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A New Hope?

Hamas’s Victory

by OREN BEN-DOR

Commentators on Hamas’ victory in the election preach the acceptance of Hamas as a negotiating partner in the Israel/Palestine peace process. The central messages in these commentaries seem to be that, 1. The world in general, and Israelis in particular, should respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian People. 2. That in order to qualify as a negotiating partner, Hamas should unequivocally recognise the right of Israel to exist in secure borders. It should also stop calling for the destruction of Israel. 3. That it is time for Hamas to renounce violence as a part of its evolution from being a terrorist organisation into a powerful political party. 4. That providing it renounces violence, Hamas should now become a part of the negotiations towards a two states solution in the Palestine, namely a Jewish state and a viable Palestinian state bordered by the pre-67 Green Line.

Looking carefully at these seemingly reasonable and pragmatic commentators there seems to be a consensus about two choices which are now open to Hamas: either to stay classified as an extremist terrorist organisation on the margins of political debate, or to become a puppet in a Zionist-American show by accepting uncritically the agenda of negotiating a two state solution in Palestine.

Such a choice dictates, not only to Hamas, but to the public, what is actually the problem in Palestine. What I argue is that it is not plausible to call for an organisation to become non-violent, while at the same time continuing to smother the very moral cause underpinning the voice of this organisation, a smothering that has inaugurated the very expression of that voice by violent means.

The cocktail of recommendations these commentators offer us is a sure recipe to eliminate any possibility of reflect upon the main problem in Palestine – Zionism. To be sure, Hamas itself is not a homogenous organisation and has internal disagreements. But we can safely say that in doubting the "right of Israel to exist", Hamas has attempted, hitherto unsuccessfully, to bring the actuality of the Palestinian catastrophe, the Nakbah, in 1948 into out consciousness. During the process that culminated in 1948, the whole of Palestine was occupied; the majority of its indigenous population, 750000 of them, were expelled to make room for Jewish immigrants. Many more thousands of Palestinians were internally displaced by the Israeli state during 1948 and ever since. Those who were left in their villages have been forced to be second class citizens in a state whose self definition is based on dominant religion and ethnicity. A Jew in Russia has more rights in the state of Israel than an Arab who is already a citizen, or an expelled or displaced Arab refugee.

Hamas has been fighting for the acknowledgement that the establishment, persistence and survival of Zionism is conceptually connected to the drive for suppressing the colossal dispossession inflicted upon Palestinians as well as their daily suffering. The message that Hamas stands for, namely that Zionism is a non-empathetic, colonialist and expansionist movement is an important one to reflect upon by Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Hamas’ election can also be read as a wish by the Palestinian people to bring this message from the margins into the main stream – something not carried out well enough, if at all, by their previous representatives.

For that message to cease to be expressed through violence it must not be paraphrased into an acceptable Zionist agenda. This is why it is important not to depoliticise Hamas. Hamas should not become a part and parcel of a stagnant and misleading debate which is limited to how best to configure two states in Palestine. Hamas should not be enforced to become reasonable while reasonableness means to sit together with so called left Zionists of the like of Yossi Bailin.

Now, when Hamas is elected, it is the time to legitimate its voice. It is time to reinforce Hamas resistance to the immorality and uncritically accepted legitimacy which the world leaders have hitherto bestowed upon the Zionist project. The portrayal of Hamas’ voice as a blunt denial of the "right of Israel to exist" has indeed belligerent tone to it, signalling destruction and annihilation. However, understanding this voice as an ethical cry to the world to not allow Israel the right to persist in its racist self-definition is a much better way of articulating the moral message.

The US is captive of Zionism. It then falls upon the EU among others to assume the sublime role of facilitating the conditions which will actually enable Hamas to renounce violence without becoming spineless. This the EU can do by supporting Hamas as the now elected representative of the Palestinian cause. Only in this way can the election results become the initiation of a world-level resistance to US-Zionist hegemony. It is only then that the whole of people in Palestine would have the hope of less violence. It is only by touching the core of pain and suffering that truth and reconciliation can begin. Baruch Spinoza’s dictum that "There is no hope without fear" could not be more appropriate.

Dr. OREN BEN-DOR grew up in Israel. He teaches Legal and Political Philosophy at Southampton University, United Kingdom.