained in some detail, the differences between Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in 40 Shades of Green (click here). The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has been trying, and failing, to square the circle of how one maintains a functioning PA to guarantee future elections and prevent economic and humanitarian collapse while avoiding a Hamas-led PA, while the World Bank (click here) gives the facts and figures on the Palestinian economic situation and likely impact of the different possible donor approaches. I have suggested a policy line in this Haaretz Op-Ed (click here).
Post elections, Israel's next Government will have to develop its line on Abbas, Hamas and the PA.  Kadima statements suggest a preference for unilateralism and even ostracizing Abu Mazen, but do not close the door on negotiations, although it seems to depend on who in Kadima is making the statement. Potential coalition partners, Labour and Meretz, are both advocating a negotiated process with President Abbas, and Saeb Erekat has looked at how this might work in a recent Op-Ed (click here).

While unilateralism appears to be the obvious and popular choice, this poll (click here) suggests that the Israeli public prefers negotiations, even after the PLC elections, and to unilaterally evacuate territory to an un-reformed Hamas is clearly not simple. Former arch proponent of unilateralism and influential columnist Ari Shavit does a u-turn in this Op-Ed (click here), while a recent Yediot Ahronot editorial (click here) explains in stark terms why Israel can simply never unilaterally define its own borders.
This was underscored when US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice recently declared in her joint press conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzvipi Livni that, "no one should try and unilaterally predetermine the outcome of a final status agreement. That's to be done at final status." Click here to read the full transcript.
Some experienced-hands and wise-heads have looked at different options for more coordinated, far-reaching and Hamas-relevant unilateralism plus – take a look at Jim Hoagland (click here) Rami Khouri (click here), and Henry Kissinger (click here) for the best examples.

When the political dust settles in Israel and the PA, we may well be in need of a political horizon and US-Quartet engagement to bridge the gaps that can both make maximum use of the Kadima (and likely Israeli government) willingness for territorial down-sizing, while working with Abbas and most effectively prodding Hamas. This need for a political horizon is already mentioned by the UNSCO UN Special Envoy, De Soto, in his last report to the Security Council (click here).
Finally, if you have missed it, just to bring to your attention the legislation currently winding its way through the US Congress on PA and Palestinian aide. This is interesting in that it has drawn wider criticism, most notably from inside the Jewish community, for going well beyond (in its draconian terms), what makes sense for Israel or the US. See the Forward (click here) on how AIPAC may have over-stepped its mark on this one. IPF chair Seymour Reich in this Op-Ed  (click here), APN (click here) and Brit Tzedek V Shalom (click here) have all articulated a convincing and genuinely (as opposed to seemingly) pro-Israel case for amending the proposed Resolutions.

More to follow, after the Israeli elections,
Best wishes,