Palestinians face even greater hardships as Hamas resists West’s starvation tactics and blackmail

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Ahmad Musa

Ramadan 08, 1427 2006-10-01

Main Stories

by Ahmad Musa (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 8, Ramadan, 1427)

Months of negotiations between Hamas leaders and Fatah leaders on forming a coalition government, which they hope will break the political deadlock in the country and facilitate the lifting of the West's economic boycott, appeared to reach a significant breakthrough on September 11. It was announced that agreement had finally been reached after a series of meetings in Ghazzahbetween PA (Palestinian Authority) president Mahmoud Abbas, leader of Fatah, and Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader appointed prime minister after Hamas's stunning victory in January's parliamentary elections.

By the end of the month, however, it had become clear that the relief that had greeted the news was premature, as there was no sign of any agreement being implemented and clear evidence that the two parties remained divided on a crucial issue: the Israeli and Western demand that Hamas explicitly recognise Israel's right to exist. Speaking at the UN General Assembly on September 21,Abbas announced that the new government formed on the basis of this agreement would recognise Israel. Asked about the matter,Hamas officials insisted that they had agreed to nothing that compromised their longstanding refusal to recognise Israel's right to exist.

The agreement was based on the Palestinian Prisoners' National Conciliation Document, published by Hamas and Fatah prisoners in Israeli jails earlier this year, as an attempt to break the deadlock between Fatah and Hamas. This document proposes that Palestinians tacitly recognise the state of Israel in return for the creation of a Palestinian state on all of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. It also reasserts the Palestinians’ right to return to lands and properties from which they were expelled whenIsrael was created. These proposals represent a restatement of the demands that the Palestinians made at the time of the Oslo Accords in 1992, and have been the basis of their position ever since.

According to Khalid Ameyrah, a highly-regarded Palestinian commentator writing in Al-Ahram Weekly, the agreement came about because both Fatah and Hamas made significant concessions in pursuit of a compromise. Fatah withdrew its demand that Hamasrecognise Israel, in order to fall into line with Fatah's own position, conceded to Israel as part of the “peace process” after the Oslo Agreement, as well as all previous terms in the agreements between the PLO and Israel since 1992. Hamas argues that some of these agreements concede more to the Israelis than Palestinians ever should have, and that they have in any case been rendered obsolete by Israel's constant breaches of its obligations under them.

For its part, Hamas is reported to have acknowledged the Arab peace initiative of 2002 as a basis for a possible agreement with Israel, which makes similar demands to the National Conciliation Document, while also recognising “existing political realities”, a tacit recognition of the fact of Israel's existence, if not its “right” to exist.

Under the agreement, a “national unity” government would be founded, two thirds of which would consist of Hamas members, and one third Fatah members. Hamas has been willing to include Fatah members in its government since the elections, in line with its longstanding policy of trying to maintain the unity of the Palestinians at almost any cost, but Fatah refused unless certain demands were met.

Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad confirmed the outlines of the agreement, saying that “We will not mention the recognition of Israel but we have sent positiove signals -- enough for the world to understand that this government is not against negotiations and talks [with Israel] through the PLO.”

The problem appears to be that this acknowledgement on Hamas's part is not sufficient to satisfy Israel and the Western powers,nor to persuade them to lift their campaign of economic warfare against the Palestinians. Since the Palestinians elected Hamas to lead them in the parliamentary elections in January, Israel and its western allies have imposed an economic blockade on Palestine, creating immense hardship for its people, particularly in Ghazzah, in order to try to force Hamas to abandon the positions on which it was elected and fall into line with Israel's plans for the region. Effectively, they have been trying to starve the Palestinians into submission, blackmailing them with the threat of making life intolerable unless Hamas accept Western demands or the Palestinians turn against Hamas.

Hamas for their part have refused to change their position as a matter of principle, while doing everything short of recognising Israelto try to make life easier for their people. Despite increasing hardships, the Palestinians have by and large continued to support theHamas stance.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian people continue to suffer immense hardships. John Dugard, UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, said in a report published in September 28 that the standard of living in the Palestinian territories had fallen to “intolerable levels”, largely as a result of Israel's economic policies and the cutting of funds to the Palestinian Authority by the US, Canada and the Europe Union. In Ghazzah, the situation is exacerbated as a result of Israel's on-going military operations, which have killed almost 300 people since July.

In an exceptionally blunt analysis, Dugard described Israel's policies in Ghazzah as a case of turning it into a prison and throwing away the key. Three-quarters of people in Ghazzah are now dependent on food aid, he said, as a result of Israel's economic blockade, military actions and demolitions. “What Israel chooses to describe as collateral damage to the civilian population is in fact indiscriminate killing prohibited by international law,” he said.

In an exceptionally blunt analysis, Dugard described Israel's policies in Ghazzah as a case of turning it into a prison and throwing away the key. Three-quarters of people in Ghazzah are now dependent on food aid, he said, as a result of Israel's economic blockade, military actions and demolitions. “What Israel chooses to describe as collateral damage to the civilian population is in fact indiscriminate killing prohibited by international law,” he said.

Dugard, a South African lawyer, also criticised the international embargo on funding to the Palestinian Authority, saying that “Israelviolates international law as expounded by the Security Council and the International Court of Justice and goes unpunished... But the Palestinian people are punished for having democratically elected a regime unacceptable to Israel, the US and the EU.”

“In effect,” he continued, “the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions – the first time that an occupied people has been so treated.”

The suffering of the Palestinian people is likely to get worse in the near future, as the EU’s Temporary International Mechanism (TIM), by which it is supplying limited amounts of fuel, medical supplies and other allowances directly to Mahmoud Abbas’s office, bypassing the Hamas government, is due to expire shortly. The bulk of this assistance goes on healthcare; it is specifically forbidden for the PA to spend any of these funds on salaries for government employees. As the PA is the largest employer in the PA territories, this has caused immense hardship, resulting in the almost total breakdown of the Palestinian economy.

Israel and the West are hoping that this economic pressure will force Hamas to back down and concede Israel’s demands. Palestinians generally continue to support the Hamas position that it has been democratically elected. Most Muslim countries have fallen in with the West’s demands that they support the economic boycott. Although Muslims around the world want to help the Palestinians, there is relatively little they can do, particularly as the banking system is largely paralysed by US treasury rules forbidding transactions with any institutions seen as being linked with the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. Unless something changes quickly, the situation of the Palestinians is only going to get worse over the next few months.

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