Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Double-Edged Sword

Almost twenty years after its founding, Hamas emerged as one of two dominant political factions of the Palestinians. Tangled up in intense ideological, political and other differences with the Fatah, the growth in support for Hamas has not only had its Palestinians detractors such as Fatah and the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, but it has also been increasingly marginalised in the international community as a terrorist organisation. Not only is it classified as a terrorist organisation by, among others, the European Union, Canada, United States, and Japan, it is also banned in Jordan.

In early 2006, Hamas won a substantial number of seats in the Palestinian parliamentary elections and hence has become a prominent political force in Palestinian political affairs as never before. Hence, we have the beginning of a new conundrum for Hamas, the Palestinians and obviously, the Israelis.

With Hamas’ explicit commitment to jihad against Israel and its entrenched refusal to accept a two-state solution, it will invariably be in a collision course not just with the reality on the ground, so to speak, but also against the prospect of any permanent resolution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict. The human tragedy unfolding – on the ground - in the Gaza now, again illustrates the bind that Hamas has put itself and the Palestinians people into.

Fatah and the PLO had come a long way – however slowly – in recognising the need to forge a mutually agreeable solution between itself and Israel. That has always been the only pragmatic and plausible scenario – and all relevant parties know it. Yet, Hamas refuses to move forward.

We have seen other scenarios where compromise has been the only viable solution. Albeit different, the Northern Ireland conflict is one such comparison. After what seemed like an eternal deadlock, the only way forward was for the IRA to talk with the Unionists. The IRA’s armed struggle was not the means by which a peace was carved out in the region. On the contrary, it was a peace process mandating a decommissioning of the IRA and a compromise that included a new formula for coexistence.

After half a century, it is the Palestinians who remain stateless and disenfranchised. It is the Palestinians whose hopes for their children remain remote at best. Hamas can remain headstrong and refuse to acknowledge the reality on the ground. But it is clear that Hamas will also continue to put itself – and the Palestinians in an untenable situation.

When Hamas begin launching rockets into Israel, at the end of this latest ceasefire, it – and its regional sponsors - knew exactly what Israel’s response would likely be. That’s because this storyline has played itself out before. One must then ponder precisely what does Hamas hope to accomplish through this latest provocation.

Deep down, Hamas – and its defacto sponsors - know that there’s only one plausible solution. If Hamas prefers peace, I think they know what it will require and how to get in touch with the right party to make it happen.

As Egypt and Jordan have shown, peace with Israel is possible and even mutually beneficial.

G. Krishnan