U.S. Policy and the Situation
by Amjad Atallah
Looking at the violence in Gaza right now,
one might be forgiven for feeling confusion, and a certain
despair. How can there ever be peace and security between Israel
and the Palestinians, if the Palestinians are killing each
other? And furthermore, isn’t this internecine bloodshed
precisely what the Palestinian Unity Government was meant to
If we look at the situation carefully, however, it becomes
clear that what we see now in Gaza is the logical conclusion of
a series of conflicting plans put in motion upon Hamas’
electoral victory a year and a half ago.
When Hamas won the January 2006 elections, their plan was
based on an understanding that the Israeli government
wasn’t actually interested in a two-state solution
(despite rhetoric to the contrary), but was, in fact, most
interested in security. They believed this desire could lead to
the establishment of a hudna or long-term ceasefire
that would give Israel what it needed, while Hamas would not
have to sign off on anything that might compromise Palestinian
rights. They didn’t realize that the Israeli government
would in fact choose insecurity over security, insecurity over a
deal with Hamas.
They didn’t realize, further, that the US
Administration’s plan would involve falling back on old
habits, leading an international economic boycott of Hamas and
supporting and funding Fatah much in the same way it once funded
the Nicaraguan Contras, in an effort to oppose the
democratically elected government.
And Fatah, for it’s part, didn’t really have a
plan. In a state of disarray, they were essentially left with
nothing, and so the reasoning of many was “we must
confront Hamas and defeat them, and we have to find some way
(legal or not) to assume control.” That’s where the
American-funded rebuilding of their security services came in,
fitting nicely with US intentions.
Oddly enough, the Israelis, for the first time in my memory,
didn’t have a plan either. There was a weak government in
place, with no clear position – and thus, they found it
very easy to follow the American lead. We don’t know if
Israel would have gone in the direction of a ceasefire with
Hamas, but we know for sure the US prevented them from doing it
had they been willing.
Then along come the Saudis and other Arab states who
recognized that Fatah was in no position to win a civil war with
Hamas. They were very concerned that Gaza and the West Bank
would become like Iraq and Afghanistan, and so they decided to
facilitate the creation of a unity government, to give Fatah the
time to rebuild their security services and their ability to
confront Hamas at a later date. And we can see how well
that’s worked out.
And so Hamas finds itself in a box, with no clear vision of
how to get out, certainly as long as they don’t have the
cooperation of Fatah. But Fatah isn’t interested, and in
their current state of collapse, the only way for Fatah to
compete with Hamas in a legitimate fashion is military
confrontation. And you’ll notice that Fatah, in fact,
started the fight with Hamas, and then Hamas did what everybody
knew Hamas would do: attack Israel, to draw Israel into the
conflict in order to show Palestinians that Israel and Fatah are
fighting together, against Hamas. A bleak picture.
But the linchpin in this bleak picture is the US. Indeed,
Fatah wouldn’t have attacked Hamas, it wouldn’t
think that it could wage a civil war, if it didn’t feel it
had White House support.
Now that’s good news for us, because we all happen to
be Americans, and this is our country, and we have a say in it.
And that’s why it’s very, very important to focus
our efforts on changing policy here.
The majority of Americans believe in a negotiated solution,
and further, a recent poll by the Arab American Institute
and Americans for Peace Now showed that the majority of American
Jews and Arab Americans are also on the same page on the
question of a two state solution, security for Israel,
recognition of Israel, recognition of Palestine.
Moreover, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has clearly
become an ally of the heart. Very recently, she essentially said
to Israel, “ok, you can talk to Syria but don’t drop
the ball on the Israel-Palestine conflict; that’s the core
issue,” directly contradicting White House rhetoric. She
believes she can create a Palestinian state by the end of
Bush’s term. But she doesn’t know how to implement
it – she doesn’t have the support of the president
or the White House staff. So we need to give her our support, as
much as we possibly can. It’s a long shot, I’ll
admit, but it’s possible. All it would take is for
President Bush to dedicate himself to it in the same way he
dedicated himself to getting us into war in Iraq.
There’s no doubt, in fact, that he could do it, because
the majority of Israelis and the majority of Palestinians, the
moment they saw that kind of American resolve, the silent
majority, the peace camps in both communities that are hiding in
their houses right now, they would rise up. They would fill
Rabin Square, they would fill Ramallah, they would do whatever
they had to do to make sure this happened, and they would get
rid of anyone who stood in the way in their own political
But the only people who can convince President Bush to do
that, is us, Americans. And we have a responsibility. We cannot
say we are citizens of this country and are not responsible for
actions the government takes. Right now the United States is the
single greatest destabilizing force in the world, in Somalia, in
Lebanon, in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and these are
problems that are causing ripple effects all over the world. We
have an opportunity to start on a new track. We have to try to
convince him, in every way possible, that he’s got to do
An Arab-Israeli peace agreement, in which all the Arab states
are at peace with Israel, in which Israel is finally living in
security and in which Palestinians are finally living in freedom
and dignity, that would be a proud stable foundation for the
next administration to begin repairing the damage to American
security interests worldwide. I think each of us as an
individual American has a moral responsibility and patriotic
duty to do everything possible to convince this administration
what it needs to do, and if it doesn’t then have an
emergency plan of what the next administration needs to do.
This piece was adapted from a Brit Tzedek Townhall conference
call with Amjad Atallah conducted on May 31, 2007. Click
here to read a complete transcript of the
call. The opinions expressed herein are not neccesarily
those of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.
Amjad Atallah is founder and President of Strategic
Assessments Initiative (SAI), a non-profit organization
committed to providing legal and policy assistance to parties
involved in negotiations in conflict and post-conflict
Prior to founding SAI, he advised the Palestinian negotiating
team, and later Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas' office, in
peace negotiations with Israel on the issues of international
borders, security, and constitutional issues. Mr. Atallah
travels regularly between Washington and the Middle East.
UN was pummelled into submission, says outgoing
Middle East special envoy, ynetnews.com, June
Takeover by Hamas Illustrates Failure of Bush's
Mideast Vision by Glenn Kessler, Washington
Post, June 15, 2007
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