Augustus Richard Norton is a high-powered scholar with numerous books and articles about Middle Eastern politics under his belt. He is fluent in Arabic, and in 1981-2 he served with UNIFIL in Lebanon as a liason to the Shia population. He was a contributor to the Iraq Study Group. His 1988 article on Shiite Islam is worth reading.
Having said that (you knew it was coming), he has recently written a more-or-less friendly book about Hezbollah (read Jonathan Schanzer’s review of Hezbollah: A Short History here).
The Bush administration’s approach to the divided Palestinian territories is inviting disaster. By favoring the “good” Fatah over the “evil” Hamas, it is letting a dysfunctional ideology trump a good opportunity to bring progress to the Palestinians – and to the larger quest for peace with Israel. There can be no peace process with a Palestinian government that excludes Hamas.
Here are specific steps that President Bush can take to correct course:
• Announce support for a Hamas-Fatah dialogue to revive a unity government and quietly open diplomatic contacts with Hamas.
• Commit serious diplomatic muscle to restarting substantive Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.
• In cooperation with its Quartet partners – the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations – convene a peace conference informed by the US commitment to a two-state solution.
Although this was published in the Christian Science Monitor on July 17, it was obviously written before President Bush’s speech of the 16th, in which he in fact called for such a peace conference.
Just a few points:
While I have to agree with Norton that it’s wrong to put any eggs in Fatah’s basket, the Hamas ideology is worse than dysfunctional: it is genocidal. While Fatah is a bumbling, corrupt terrorist organization, Hamas is a much more efficient one. While Fatah is prepared to give lip service to peace with Israel, Hamas proposes only a temporary hudna until it feels itself strong enough to destroy Israel. Indeed, there can be no peace process with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.
A Fatah-Hamas unity government would make it possible for Western aid money to reach Hamas. It would place the arms which are being supplied to Fatah now by the US in the hands of Hamas. And it would permit Hamas to take control of the West Bank, as it has of Gaza, placing terrorist operatives close to Israel’s population centers and international airport.
But Norton says that Hamas is really not very dangerous:
Despite its history of anti-Israeli terrorism, Hamas has effectively suspended suicide bombings since its 2006 political victory. Ironically, groups affiliated with Fatah have recently claimed more Israeli victims than Hamas.
Hamas itself has not perpetrated any successful suicide bombings recently, although there have been attempts. However, Hamas has simply offloaded this function to other groups, such as Islamic Jihad, with which it cooperates closely. And there have been shootings, such as the sniper attack on an Israel Electric Company worker. It is also impossible to ignore the continuous shelling of Sderot and environs with mortars and Qassam rockets, nor the cross-border attack that killed two Israeli soldiers and resulted in the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit.
Norton thinks that the US behaved ‘hypocritically’ by pushing for Palestinian elections and then trying to isolate the elected Hamas government. But the US — and most of the rest of the Western world — did not deny Hamas the right to govern the Palestinians, they merely insisted that it meet three reasonable conditions: renounce terrorism, recognize Israel, and accept previous Israel/PA agreements. Hamas would do none of the above.
Meanwhile, the defining fact of Palestinian life among Gazans and West Bankers is dispossession and humiliation under the continued Israeli occupation.
…which, of course is entirely Israel’s fault and has nothing at all to do with Palestinian actions, right Dr. Norton? A really balanced, academic point of view, isn’t it?
Hamas voters overwhelmingly support a two-state solution, and the Hamas leadership has declared it would honor any agreement ratified by popular referendum.
The Hamas covenant is quite clear about not accepting any Jewish state in the Mideast, and indeed about its support for genocide against the Jewish people in Israel. I’m sure there’s a poll somewhere in which a majority of Palestinians who identified as Hamas voters said they supported some kind of two-state solution, but I guarantee that this would only be under unacceptable conditions (right of return for refugees, etc.) and only temporary.
Can it truly be to America’s or Israel’s benefit to support a fractured Palestinian government that needs dictatorial powers to survive? The electoral and military success of Hamas was a verdict on the failure of the Fatah old guard.
Finally, something that I can agree with. Fatah is worthless, corrupt, untrustworthy, and committed to the destruction of Israel no less than Hamas.
What’s the alternative? How about fully supporting Israel in crushing Hamas, Hezbollah, and the various other terrorist gangs (like Fatah’s own al-Aqsa brigades)?
There will be a possibility of peace between Israel and the Palestinians — indeed the whole Arab world — only when the Arabs do not have a military option. Anything else is either wishful thinking, or — as I believe in the case of Augustus Richard Norton — a deliberate effort to aid the genocidal goals of the terrorist groups.