Investigative Journalism that is as
Radical as Reality Itself.

To Talk with Hamas

by URI AVNERY

LIKE TWO very tired wrestlers who clasp each other, unable to separate, the Israeli and Palestinian societies are glued to each other.

The Palestinian elections this week took place in the shadow of the Israeli elections. Who is Ehud Olmert? Has the Labor Party really changed? Will the next Israeli government really be prepared to negotiate? Which Palestinian leadership stands a better chance of liberating us from the occupation?

The Israeli elections, in exactly two months, will take place in the shadow of the Palestinian elections. What to do about the Hamas victory? Should we be ready to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes–God forbid!–Hamas ministers?

Palestinians know a lot about the Israeli democracy. But for Israelis, the Palestinian democracy is an unknown quantity.

* * *

OF COURSE, elections, by themselves, do not prove that a system is really democratic. There are all kinds of elections.

There used to be elections in the Soviet Union. A voter entered a polling station, was given a sealed envelope and told to put it into the ballot box. "Why, am I not allowed to know for whom I am voting?" he asked. "Of course not," the official retorted indignantly, "in the Soviet Union, we respect the secrecy of the ballot!"

The opposite was true in the Egyptian village that I visited years ago on election day. The place was in a joyful carnival mood. At the polling station, everything was open and aboveboard. What is there to hide? Good-natured policemen helped old ladies to put the right vote (Mubarak) into the box. There was no other candidate.

But nobody who visited the West Bank in recent weeks could doubt for a moment that here a real democracy is growing–the first homegrown Arab democracy. True, there were some signs of anarchy, here and there armed groups threatened each other. But these were marginal events, greatly exaggerated by the media. The competition was real, the parties were real, politicians competed for power and influence. Every flat surface in towns and villages was plastered with colorful posters. Deafening loudspeakers blared slogans and songs. And, most importantly, the voters were faced with a real choice between alternative and clear agendas–something that is not at all certain in the Israeli elections.

It is not easy to conduct elections under occupation, when the occupier is overtly fighting against one of the major parties, arresting and even killing candidates, keeping important leaders in prison, maintaining roadblocks everywhere. And, as is to be expected, when a dumb military machine interferes in political matters, the results are the opposite of those intended: the declarations and actions of the Israeli government against Hamas have mostly helped Hamas.

I spoke with one of the Fatah leaders about the actions of the Israeli government against Hamas in occupied East Jerusalem, where meetings were banned, candidates arrested and posters torn down. The man laughed: "What do they think? That the Hamas people need meetings and posters to know who to vote for? All these things only add to their appeal!" The results show that he was right.

* * *

WHERE DOES this Palestinian longing for democratic life stem from?

In this matter, too, there exists a wide gap between the generations–a gap that is one of the most obvious phenomena in Palestinian society.

The older generation, and especially the leaders who returned home with Yasser Arafat after the Oslo agreement, have never lived in a democratic society. Arafat himself spent his life wandering between Arab dictatorships: Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Tunisia. Lebanon, too, where every person is politically imprisoned in one or other of the authoritarian, sectarian fractions, is certainly far from being a real democracy. (Arafat always listened attentively when I held forth on the possibility of changing official Israeli policy by changing public opinion, but I did not get the impression that he had much faith in that really believed me.) The model that the older people were thinking about was a very limited, Jordan-style "democracy".

The middle generation has quite different ideas. Tens of thousands of them have been in Israeli prisons for long stretches, There they have learned Hebrew, listened to Israeli radio and watched Israeli TV. They have seen how Israeli democracy functions. That is the model they would like to adopt. (My friend, Sirhan Salameh, now the mayor of a-Ram, who has spent a total of 12 years in prison, told me: "What we enjoyed most were the scenes in the Knesset, where everybody shouts at the Prime Minister. We compared this to the situation in the Arab parliaments. We decided that we want a parliament like that.")

It must be said clearly: These elections are a huge achievement for the Palestinian society, a badge of honor for a people suffering under occupation, whose independent state is still a dream. Everyone who has a hat should take it off.

IN ISRAEL this week, the Palestinian elections were the center of political attention. Ehud Olmert, always keen to exploit his standing as Acting Prime Minister in order to present himself as a Security leader, called a meeting of the usual bunch of generals and Shin-Bet types, who, as always, looked at the situation through a gunsight and exposed their usual lack of political insight. What to do if How to behave when

What emerged from all this was that Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. "We cannot be asked to negotiate with a group that calls for the destruction of Israel" etc. etc.

That is nonsense in tomato juice, as we say in Hebrew. Or, in a case like this, rather, nonsense in blood.

Israel must negotiate with whatever Palestinian leadership is elected by the Palestinian people. As in every conflict throughout history, one does not elect the leadership of the opponent–first, because the opponent will not accept this, and, just as importantly, because an agreement made with such a leadership will not hold.

The broader the leadership is, the better. If an agreement is reached, it is vitally important that all sections of the Palestinian people are committed to it. And it is essential to include the most extreme factions. If Hamas had not decided to take part in the elections, it should have been forced to do so.

A group that is ready to negotiate with Israel, thereby already recognizes the State of Israel. And if it is not ready to negotiate, the problem does not arise. A matter of simple logic. But generals and politicians are not professors of logic, nor apparently do they know much about negotiations and agreements.

On the Palestinian side: the very fact that Hamas is participating in elections that are based on the Oslo agreement proves that the Palestinian political system is moving in the direction of peace. On the face of it, the Hamas victory seems to be bad for peace. But the real result may be quite different: it may moderate the radical movement and make sure that any agreement reached will be solid and permanent.

On the Israeli side: the split in the Likud, the creation of Kadima, and the change in the Labor Party leadership all show that the Israeli political system is moving in the same general direction. The movement may be big or small–but the direction is clear.

After both sides form their new governments–they must talk to each other.

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s hot new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: avnery@counterpunch.org.



 

July 08, 2015
Norman Pollack
Post-Senescent Stage of Advanced Capitalism; EU and Greece
July 07, 2015
Bruce K. Gagnon
Sanders Bullshit Meter Goes Off the Charts in Portland, Maine
ANDRE VLTCHEK
In Ecuador, Fight for Mankind; In Greece, Fight for Greece!
Nile Bowie
Obama’s Pacific Trade Deal Trails Behind China’s Development Vision
Binoy Kampmark
Warrior Economist: the Varoufakis Legacy
Shamus Cooke
Unions Must Act Now to Survive Supreme Court Deathblow
Dave Lindorff
The Greek People Have Voted ‘No!’ to Austerity and Economic Blackmail
Mateo Pimentel
The Pope’s Letter: Neoliberalism and Fukushima
Raouf Halaby
Beware Those Who Speak With Forked Tongues
Ron Jacobs
The Grateful Dead: The Ship of the Sun Bids Farewell
Jonathan Cook
Hasbara Industry: Why Israel’s Army of Spin-Doctors is Doomed to Defeat
Rev. William Alberts
Charleston: a Reality Check on Racism in America
Ellen Brown
A Franciscan Alternative: the People’s Pope and a People’s Bank?
Colin Todhunter
The Warped World of the GMO Lobbyist
John Wight
Who Will Join With Greece?
W. T. Whitney
Colombia’s Fensuagro Union is Revolutionary, Persecuted, and Undaunted
Mel Gurtov
Keep It in the Ground, Obama
July 06, 2015
MICHAEL HUDSON
Greece Rejects the Troika
Steve Hendricks
Will FIFA’s World Cup Sexism Ever Die?
Binoy Kampmark
Oxi in Greece
Gareth Porter
How US Spin on Access to Iranian Sites has Distorted the Issue
Peter Bach
ISIL and Ramadan in the Rag
Paul Craig Roberts
A Rebuke to EU-Imposed Austerity
Quincy Saul
The View from Mount Olympus
Robert Hunziker
Looking Inside Fukushima Prefecture
Norman Pollack
Capitalism’s Self-Revealing Practices
ADRIENNE PINE, RICHARD JOHNSTON, FIONA WILMOT, et al.
Seven Reasons to Scrap the USA’s $1 Billion Aid Package to Central America
David Macaray
Could Justice Scalia Be the One to Rescue Labor?
Linn Washington Jr.
Storm Smashes Chris Christie’s Presidential Candidacy
Benjamin Willis
US and Cuba: What Remains to be Done?
Robert David Steele
The National Military Strategy: Dishonest Platitudes
Joan Roelofs
Whatever Happened to Eastern European Communism?
Weekend Edition
July 3-5, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Pentagon’s “2015 Strategy” For Ruling the World
Jason Hirthler
Going Off-Script in St. Petersburg
Rob Urie
Greece and Global Class War
DIMITRIS KONSTANTAKOPOULOS
The Future of Greece Without Illusions
David Rosen
White Skin Crisis
Jerry Lembcke
Nobody Spat on American GIs!
Stavros Mavroudeas
The Greek Referendum and the Tasks of the Left
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Ecuador Fights for Survival – Against its Elites
Andrew Levine
Dumping on Dixie Again
Richard Pithouse
Charleston (It’s Not Over)
Arun Gupta
What Does It Mean to Call Dylann Roof a “Terrorist”?
Michael Welton
The Tragedy of Harper’s Canada
Brendan McQuade
The Right Wing Resurgence and the Problem of Terrorism