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In the Footsteps of Arafat

by AMIRA HASS

There was no point asking Ismail Haniya, head of the victorious Hamas list, whether his movement would recognize Israel’s right to exist, for two reasons. First, the answer was obvious–no, the movement would not recognize Israel’s right to exist. Some say for religious reasons, as Palestine is a Muslim WAQF. Others say the reason is purely nationalist–the banished party cannot recognize the occupier’s right to usurp its land. Others still say Hamas is umbilically tied to the Muslim Brothers movement, which alone is authorized–but unlikely–to alter the basic position.

The continuation to this answer is also obvious. Hamas, as a pragmatic movement, cannot ignore reality and its nation’s desires. When the Palestinian state is established in the West Bank and Ga! za Strip–that is, when Israel recognizes the Palestinians’ right to a state in a practical way–there will be place to talk about the relations between the two states. Reality is stronger than any principle and theory, and if the two have good neighborly relations, why would anyone want to destroy them?

The second reason is that the question derives from Israel’s supremacist and patronizing position. From this position Israel dictates the agenda of media issues, which portray the Palestinians as yet another persecutor in a historic chain of persecutors of Jews, and Israel as a victim. The issues distort reality rather than illuminate it.

Israel does not recognize all Palestinians’ rights to their homes, land, trees and family relations or their rights to study or move freely. It infringes daily on all those rights. It systematically sabotages the chance to implement a United Nations resolution to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The Hamas’ ! victory and its non-recognition of Israel are used as a pretext by Isr ael to stop negotiations that were not taking place in any case, and an excuse to avoid peace initiatives that never existed in the first place.

The non-recognition issue is interesting as part of the overall picture that the Hamas movement is presenting to its public, although not the most important one. The non-recognition is presented as proof of the fortitude of a movement struggling against occupation; fortitude that lies at the basis of practical success.

“The occupation withdrew from Gaza, and today there is talk of pulling out of a large part of the West Bank,” Haniya said in an interview with Haaretz this week. “The situation in Gaza is better than before, as a result of the armed resistance.” He reiterated the prevalent belief among Hamas supporters, that Israel’s economic, security and political situation has deteriorated greatly. This vindicates the suffering incurred to their people in the blood cycle of the last five years.

Speaking of l! iberated Gaza and its improved situation, Haniya resembles Yasser Arafat. Arafat boasted in the mid-’90s that Jenin was “liberated” because the Israeli army had withdrawn from it, as it did from Ramallah and even most of the city of Hebron. Arafat defined “occupation” in the old-fashioned way–just a military presence. This did not imply control over a nation’s freedom of choice, or manipulation of its present, its future, and its options for development. He measured the “accomplishment” by the number of Palestinians he controled and were subject to his security branches, rather than by the extent of their freedom–for there is no freedom in enclaves surrounded by an occupying army.

Like many in the Fatah movement and the Israeli peace camp, Arafat believed that Israel was partner to the logic of the Oslo process, which spoke of the gradual withdrawal of the occupation. First 4 percent of the West Bank territory would be “liberated” and then the rest. The problem ! is that Israel’s governments, from Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres to E hud Barak and Ariel Sharon, took advantage of the gradual process to fix defining “borders” for the Palestinian enclaves by means of settlements and roads and confiscated lands. They exploited the principle of graduality to improve their non-military control over the Palestinians, mainly by imposing increasingly harsher restrictions on their freedom of movement.

It turns out that Haniya also believes in a gradual withdrawal of the occupation, ignoring the shrewd way in which Israel is meanwhile perpetuating its takeover of the West Bank’s lands. Like Arafat, Haniya is using the old definition of occupation as military presence, ignoring the occupation methods that limit his people’s freedom.

It is reasonable to assume that Hamas could deliver a considerable part of the goods that Haniya is promising his people now: improving the public sector’s function, proper management of funds, listening to the public, even public security. But liberation? Freedom? With t! he means that supposedly liberated Gaza? It appears that Haniya is not only underestimating Israel’s control of the Gaza Strip, but mainly has difficulty imagining what is going on in the West Bank. Therefore he can commend Israel’s expected, final unilateral moves in the West Bank and present them as another victory of Palestinian resistance.

AMIRA HASS writes for Ha’aretz. She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza.

 

 

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