Asking Hamas for the moon: Severing ties illustrates flawed policy

Palestinian man sits in his wheelchair in front of his house in the Al Azza refugee camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem March 30, 2006. (MaanImages/Magnus Johansson)

Canada and the US are the first governments that have severed all ties with the Palestinian Authority. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and International Cooperation Minister Josee Verner announced this week that “Canada will have no contact with the members of the Hamas cabinet and is suspending assistance to the Palestinian Authority.”

At the same time, representatives of the US administration sent an email to diplomats and contractors directing them to sever contact with Hamas-appointed government ministers, and even those who are not members of Hamas. The order said that communication is still permitted with the office of Mahmoud Abbas and with members of the Palestinian Legislative Council who have not been elected on the Hamas list.

Earlier, Israel stated that the PA “will become a terrorist authority unless Hamas, which controls the PA, fully accepts the threshold conditions as determined by Israel and approved by the Quartet.” The US administration and Canada accordingly want Hamas to denounce violence, recognize Israel and accept previous agreements, including the Road Map. This move shows again how inconsistent foreign policy is towards Palestine and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In mid-February, as the Israeli government announced that it would stop reimbursing the customs duty which it collects on behalf of the PA, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Advisor Dov Weisglass was quoted by Israeli media as referring to the planned economic siege on the PA as a diet, whereby “the Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die”. Meanwhile, Palestinians face a looming humanitarian crisis due to prolonged closures of Palestinian territories. This has already resulted in shortages of food and other necessities and threatens to have a disastrous effect on the 1.3 million Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip.

On more than one occasion the US administration has failed to denounce violence on the part of Israel, vetoed UN resolutions on the basis of “balance” and has not demanded the same conditions from Israel, while it provides much more aid to Israel.

In 2003, the US funded the Palestinian Authority with $224 million. By way of comparison, US military grants to Israel that same year were $2.1 billion, excluding the so-called “emergency wartime supplemental (Iraq)” of $1 billion. US economic aid to Israel that year consisted of $9 billion for approved loan guarantees, $600 million for economic grants and $60 million for immigration and resettlement assistance.

With all this leverage, the US never asked Israel to recognize Palestine, never asked Israel to denounce violence and never ensured that Israel respected signed agreements.

In October 2004, the US vetoed a Security Council resolution that demanded the “immediate cessation of all military operations in the area of Northern Gaza and the withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces from that area” and which reiterated “its call for the cessation of violence and for respect of and adherence to legal obligations, including those under international humanitarian law.” It called the resolution “lopsided and unbalanced”.

This was not the first US veto of a resolution that called on Israel to denounce violence. The Bush administration alone has cast seven vetoes. More than once, US ambassadors have responded to these vetoes by saying that such resolutions would “undermine efforts to restore peace” in the Middle East.

During the military assault on northern Gaza at least 107 Palestinians were killed and 431 injured. Tank shells and helicopter missiles, fired into densely populated areas, caused many of the casualties. A quarter of those killed were aged 18 years and under. The dead include nine UNRWA pupils from six schools and two teachers.

The US and Canada want Hamas to recognize Israel. This in itself is not an easy demand. What would Hamas recognize? No Palestinian or Israeli would know where the boundaries of Israel are set. The governments that ask Hamas to recognize the state of Israel must be specific about Israel’s boundaries before asking for recognition.

Over the years, Israel has captured additional territory. Does this mean the “Jewish State” as proposed in the UN Partition Plan of 1947, or would this mean the ceasefire lines of the War of 1967, area C of the Oslo Accords, or areas that Israel occupied since September 28, 2000? The newly elected Olmert cabinet plans to define Israel’s borders unilaterally without dealing with the Hamas government, so why would Hamas bother to recognize this?

Apart from boundaries, there is another reason to be reluctant. There are at least 20 Israeli laws that specifically provide unequal rights and obligations based on what the Israelis call nationality, which in Israel is defined on the basis of religion. Israelis must carry a card that identifies them as a Jew, a Muslim or a Christian.

All non-Jews are second-class citizens. Why would one recognize a state that doesn’t recognize its own citizens? Moreover, over 80 percent of the land within Israel that was once owned by Palestinians has been confiscated. Unlike any other country in the world, Israel does not define itself as a state of its residents, or even a state of its citizens; rather, as a state for Jews only. It is impossible to recognize that they can travel to Israel, declare citizenship, and be granted all the privileges of being Jewish that are denied to Palestinians who have lived in the area for hundreds of years.

The US, Canada and the European Union (EU) want Hamas to recognize a state that hasn’t recognized Palestine as such. These countries themselves haven’t recognized Palestine yet, even though more than 120 other countries have recognized Palestine following its proclamation by the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers in November 1988.

In 1988, the UN acknowledged the proclamation of the State of Palestine in a General Assembly resolution (43/177). In July 1998, the General Assembly adopted a new resolution (52/250) conferring upon Palestine additional rights and privileges, including the right to participate in the general debate held at the start of each session of the General Assembly, the right of reply, the right to co-sponsor resolutions and the right to raise points of order on Palestinian and Middle Eastern issues. By this resolution, “seating for Palestine shall be arranged immediately after non-member States and before the other observers.”

This resolution was adopted by a vote of 124 in favour, 4 against (Israel, US, Marshall Islands and Micronesia) and 10 abstentions. Canada itself was late to recognize Israel. Canada abstained when the admission of Israel to the UN came to a vote in the Security Council. Canada only granted recognition in May 1949, once Israel had been admitted to the UN. Palestine is already admitted to the UN, but Canada has failed to recognize Palestine. In contrast, within minutes after Israel declared its independence on May 15, 1948, US President Harry Truman granted recognition.

Israel, the US, the EU and Canada want Hamas to respect signed agreements. Yet how can Hamas respect signed agreements while Israel hasn’t respected any of the agreements signed between Israel and the PLO? The Oslo agreements did not mention the military occupation and postponed, until the final stage, negotiations over core issues of the conflict: refugees, settlements, borders and Jerusalem. Although many thought that Oslo would lead to an end of the occupation and the establishment of an independent state, the process itself, and the failure of the US and the EU to act as honest brokers, allowed Israel to continue land confiscations, house demolitions and territorial expansion, leaving Palestinians with little to no recourse. Israel continued to build settlements in the occupied territories and the number of settlers doubled in the West Bank during the years of the ‘peace process’.

The rebirth of the Oslo process in the Middle East Quartet-sponsored “Road Map” is not much better. While the Road Map calls for “reciprocal steps,” attention thus far has almost exclusively focused on what measures Palestinians take, not what Israel should do. The Oslo Agreements expired on May 1999 and the Roadmap expired in 2005.

In a recent report to the UN Human Rights Commission, Special Rapporteur John Dugard said Israel had failed to adhere to the “road map” plan drawn up three years ago by the Quartet. He said the plan is hopelessly out of date and needs to be revamped.

Dugard suggested to the Quartet that it adopt a position on the conflict that would take more account of human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory and the refusal of Israel to comply with the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, and that it revise the road map in accordance with these considerations. Before doing this, it would be a sign of wisdom if the governments of Canada, the US and the EU become consistent in their policies with respect to Israel and leave double standards behind.

Aid and constructive dialogue are essential because starving the Palestinians into submission would be a catastrophe. And like it or not, Hamas is the elected government of the Palestinians.

Arjan El Fassed is a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada

Related Links

  • Intransigence of Hamas Government will affect aid: Quartet, UN News (30 March 2006)
  • UN Special Rapporteur: “Israeli settlers ‘terrorize’ Palestinians” UNHCHR (12 March 2006)
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