Thursday, October 05, 2006
Why Hamas Resists Recognizing Israel
Palestinian Muslims are currently joining the faithful the world over in denying themselves food between sunrise and sundown. But while most Muslims elsewhere break their Ramadan fast with sumptuous iftar meals, those unfortunate enough to live in the West Bank and Gaza are finding that they have less and less to put on the table come nightfall. That's because they remain under a financial siege imposed by Israel, the U.S. and Europe, in the hope of forcing Hamas, the Palestinian ruling party, to recognize Israel. The premise of the siege strategy appears to be that by increasing Palestinian misery, domestic pressure will mount on Hamas to submit or quit.
But such collective punishment may be as misguided as it is cruel; even if it did work, any "recognition" achieved this way would mean little in the pursuit of peace. An authoritative Palestinian polling organization last week released telling findings on Palestinian public opinion in the West Bank and Gaza. It found 54% of voters dissatisfied with Hamas's performance in government, the figure rising to 69% when it came to financial matters such as payment of salaries. Only 38% would vote for Hamas in an election now. But when asked whether Hamas should submit to the Western demand that it recognize Israel, 67% said no.
Clearly, it's not simply some extreme Islamist fringe that favors withholding recognition -- it's a majority consensus that includes many of the voters of President Mahmoud Abbas's own Fatah party. In part, as Israeli commentator Danny Rubinstein notes, that reflects a widely held belief among Palestinians that "Yasser Arafat and the PLO recognized the State of Israel in the Oslo agreement and what did they gain from that? Only suffering and misfortune." In fact, as Rubinstein notes, the settler population in the West Bank actually doubled during the Oslo years.
Even the Arab League proposal that Abbas is demanding Hamas accept as the basis for a unity government offers only conditional recognition â€” the Arab states would normalize relations with Israel if it agrees to withdraw to its 1967 borders. Hamas likes to dodge the issue by pointing out that Israel has no intention of doing that.
The question of recognizing Israel is difficult for Hamas or any other Palestinian organization, ultimately, because of the meaning of Israel in the Palestinian national story. In the Western and Israeli narrative, Israel's creation is seen as redress for centuries of Jewish suffering in Europe culminating in the Holocaust. In the Palestinian and Arab narrative, Israel's creation meant the violent displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and another Arab humiliation at Western hands. So, while May 15 is celebrated by Israelis as Yom Haatzmaut (independence day), the Palestinians mark the same day as the somber anniversary of Al-Nakbah (the catastrophe), the moment when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost everything.
You can read the full article at TIME's website.