Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Kissinger on Hamas: Why He Might Be Mistaken

Kissinger's new piece "What's Needed From Hamas" in the Washington Post contains a shrewd reflection on a possible "solution" to the "Middle East" "peace process". In the opposite corner, albeit in the same paper, former President Carter recently called for leniency on Hamas on behalf of the Palestinian people. Together they might form an interesting basis for some thoughts along the lines of the "realistic Wilsonianism" Fukuyama called for last week.

As argued before, the democratization project is a) feasible, and will b) take the rest of our lives. In the long term, a Palestinian state -- just like any other protostate -- can only get to resemble a card carrying OECD one if it is created in the image of its people. This means finding a model of the market economy which suits the local deep-layered cultural (ethical, religious) pattern. So in the long run, we will have to engage with the Hamas' of the world. This not because of their violent, external policies and just as importantly, the grand strategy behind it, which have to cease for the longer term to play itself out. But because they through their internal legitimacy, produced by their social know-how, hold the key to building such a society.

Upfront this means brokering a formal deal: the Clinton proposal again, or something like it. An eventual deal would have to include a carving that leaves Israel with security and the Palestinians with a (potentially) viable economy. In the absence of the Hamas surprise move to the center, likely and upfront, Olmert might continue the Sharon plan. This will only provide the first part through a gradual pullout and harmonization of the border -- to the detriment of the Palestinians.

But, says Kissinger, a tacit deal might be made in the absence of an explcit one, through the day to day interactions -- one that will eventually include also the second element above, the potential for a viable Palestinian economy.
A serious, comprehensive negotiation is therefore impossible unless Hamas crosses the same conceptual Rubicon Sharon did. And, as with Sharon, this may not happen until Hamas is convinced there is no alternative strategy -- a much harder task since the Sharon view is, in its essence, secular, while the Hamas view is fueled by religious conviction.

Hamas may in time accept institutionalized coexistence because Israel is in a position to bring about unilaterally much of the outcome described here. (...) It requires above all a Palestinian leadership going beyond anything heretofore shown and a willingness by moderate Arabs to face down their radical wing and make themselves responsible for a moderate, secular solution. (...) Final-status negotiations in present conditions would probably founder on the underlying challenge described earlier: Do the parties view this as a step toward coexistence or as a stage toward final victory? (...) Whatever happens, whoever governs Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the parties will be impelled by their closeness to one another to interact on a range of issues including crossing points, work permits and water usage.

These de facto relationships might be shaped into some agreed international framework, in the process testing Hamas's claims of a willingness to discuss a truce. A possible outcome of such an effort could be an interim agreement of indefinite duration. Both sides would suspend some of their most intractable claims on permanent borders, on refugees and perhaps on the final status of the Arab part of Jerusalem. Israel would withdraw to lines based on the various formulas evolved since Camp David and endorsed by American presidents. It would dismantle settlements beyond the established dividing line. The Hamas-controlled government would be obliged to renounce violence. It would also need to agree to adhere to agreements previously reached by the PLO. A security system limiting military forces on the soil of the emerging Palestinian state would be established. State-sponsored propaganda to undermine the adversary would cease. (...) Whether Hamas can be brought to such an outcome or any negotiated outcome depends on unity among the quartet and, crucially, on the moderate Arab world.

So, if Kissinger is right, Hamas is heading the Palestinians in a economically negative direction. Bleak looks the future, indeed. But what if something potentially positive was overlooked here, and that this happened because of the perspective chosen?
The emergence of Hamas as the dominant faction in Palestine should not be treated as a radical departure. Hamas represents the mind-set that prevented the full recognition of Israel's legitimacy by the PLO for all these decades, kept Yasser Arafat from accepting partition of Palestine at Camp David in 2000, produced two intifadas and consistently supported terrorism. Far too much of the debate within the Palestinian camp has been over whether Israel should be destroyed immediately by permanent confrontation or in stages in which occasional negotiations serve as periodic armistices. The reaction of the PLO's Fatah to the Hamas electoral victory has been an attempt to outflank Hamas on the radical side. Only a small number of moderates have accepted genuine and permanent coexistence.(...) The advent of Hamas brings us to a point where the peace process must be brought into some conformity with conditions on the ground. The old game plan that Palestinian elections would produce a moderate secular partner cannot be implemented with Hamas in the near future. What would be needed from Hamas is an evolution comparable to Sharon's.
Kissinger's analysis of the radicalization of the Palestinian political game is properly realistic in that it describes the contest for extremism that the power struggles yield (note for example how he avoids the OMG! The jihadists are here!-leaning that would befit a deterministic culturalist). But the analysis might also be wrong in the medium term (a rubber distinction, yes, sorry).

A perspective just a tad less produced by power concerns, and a bit more formed by the role of ideas (an 'idealism' -- like Wilsonianism) might see advantages in the popular legitimacy of Hamas; see a building block for future creations as opposed to the corrupt roadblock of Fatah. What if, given that some truce or working order can arise between the parties, the election of Hamas was actually a good thing -- for the Palestinians first of all -- because they might now get a government that actually cares about their daily lives? And what if that turned out to be the most effective way to a long-term OECD-fication? Then it would also be a good thing for the rest of us.

No comments: