In his speeches last week at the State Department and to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), President Obama made clear his belief that the status quo in the Israel-Palestine conflict is "unsustainable."
[I]t is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.
And yet, no matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option. The status quo is unsustainable.
The President also made clear the basic outline of the goal: "two states for two peoples." As he said at the State Department:
[W]hat America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
President Obama also made clear, rightly in my opinion, the need to recognize that the important territorial aspect of peace negotiations will start on the basis of the 1949 armistice 'Green Line,' which formed the pre-1967 'border,' and then involve swaps of land between Israel and Palestine. This principle has formed the basis of American policy at least since President Clinton (and emphatically including the G.W. Bush). At the end of the day (this is my opinion), the result will be that major settlement blocks (containing the majority of the settlers), such as Gush Etzion, and Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem will be part of Israel, and Palestine will gain an equal amount of territory.
But President Obama has a problem, and its name is Hamas. And so do we.
In his State Department speech, President Obama rightly observed the difficulty of asking a country--Israel--to "negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist." Imporantly, the President did not rule out peace negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization or the Palestinian Authority simply because Hamas may play a role in the governance of the PA or may join the PLO. Here's the relevant paragraph from President Obama (my emphasis):
In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel – how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist. In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.
The President made the same points to AIPAC (my emphasis):
I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. And we will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace, including recognizing Israel’s right to exist and rejecting violence and adhering to all existing agreements. And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years.
But there is a deal-breaker: If, as the President said in his State Department speech, Hamas "insists on a path of terror and rejection." I quote again the relevant paragraph from that speech:
For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.
So, President Obama held out to Hamas the opportunity to participate in the effort to achieve a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In effect, he offered Hamas a choice between the olive branch and the gun. Unfortunately (but consistently with its antisemitic founding covenant and historic practices), Hamas so far seems unable to put down the gun and pick up the olive branch.
Osama Hamdan, identified by the Guardian newspaper as "the head of the Hamas international relations department," and by Wikipedia as "the top representative of Hamas in Lebanon and . . . a member of the organization's politburo," recently said in an interview on Al-Jadid/New TV that, as a result of the reconciliation, or unity, agreement, "all the Palestinian forces" now would engage in "an armed confrontation" against Israel (the "Zionist entity," as Hamdan calls it), with the objective of "the return of the Israelis to the countries from which they came."
Osama Hamdan: Instead of one party negotiating and another conducting resistance, both parties – or rather, all the Palestinian forces – will operate within the single framework of confronting the Zionist entity, and this will not be an easy battle.
Interviewer: Will this be an armed confrontation?
Osama Hamdan: Yes, it will be an armed confrontation, as well as all other forms of struggle, including civil Intifdada against the occupation, against the wall, and against the Judaization of Jerusalem. There is no doubt, however, that the armed confrontation will continue to be the main effort and the backbone of the resistance, until the liberation of Palestine.
* * *
[W]e are entering the phase of the liberation of Palestine. When we talk about the liberation of Palestine, we are talking about the notion of Return: the return of the refugees to their homeland, and the return of the Israelis to the countries from which they came.
Hamdan's interview was broadcast on May 4, 2011, so it is still possible that Hamas may respond favorably to President Obama's plea for peace. But the more support there is for delegitimizing Israel, for seeking to put end--whether through violence or 'peaceful coercion'--to Israel as, in President Obama's words, "as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people." the less likely Hamas is to change course, and the less likely, therefore, Palestinians and Israelis are to realize the imperative of a lasting peace based, as the the President rightly recognizes it must be, on "two states for two peoples."
Hamas soon may be put to the test. Haaretz reports today that "[s]ources close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday that he will seek to form a government of technocrats by mid-June which will accept the demands of the Quartet, including recognition of Israel." The Haaretz news story continues:
The sources said that Abbas also appears determined to see Salam Fayyad appointed as prime minister on the unity government, despite widespread objection, as he believes that without Fayyad, the international criticism he has received because of the reconciliation agreement with Hamas cannot be countered. The sources believe that Hamas will ultimately agree to the appointment.
I hope Haaretz's sources are correct on all counts.
So what's our problem with Hamas? To begin with, it's not just with Hamas.
Our problem is that we are gearing up for what threatens to be an presidential election characterized by vicious, extremely well-funded attacks on President Obama, in particular, and Democrats, generally. Just as a Hamas that stays the course for armed conflict threatens President Obama's vision of peace between Israel and Palestine, guilt-by-association attacks on the President and other Democratic candidates threaten their prospects for electoral success. And if Hamas agrees to the formation of a Palestinian government verbally committed to recognizing Israel and negotiating along the lines set out by President Obama, for which I hope, the President's supporters will need to be able to defend him against the charge--foreshadowed, for example, by Mitt Romney's scurrilous charge that President Obama "threw Israel under the bus"--that encouraging peace negotiations between Israel and a PLO or PA supported by Hamas is itself anti-Israel. They key is to refuse to tolerate the delegitimization of Israel or Palestine.
I am not saying that President Obama should be immune from criticism regarding Israel or any other issue. I myself wish he were taking a more active role to bridge the gaps between Israeli and Palestinians. Without such American efforts, I fear the principals themselves may not succeed. Nor would I forbid criticism of Israel, Palestine, Prime Minister Netanyahu, or President Abbas. My distrust of Netanyahu, for example, is great, nor would I give Abbas a free ride.
But I do think that DKos should not tolerate attempts to delegitimize either Israel or Palestine, to deny the right to exist, again in President Obama's words at the State Department, of "Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace." (Emphasis added).