U.S. Policy and the Situation in Gaza
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 forestall?

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 establishments.

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 this.

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 situations.

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.


Resources:

UN was pummelled into submission, says outgoing Middle East special envoy, ynetnews.com, June 13, 2007 

Takeover by Hamas Illustrates Failure of Bush's Mideast Vision by Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, June 15, 2007


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