IN THE MEDIA
Negotiating with terrorists is impossible
Jan 21, 2009 | Mark Leibler
The Age – January 21, 2009
MALCOLM Fraser’s views on the Israel-Palestinian conflict (16/1) are ill-conceived, contradictory and counter-productive to advancing genuine peace. Fraser should know that anti-Semites cause anti-Semitism. If one disagrees with something an action by either Jews or Israel, fine, criticise them — but to say that Israeli actions “cause” anti-Semitism is to place the onus for preventing anti-Semitism on Jews themselves. No country should allow terrorists to hold its policy hostage. Terrorists cause terrorism, not policies that terrorists dislike.
Fraser castigates Israel for what he calls its “disproportionate” response to Hamas rockets. He seems to mistakenly think that the concept of proportionality in warfare has something to do with how many die on each side. In fact, it’s about whether an attack is proportionate to its military objective.
Israel’s military objective in Gaza is the valid one of stopping Hamas launching rockets on Israel’s towns now and in the future. Hamas purposefully does all it can to bring about the death of both Palestinian and Israeli innocents, by using Palestinian civilians as shields and deliberately targeting Israeli civilians. Fraser seemingly is arguing that Israel must wait for Hamas’ thousands of rockets to flatten a kindergarten or hospital before it is entitled to respond.
Fraser bizarrely dismisses the Hamas attacks as “more psychological than real” in impact, even as the incessant rocket and mortar attacks gain range and are increasingly lethal. He should recognise how intolerable are eight years of suffering, trauma and economic paralysis in southern Israel — now extending to a million Israelis, a major port, the power station supplying Israel and Gaza, and approaching the Dimona nuclear facility. He surely would if the target was Australia.
Fraser claims these attacks are simply those “used by those who have been pushed too far and basically have no resources”. Yet the rocket barrages began long before the internationally backed blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in 2007, following the brutal coup against Fatah. And when Israel left every inch of Gaza to its own devices in August 2005, the rockets increased dramatically.
Centrally, Fraser demands that Israel and the international community engage with Hamas, as the US did with the USSR. But of course, the USSR wasn’t firing its weapons at the US daily. Meanwhile, Israel and the same international community have repeatedly stated a willingness to trade and negotiate with Hamas as soon as it recognises Israel’s right to exist, renounces terrorism and agrees to abide by past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
According to new US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the incoming Obama administration supports these conditions. When he was prime minister, Fraser fully supported a comparable Western policy opposing direct engagement with the Palestine Liberation Organisation until it met similar minimum conditions.
Today he refuses to confront reality and dismisses Hamas’ goal of destroying the Jewish state as simply too hopeless to take seriously.
Since Hamas’ inception in 1987, its leaders have said, without wavering, that they want to destroy Israel and that they are not interested in peace. Hamas’ charter reads: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavours.”
Hamas leaders have repeatedly said they will not change their goals or overall violent strategy, which they see as religious imperatives.
Let’s dispose of the oft-repeated but fundamentally silly arguments about Hamas being democratically elected. Yes, Hamas won a plurality of votes in January 2006 parliamentary elections. They subsequently staged a violent coup against the forces of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who won a large majority of the vote in 2005, and will not let him stage new presidential elections. Is anyone seriously arguing that if a democratically elected government makes its fundamental policy a genocidal war to the death against a neighbouring state, the international community must nod and say, “OK, let’s talk about it”?
If a Western government meets an unchanged, unreconstructed Hamas, the chances of peace will decrease because Hamas has done all it can to undermine the peace process, not advance it. Its campaign of suicide terrorism escalated after the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Meeting Hamas will undermine Abbas, whose Fatah party had to renounce terrorism and recognise Israel to begin negotiations. As a result of this decision, life in the West Bank has improved dramatically in the past year.
Furthermore, legitimising Hamas will strengthen the hand of its patron, Iran, in the current battle for the hearts and
minds of the Middle East. This battle pits the extremist agenda of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, with al-Qaeda in the background, against most of the other Arab countries, including Egypt and Jordan, who are all alarmed at Iran’s growing power and nuclear ambitions, and appalled by Hamas’ behaviour.
Contrary to Fraser’s myopic and naive view, to ensure this Israeli-Palestinian conflict can move towards resolution it is necessary to do everything possible to marginalise Hamas.
This is the only way to further enhance the efforts of the more conciliatory Palestinian leaders in their negotiations with an Israel that in recent years has been more than ready for a genuine two-state outcome.
Mark Leibler is national chairman of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.