Roger Lieberman: Politics of Fragmentation

By Roger H. Lieberman

It is very difficult to believe that the Bush Administration has the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart in its attempts to exacerbate the internecine divide between Fatah and Hamas in the Occupied Territories. Is it even possible for politicians who have shown such maliciousness and deceit regarding the Middle East in their six years in office to harbor honorable intentions? Machiavellian statecraft has never been a healthy thing for the human race, but it’s hard to imagine anything more disgusting and morally repugnant than the world’s most powerful nation employing it against an impoverished, stateless, and humiliated people who have been bereft of virtually everything they once possessed.

The principal reason offered to the disturbingly apathetic American public for US complicity in Israel’s campaign to starve the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank into submission this year has been that Hamas, whose victories in last January’s municipal elections won it the Prime Minister’s seat, refuses to recognize Israel’s “right to exist”. Ignoring, for a moment, the shear sadism of collectively punishing an already suffering population for expressing a political trend that Israel’s intransigence inspired in the first place, let us examine this “rejectionist” phenomenon in a broader context.

Many Americans find it odd that Hamas is reluctant to grant recognition to a state which quite obviously exists, and which possesses by far the most formidable army in the region. At home in a highly materialistic, fast-paced society whose sense of tradition has long been in decline, they quite cheerfully translate this data point into support for their infantile prejudices against Middle Easterners as people who “just won’t get over the past”. Yet, it takes only a few minutes of introspection to realize that political manifestations of righteous indignation are hardly alien to the American political scene.

For starters, it was not until the 1970s, after Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing, that the US government recognized the communist regime that had ruled mainland China since 1949. George W. Bush, since his first weeks in office, has repeatedly refused direct talks with North Korea regarding its nuclear program. More significantly, the United States has never come to accord with Fidel Castro’s Cuba – even though the Cold War that sustained an atmosphere of confrontation between the two nations for three decades has long since ended.

The reason the US government shuns reconciliation with Pyongyang and Havana has little to do with America’s best national interests. Rather, it is mainly because significant elements of the American public, quite understandably, find the behavior of those regimes morally repugnant. This is especially true of the Korean and Cuban immigrant communities, who carry with them bitter memories of abuse and upheaval at the hands of those now in power in their former homelands.

If Cuba were to follow Israel’s example by bombing and occupying Florida in “retaliation” for terrorist attacks sponsored by anti-Castro exiles, would the international community demand that the Florida Republican Party recognize the communist regime in Havana as a “precondition” for peace talks? Would they, at the same time, deem it “reasonable” for the aggressor to annex, say, Broward and Palm Beach counties, in order to “accommodate” the “natural growth” of “settlement blocs”? Would they insist that all Floridians of Cuban descent give up, for all time, the right to return to the homes from which they were driven by political repression?

It is patently obvious that none of the countries with whom the US has forsworn normalization in recent times have ever invaded American soil, destroyed American towns, uprooted Americans from their native land, or built segregated settlements and “access roads” for their own citizens to monopolize there. They have never done so, or been remotely in the position to. Yet these are the sort of “facts” which virtually all “mainstream” Israeli – and, by extension, American – politicians have blithely demanded that the Palestinians swallow.

Finally, there is an unfathomable difference in power here. America is quite capable of using brute force, economic warfare, or covert intrigue to destroy virtually any country against whom it has grievances – real or imagined. As we all know, it has done so many, many times. But, hysterics aside, neither Hamas nor any other Palestinian faction, acting individually or together, has even the most infinitesimal chance of undoing the State of Israel inside its internationally recognized borders. In fact, it is difficult to see how Hamas could so much as force Israel out of the lands it has illegally occupied since 1967.

Taking all this into consideration, the truth dawns on us that the international community’s abandonment of the Palestinian people on the pretext of Hamas’s militant platform amounts to one of the cruelest travesties in the annals of foreign affairs. Rather than recognize the rise of fundamentalist politics in Palestine as a consequence of Israel’s refusal to end the occupation – and, by extension, America’s refusal to make the Israelis do so, the Bush Administration has opted to fan the flames of civil strife in Gaza and the West Bank by teasing Mahmoud Abbas with hollow promises while making life unbearable for his people. One would be hard-pressed to think of anything more hurtful to America’s image around the world than this scandalous “divide and rule” scheme hurled against a society of refugees that has been pushed to the edge of the abyss.

Only a progressive, principled course of action can save Palestine and the rest of the Middle East from further senseless anguish. It is imperative that Fatah, Hamas, and the other elements of the Palestinian Authority find sufficient common ground to speak in a constructive, united voice for the best interests of their people – the most obvious of which is their inalienable right to freedom and dignity. It will be all well and good if new elections can take place free of fraud and violence, but they should not be rushed into simply because Condoleezza Rice advocates them. Far too much time has already been squandered by Palestinian leaders pinning their hopes on American politicians who, in reality, care far less about justice and decency than they care about currying favor with certain lobbies and domestic constituencies.

There are several things Hamas ought to do in the best interests of Palestine. First, it should renounce attacks directed against Israeli civilians – which have done much harm to public perception of the Palestinian struggle in the West. Second, it should remove from its ideological platform the reactionary and vulgar anti-Jewish bigotry that prevents it from being a constructive voice in the region. Third, it should issue a statement recognizing the right of Jewish Israelis to live together with Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land, with equal rights and protection from discrimination for all enshrined in law. This would be a far healthier and more creative approach than simply acceding to the worn-out Western demand that they grant Israel carte blanche recognition. In any event, not much can be said for the latter approach in view of how miserably little it achieved for the PLO during the Oslo years.

Finally, it should be stated that Israel will gain nothing from Palestinian factional quarrels – which, if anything, will increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks. The whole planet, aside from those who prefer to learn about the world through talk shows and “reality TV”, knows that the blame for the appalling state of affairs in Palestine lies with Ehud Olmert and his antecedents. Israel will remain as much a “hermit state” of the Near East as North Korea is of the Far East, for as long as it refuses to end its damnable occupations, and to treat its neighbors with the respect they deserve. If devoted Zionists find this unfair, let them rest assure it is far less so than what Israel and its allies demand of the Palestinians.

– The writer is a graduate of Rutgers University with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science. He is a regular contributor to the

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