The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

MERIP on Israel's convergence plan

Some interesting stuff worth remembering about Hamas in MERIP's look at the convergence on the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Hizbullah conflicts:
Frozen out of official negotiations, Hamas could only carry out public diplomacy. The movement sent up a number of trial balloons soon after its election in the form of comments to the press, op-eds in the Guardian and Washington Post, and on- and off-the-record remarks to international organizations. In February, Hamas politburo head Khalid Mashaal described the PA's foundation in the Oslo accords as "a reality," and said that "we do not oppose" the 2002 Arab League initiative offering Israel "full normalization" of relations in return for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a "just and agreed" solution to the refugee problem. Previously, Hamas had vehemently denounced both the Oslo agreements and the Arab initiative. But the US and Israel were not interested in pursuing what sort of avenues this newfound flexibility might open. Instead, the US and Israel boxed Hamas -- and themselves -- into a corner with stringent demands that were impossible for Hamas to accept.

Elements in the electorally defeated Fatah movement, as well in the Bush administration, initially believed that stonewalling Hamas and starving the PA of funds would cause the new government to fall within three months. They were wrong, but in the meantime Hamas became as firm in its rejection of the externally imposed conditions as Israel, the US and the EU were in insisting upon them. Besieged from within and without, the movement's rate of political change, so rapid in the months leading up to and immediately following the election, grew sluggish. Pleas for Hamas to accept the 2002 Arab initiative unequivocally came to naught.

Likewise, Hamas filibustered President Mahmoud Abbas' proposal that it sign onto the "prisoners' document." Agreed upon by jailed members of all major Palestinian factions, including Hamas, this document called for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, implementation of Palestinian refugees' right of return, and the concentration of armed resistance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These ideas were quite similar to what some Hamas leaders had proposed during their public diplomacy campaign, and Hamas, like forces on the Palestinian left, originally thought the prisoners' document could serve as the basis for national dialogue. Then, in May, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas preempted dialogue, and instead tried to use the document as a tool for wresting concessions from Hamas. Abbas vowed to slate a national referendum on the document's contents unless Hamas officially accepted them. This maneuver led the Hamas signatory, Sheikh ‘Abd al-Khaliq al-Natsheh, to remove his name. The eventual Fatah-Hamas reconciliation on the matter, signed by all parties several hours after the Kerem Shalom raid, has been overtaken, at least for the time being, by events on the ground.

Much was made, especially after Shalit's capture, about the divisions within Hamas regarding the prisoners' proposals, with some analysts going so far as to suggest that the raid itself was an attempt to scuttle a deal on the final wording. Indeed, in many quarters, especially in Israel, the Kerem Shalom operation was interpreted as a virtual coup of Hamas' external leadership against the internal, but the Islamist party has always been a big tent, with decisions made by consensus through its consultative council (majlis al-shura). The protracted process followed by Hamas might not be commensurate with the expectation of expeditious decision-making by the prime minister's office, but one should not mistake a deliberative style for internal rupture.
Also see the conclusion:

The Israeli government is doing its best to keep those doors firmly shut. As Tzipi Livni told the special UN team dispatched to the region on July 18, "The diplomatic process is not intended to reduce the window of opportunity for military operations, but will take place in parallel." Her statement affirmed that Israel will continue its attacks in Lebanon and Gaza even as it works to secure international support for returning its taken soldiers and implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1559. Omitted from Israel's diplomatic agenda is any attempt to deal with the political causes of the fighting, either in Lebanon or in Gaza. Endorsing instead the Group of Eight's statement that "extremism" lies at the root of the fighting, the Israeli government is pushing the disarmament of Hizballah in Lebanon and uprooting the "terrorist infrastructure" in Gaza -- both of which objectives have scant chances of success and enormous potential for provoking further violence -- instead of launching a different kind of diplomatic initiative: one that would work to establish a peace in which independent militias in Lebanon and Gaza would not be required.

Livni's statement to the UN team is an apt description of not only the Israeli government's strategy in its two-front war but also its convergence plan. Ariel Sharon, like his successors in the Kadima Party, convinced the Israeli public that "convergence" would pay diplomatic dividends by securing international recognition that the occupation had ended, even as it accorded the Israeli military the freedom to exact an even heavier price from those who might resist Israel's unilateral designs. Sharon foresaw that the diplomatic part of the plan would require military support to be successful, while military pressure upon the Palestinians was not sustainable internationally without a diplomatic component. The Operations Department might be stepping on the gas pedal in escalating the wars in Lebanon and Gaza, but a no-holds-barred assault of this nature was a long time coming
In other words: there is no one to negotiate with on the Israeli side.