Monday, December 29, 2008

The myth of Hamas rejectionism

Israel's opponents are always rejectionist, refusing to acknowledge the Jewish state's repeated olive branches and fanatically insisting on a maximalist programme. Thus, the late Yasser Arafat could never be Israel's much sought after 'partner in peace'. This image was never accurate. The PLO spent the 1990s engaged in a drastic reduction of its aims and aspirations, eventually coming close to negotiating a two-state settlement at Taba, before Ehud Barak called off the discussions. Former Clinton aide Robert Malley pointed out that far from Arafat rejecting a 'generous offer' from Israel (as has been alleged), "it could be said that Israel rejected the unprecedented two-state solution put to them by the Palestinians, including the following provisions: a state of Israel incorporating some land captured in 1967 and including a very large majority of its settlers; the largest Jewish Jerusalem in the city's history [and] security guaranteed by a US-led international presence".

Still, the myths persisted throughout the assaults on Jenin and Rafah, throughout the bulldozings and massacres, until Arafat died under seige. Mahmoud Abbas is so craven that it is difficult to depict him as a sinister rejectionist. Instead, Sharon insisted that Abbas use the scant resources of the Palestinian Authority to pursue a war against Hamas, even as the settlement building continued and the wall was erected, with Palestinian farmland being destroyed and the economy crushed. This was itself one of the causes of the surge in support for Hamas which, contrary to prevalent misconceptions, was far more pragmatic in its ability to work with other forces, such as the PFLP (despite the latter's occasional sectarianism).

Since Hamas sees the whole of historic Palestine as an Islamic waqf, and does not concede the legitimacy of Zionism's claim to any part of the territory, it was easy to construe them as rejectionist. They adhere to the principles of the old Palestinian national movement, before the PLO embarked on its long swerve to accomodation, those of Palestinian nationalism and popular armed struggle. So, when Ismail Haniyeh was sworn in as Prime Minister of Palestine, it was simple to dismiss him and the movement he represents as a terrorist, enemy of peace, etc. Yet, everything about Hamas' subsequent conduct demonstrates their pragmatic attitude, including the attempts to forge a national unity government with Fatah despite the latter's acceptance of Israeli weapons and money in its pursuit of a civil war against Hamas.

Despite an international blockade and opprobrium from the Israeli leadership, Hamas repeatedly signalled its willigness to accept a two-state settlement. It imposed a unilateral ceasefire on its own cadre, refusing to be drawn by repeated Israeli provocations. A crippling blockade, habitual violence and naked attempts to destabilise the elected government did not deter Hamas from this course. Only this year, after a US-Israeli sponsored armed coup attempt in Gaza, a successful putsch in the West Bank, and repeated incursions by the IDF, Hamas offered Israel a ten year ceasefire if it could abide by the terms of a two-state settlement: this offer, just like every other peace overture, was contemptuously dismissed. And now, most recently, a ceasefire agreed on in June has been flagrantly overturned by Israel. No one noticed, at least no one who writes for a newspaper. The myth that Hamas ended the truce as just the latest example of its innate rejectionism now underwrites a depraved assault which has killed 300 people and is about to become a ground invasion. Israel's intransigence, brutality, recklessness, refusal to work with anyone or negotiate in any meaningful way, will continue to be projected onto its opponents for as long as Israel has the superior propaganda resources, and for as long as the colonial trope of 'native fanaticism' governs discursive responses to occupation and resistance.

Update: Dennis Perrin notes "how all the excuses for slaughtering Palestinians when the PLO was Hitler are now being used to tar Hamas. They reject compromise, are bottomless Jew haters, are addicted to death, want to drive Israel into the sea, etc."