Can Hamas be Ignored?
Posted by vmsalama on November 27, 2007
by Vivian Salama
Middle East author and historian Rashid Khalidi offered the following forecast for Tuesday’s peace gathering in Annapolis, “Cloudy with rain and a chance of storms.” He added, “That’s been the Middle East forecast for decades.”
The media has been criticized for its relentless skepticism of the “get together” – as one White House official described it – taking place in Maryland this week. For many, this multilateral gathering of more than two dozen delegations to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli issue is merely history repeating itself. In 2000, just as President Clinton was preparing to leave office, he invited the then-embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his beleaguered Palestinian counterpart Yasser Arafat together at Camp David to negotiate a final settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Seven years later, a politically besieged President George W. Bush has invited Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas – both of whom are fighting to stay for political survival – to make long overdue concessions and revitalize final status talks. Photo-ops and cliché catch phrases like “Road Map to Peace” will not undo the decades of damage this conflict has inflicted upon both sides. Israel’s Prime Minster Olmert has lost considerable support in Israel following his futile military campaign against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. President Abbas comes to the table representing a government that was not democratically elected by the majority of Palestinians, and so by attending the meeting – all the while further alienating Hamas which essentially rules over Gaza – he may be doing himself more harm than good.
Meanwhile, since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has been preoccupied with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the greater War on Terrorism, all the while neglecting this conflict which continues to be a source, if not a consistent grievance for much of the Middle East and the Muslim world. The War on Terrorism ultimately amounts to a war of ideas. To win the war of ideas, the U.S. must take genuine steps toward solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. That’s where Annapolis comes in.
British-Arab historian Albert Habib Hourani wrote shortly into the Suez Crisis of 1956 that “[He] who rules the Near East rules the world; and he who has interest in the world is bound to concern itself with the Near East.” With just over one year left on the clock, the administration, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has put considerable time and energy in recent months into assuring both sides that it is committed to finding a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. How the Bush administration intends to help foster the creation of a Palestinian state when neither the United States nor Israel recognize Hamas – elected democratically by the Palestinian people in January 2006 – has yet to be determined.
Much of the talk leading up to this meeting has revolved around the idea of concessions. Such a compromise would include full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with the exception of a few areas amounting to minor border tweaks. Control of the city of Jerusalem would be shared along ethnic lines with commitments from both sides to strive for peaceful coexistence.
A positive aspect to staging the Annapolis gathering at this particular time is that the stakes are high for all the major players involved. The Bush administration, desperate to establish any kind of credibility in the region, knows that the road to fixing the diplomatic disaster created in Iraq runs through Jerusalem. Also, many Israelis, tired of the same old tug-of-war that has dictated the conflict, are pressing for the old “land for peace” notion that has popped up repeatedly in various peace processes involving Israel. Abbas and his Fatah party understand that a failure to achieve a final settlement for the majority of Palestinians will undermine the credibility he is struggling to retain in the face of Hamas. More poignant is that the United States and Israel understand this too.
Ultimately it is not what comes out of the meeting in Annapolis that will be telling, but rather, what is to follow. If the meeting can jump start a series of talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then hope is not lost. However, it is unrealistic to think that anything will be accomplished so long as the parties involved continue to isolate Hamas.