| || |
PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
ELITE LEADER ENDORSES HAMAS PEACE PLAN
Before the Israelis started
dropping bombs on Lebanon,
they should have taken a moment to remember what an old general, Dwight
Eisenhower, once said. When you start a
war there’s only one thing for certain: Things won’t turn out the way you
is learning that one the hard way. It was supposed to destroy Hezbollah as a
meaningful political force, and Hamas was supposed to
fall with it. (While Israelis have been
killing well over 500 in Lebanon,
they’ve also been busy in Gaza,
killing over 130 people in the last two weeks.) But things are turning out far
different from what Israel
It’s not just a matter of
Hezbollah remaining intact and well-armed. The bombs that shattered Lebanon may also have shattered the Middle East playing field and created startling new
bedfellows. Who would ever have expected to see a top figure in the U.S. foreign
policy elite endorsing the views of the top elected officials of Hamas?
Yet that’s just what happened on
Sunday, July 30. The Washington Post’s editorial board (about elite as our
media get) gave space on their op-ed page to Brent Scowcroft, a long-time
pillar of the foreign policy establishment who was national security advisor for
both the current President Bush’s father and President Ford.
“The crisis in Lebanon
provides a historic opportunity to achieve what has seemed impossible,” Scowcroft
wrote. “Now, perhaps more than ever, we have an opportunity to achieve a
comprehensive resolution of the entire 58-year-old tragedy” of Israel against
its Arab neighbors. And the heart of Scowcroft’s “comprehensive
resolution” is much the same plan that the Hamas-led
Palestinian Authority was ready to propose in June:
A Palestinian state based on the 1967
borders, with minor rectifications agreed upon between Palestine
and Saudi Arabia
working with the Palestinian Authority to put together a Palestinian government
along the lines of the 18-point agreement reached between Hamas
and Fatah prisoners in Israeli jails in June. This
government would negotiate for the Authority.
as the shared capital of Israel
King Abdullah of Saudi
Arabia unambiguously reconfirming his 2002 pledge that
the Arab world is prepared to enter into full normal relations with Israel
upon its withdrawal from the lands occupied in 1967.
With everything that’s happened since, it’s easy to
forget that this is almost exactly the proposal that Hamas
and Fatah leaders united around on June 24. Polls in early June showed upwards of 90% support for it in the West
Bank and Gaza, even though it clearly implied
acceptance of Israel
as a permanently existing and permanently Jewish state.
The next day a splinter group of Hamas
militants, apparently intent on scuttling the peace plan, kidnapped an Israeli
soldier. That gave Israeli leaders the excuse they wanted to attack Gaza and destroy the new
chance for peace. The well-known Israeli commentator Danny Rubenstein explained
at the time how his own government saw things: “It is best that the Palestinians remain extremists because then no
one will ask the government of Israel
to negotiate with them. How do we ensure that the Palestinians remain radical?
We simply strike at them, over and over.”
That part of the Israeli plan has
worked just fine. Hamas political leader in exile Khaled Meshaal, who was edging
toward giving the proposal a stamp of approval, quickly rejected it. Even Prime
Minister Ismail Haniyeh,
the top elected Hamas leader, stopped talking about
peace negotiations as a meaningful prospect. Eventually, though, Hamas will have to start talking peace again.
To be sure, Scowcroft and Hamas don’t yet agree on everything. Scowcroft calls for “Palestinians
giving up the right of return and Israel
reciprocating by removing its settlements in the West Bank,
again with rectifications as mutually agreed. Those displaced on both sides
would receive compensation from the international community.” Selling the right
of return for a price will be the toughest pill for Hamas
to swallow at the negotiating table.
But Yassir Arafat once made
it clear that he would be willing to go that far. Eventually Hamas pragmatists like Haniyeh
would probably take the same route, and their people would follow. (Realistically,
the vast majority in the West Bank and Gaza
would rather have money than a new home in Haifa or Tel Aviv.)
Hamas would also object,
with good reason, to Scowcroft’s call for Egypt
and Saudi Arabia
to work with the Palestinian Authority to put together a Palestinian
government. The Palestinians already have a democratically elected government,
which could function well enough if Israel would leave it alone.
Scowcroft’s plan, which he says can be implemented only under U.S.
leadership, is designed to keep the new Palestinian state under a pro-Western
thumb. There’s no need for Hamas or any Palestinians
to accept that piece of it.
Brent Scowcroft does not speak for the whole U.S.
foreign policy establishment by any means, nor even for the whole “realist” branch
he’s usually linked with. But he’s a figure to reckon
with. In addition to his two stints as national security advisor, he
spent years as vice
chairman of Kissinger Associates. Now he runs his own outfit, The Scowcroft
Group, and sits on the boards of a bunch of top-of-the-establishment foreign
affairs organizations. As Christopher Hitchens wrote,
“He's traditionally thought of as a very hawkish guy [a
West Pointer who rose to general]. And a
Mormon to boot.”
And the Washington Post is hardly endorsing his views simply
by giving him space to air them. But when someone of such stature floats an
idea in a newspaper of such stature, it puts the idea on the table in the
corridors of Washington
power. The very fact that such a
prestigious figure in such a prestigious newspaper proposes much the same plan
that Hamas was ready to negotiate on signals a
profound shift in the Middle East policy arena.
Hamas won’t be ready to return
to this plan for a long time. It will have to assume an intransigent anti-Israel
stance for quite a while in order to maintain its political standing. Palestinian public opinion is understandably too angry to listen to
peace talk now. But the Hamas
leaders have shown that they understand the bottom line: The kind of plan that they
and Fatah and Scowcroft have all endorsed is the only
viable option for the Palestinians, in the long run.
The hard part is to convince the Israelis and the Bush
administration that they, too, have to take the Scowcroft-Hamas-Fatah
path. It’s the path of reason and common sense. The only alternative is more
carnage, more Qanas, and more Katyushas,