Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - his Likud party's 1999 Charter rules out any soveriegn, independent Palestinian state in the West Bank or Gaza, yet simultaneously refuses to talk to Hamas on the grounds that it's charter does not recognise the Israeli state
Hamas’ refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist is the number one reason given for the refusal of the Israeli government and it’s allies to negotiate with the Hamas government which Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza elected in January 2006.
This claim is based on Hamas’ founding charter, which, as Palestinian scholar Khaled Hroub has pointed out, was written decades ago and does not reflect Hamas’ current positions (1).
It also makes the Charter of the Israeli Likud party, whose leader Benjamin Netanyahu is now Israeli Prime Minister, interesting reading.
It states that:
“The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. (2)”
Also “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria [i.e the West Bank] and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values... Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting. (2)”
(The charter was written in 1999 which explains the reference to settlements in Gaza which no longer exist – though Likud opposed the withdrawal, leading to the split in the party which led to serial war criminal Ariel Sharon forming the “centrist” Kadima – which shows you just how extreme the remaining Likud members must be)
Strangely Likud's charter has not led to any other governments refusing to recognise the Israeli government until it changes it to recognise the right of a Palestinian state to exist, nor any sanctions being placed on Israelis for electing Likud.
Likud’s charter is much more blunt than most Israeli political statements on a Palestinian state are, but doesn’t differ greatly even from the Oslo agreement offered by Yitzakh Rabin’s Labor government in 1993 , which involved a Palestinian Authority in which Israeli forces could summarily arrest any Palestinian, but no Israeli could be arrested by Palestinian forces no matter what they had done. The West Bank and Gaza would continue to be occupied by Israeli forces. Israeli settlements and Israeli military posts would continue to separate Palestinian enclaves from each other. The best West Bank land and water would be reserved for Israeli settlers.
(This was still enough of a concession in Netanyahu's eyes for him to label Rabin a traitor and for his supporters to call Rabin a Nazi in a campaign of vilification which ended with Rabin being assassinated by an Israeli extremist.)
This is largely still the situation today, although Israeli governments have broken even the modest commitments they made under the Oslo agreements by continuing to annexe more land by force and build more settlements. The Gaza settlements were given up by Sharon under pressure from Bush, who wanted an apparent peace-making success to distract from his massive unpopularity in polls in the US due to Iraq and Enron, but Gaza remains under constant siege and regular military assault by Israeli forces. In return for the withdrawal from Gaza, the US gave Israel a free hand to annexe more of the West Bank (3) – (4).
Prime Minister Netanyahu has talked of a Palestinian “state” since, but each time makes clear that in fact he would not allow a state that was a state in anything but name. It would not have it’s own military or control of it’s own borders or airspace. Since the US and Israeli governments continue to demand Hamas sign up to “existing peace agreements” – i.e Oslo - Israeli forces would also be able to enter this Palestinian “state” at will and arrest anyone they liked at will and be beyond the control of this “state”’s courts. Meanwhile the Israeli government continues to expand settlements and annexe land in the West Bank, in breach of Oslo (5) – (8).
Netanyahu’s calls for negotiations to begin were with Fatah only, not Hamas. Since Hamas won legislative elections in 2006and the only elected Palestinian Prime Minister is the leader of Hamas, this is a bit like offering to negotiate with a US President who’s a Democrat but refusing to accept the US congress’ inevitable (and constitutional) involvement in the process because the Republicans won control of congress in the last elections. President Abbas of Fatah cannot make agreements without parliamentary approval under the Palestinian constitution – and if he does, they won’t hold.
Fatah rejected this deal as categorically as Hamas did. Israeli historian Avi Shlaim points out that “The problem with Israel's concept of security is that it denies even the most elementary security to the other community.” – i.e the Palestinians (9) – (10).
There has never been an Israeli government which recognised the right of a Palestinian state to exist, making it more than a bit hypocritical for them to demand that Palestinian negotiators accept Israel’s right to exist before negotiations begin.
It also seems unlikely that they would accept recognition of an Israeli state which would not be allowed it’s own military or control of it’s own borders, would not have legal sovereignty over crimes committed in it’s territory ; and would have to allow Palestinian forces and settlers the right to control large parts of it and arrest Israelis under military laws. Yet this is what they demand Palestinian negotiators, including Hamas, accept, before negotiations even begin, when they demand recognition of Israel’s right to exist and that Hamas accept the terms of the Oslo agreement before negotiations can begin.
Despite Israeli government propaganda about rational, secular Israelis facing crazy fundamentalist Hamas the view that God gave Israelis Israel, including the West Bank and Hamas, is mainstream in Israeli politics. The use of the biblical term “Judea and Samaria” for the West Bank in Likud’s charter is one example. Netanyahu in his speech said Israelis’ right to the land – including the West Bank - was based on the presence of Abraham and others there 3,500 years before. It was also used in briefings by Israeli intelligence to the cabinet under the “centrist” Kadima and “left-wing” Labor party coalition government during Operation Cast Lead. Even some Israeli military judges, who oversee military law applied to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, have used the same language on the land having been given to the Jewish people by God (11).
Ehud Barak, the Labor Defence Minister during Operation Cast Lead remains Defence Minister under Netanyahu in coalition with Likud.
Unlike Likud in 2009, with it’s platform of preventing a Palestinian state, Hamas in 2006 did not campaign on a platform of destroying Israel. If they had campaigned on a platform of destroying Israel, Palestinians would have laughed at them. How could a few thousand militants with automatic weapons and home made rockets destroy the Israeli military with its thousands of state of the art tanks, aircraft, helicopters, artillery pieces and drones?
It’s not true that Hamas have refused to negotiate either. Hamas leaders including Khaled Meshal and elected Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh repeatedly offered negotiations with Israel; initially on condition it withdrew from the territory it annexed in the 1967 war and since, later without pre-conditions. They’ve also stated they accept any Palestinian state would have to exist alongside Israel (12) – (18).
This ended after Israel’s ‘Cast Lead’ offensive on Gaza in December 2008 to January 2009, in which around 1,400 Palestinians were killed, at least half civilians, many reported by Amnesty International to have been killed in war crimes, turning Palestinian public opinion against any deal with Israel (19) – (20).
The Israeli foreign ministry website shows the number of Israeli civilians killed by the rocket fire which was meant to be the reason for the Israeli offensive in the six months before ‘Operation Cast Lead’ began. One. It also shows that within a few weeks of the operation beginning , three Israeli civilians had been killed by rocket attacks (21).
That does not make the rocket fire or the killing of three civilians by Palestinian terrorist groups justified, but it does show that the Israeli offensive must have had some motive other than just stopping rocket fire, much of which was by factions other than Hamas.
It should come as no surprise that when you kill lots of the other sides’ civilians, more of them want revenge on you and kill more of yours.
The mindset that thinks you can always bomb any opponents into submission forgets that September 11th and July 7th did not make Americans or British foreign policy less extreme – so bombing Palestinians, Afghans or Iraqis is not going to make their politics less extreme or less violent towards us either. They are not some alien race, but humans who suffer much like us – and react similarly to us when attacked, with a minority calling for restraint and a majority for revenge on someone, anyone.
The Israeli government’s refusal to negotiate with Hamas even after it’s election victory led to Hamas’ political wing losing influence over some of it’s military wing – the Qassam Brigades. Factions other than Hamas were even harder for Hamas’ political leaders to control – and the Israeli offensive aimed at destroying Hamas’ ability to govern Gaza – for instance targeting police stations and police - while simultaneously holding Hamas responsible for every rocket fired out of Gaza.
Former heads of Mossad and Israel’s Shin Bet military intelligence have called for negotiations with Hamas without preconditions, along with former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami and many others.
(1) = Khaled Hroub (2006) ‘Hamas : A Beginners Guide’, Pluto Press, 2006
(2) = Likud – Platform, http://www.knesset.gov.il/elections/knesset15/elikud_m.htm
(3) = Tanya Reinhardt (2006) , ‘The Roadmap to Nowhere : Israel/Palestine since 2003’, Verso Books , Chapters 1 and 4 (the late Tanya Reinhardt, who died in 2006, was an Israeli Professor of Linguistics and former student of Noam Chomsky. Her book quotes Israeli media sources extensively.)
(4) = Guardian 07 Jan 2009 ‘How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe’ by Avi Shlaim , www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/07/gaza-israel-palestine
(5) = Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs 14 Jun 2010 ‘Address by PM Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan University, ’,http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Speeches+by+Israeli+leaders/2009/Address_PM_Netanyahu_Bar-Ilan_University_14-Jun-2009.htm
(6) = NYT 14 Jun 20010 ‘Netanyahu Backs Palestinian State, With Caveats’
(7) = guardian.co.uk 14 jun 2009 ‘Netanyahu backs an independent Palestinian state for first time’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/14/binyamin-netanyahu-israel-palestinian-state
(8) = Haaretz (Israel) 13 Oct 2009 ‘U.S. to Egypt: Fatah-Hamas deal undermines Israel-PA talks’,http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/u-s-to-egypt-fatah-hamas-deal-undermines-israel-pa-talks-1.6197 , ‘Sources told Haaretz that Mitchell made clear to the Egyptians on Saturday the United States expects any Palestinian government to follow the conditions of the Quartet, which include recognition of the State of Israel, acknowledging earlier agreements and renouncing terrorism.’
(9) = See (6) above
(10) = See (4) above
(11) = guardian.co.uk 26 oct 2009 ‘West Bank land belongs to Jews, says Israeli army judge’,
(12) = Telegraph 09 Feb 2006 ‘Hamas offers deal if Israel pulls out’,
(13) = Guardian 4 Mar 2006 , ‘Hamas says peace possible at Moscow talks’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1723217,00.html
(14) = Guardian 22 Jun 2006 ‘Climbdown as Hamas agrees to Israeli state’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1803184,00.html
(15) = Ynet news (Israel) 22 Dec 2007 ‘Report: Hamas weighing unconditional truce with Israel’, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3485394,00.html
(16) = IHT 23 Dec 2007 ‘Israel rejects Hamas request for cease-fire talks’,http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/12/23/africa/hamas.php
(17) Guardian.co.uk 21 April 2008 ‘We can accept Israel as neighbour, says Hamas’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/21/israel
(18) = Khaled Hroub (2006) ‘Hamas : A beginner’s guide’ , Pluto Press, London, 2006
(19) = Amnesty International 02 July 2009 ‘Impunity for war crimes in Gaza and southern Israel a recipe for further civilian suffering’, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/impunity-war-crimes-gaza-southern-israel-recipe-further-civilian-suffering-20090702
(20) = Amnesty International 02 Jul 2009 ‘Israel/Gaza: Operation "Cast Lead": 22 days of death and destruction’, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE15/015/2009/en
(21) = Israel Foreign Ministry ‘Victims of Palestinian Violence and Terrorism since September 2000’, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Terrorism-+Obstacle+to+Peace/Palestinian+terror+since+2000/Victims+of+Palestinian+Violence+and+Terrorism+sinc.htm