Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The EU’s Think Tank: Engage Hamas and Islamist Movements; Iranian Nuclear Weapons Not a Threat

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By Barry Rubin

“Stephen Spender [the great British poet] said to me recently, `Don’t you feel that any time during the past ten years you have been able to foretell events better than, say, the [government]? I had to agree to this….Where I feel that people like us understand the situation better than so-called experts is not in any power to foretell specific events, but in the power to grasp what kind of world we are living in.”
--George Orwell, War Diary, June 8, 1940

Does the flow of reports from the EU's official research center advocating engagement with Hamas, Hizballah, and Muslim Brotherhoods as well as negated any threat from Iranian nuclear weapons show the direction of European policy? In the face of the greatest challenge to freedom and stability at present, many institutions are on the other side.

The most recent paper, entitled, “Engaging Hamas: Rethinking the Quartet Principles,” is written by Carolin Goerzig, a fellow at the Institute. Other than  having visited the Gaza Strip, it isn't clear what her qualifications are.

Here's how the paper is explained on the think tank's site: "Progress can only be made towards peace in the Middle East by engaging--not isolating--Hamas, without whom there can be no viable Palestinian state. Hamas’ acceptance of the Quartet Principles is a precondition for negotiations, but as Carolin Goerzig argues, it is time for a paradigm shift."

But actually she argues that acceptance should not be a precondition to pro-Hamas activities by the EU. And did anyone consider that with Hamas there can be no viable Palestinian state--it's already staged one violent coup against the Palestinian Authority--or Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The paper points out that the EU has three conditions for recognizing Hamas: renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and a commitment to all agreements signed by the PLO and Israel. Doesn’t sound all that demanding does it? But she thinks it’s too much to ask. Indeed she suggests that:

“A softening of these requirements could directly contribute to a transformation of Hamas, and in turn strengthen the prospects for peace in the Middle East.”

So in other words they should be engaged while still trying to destroy with violence Israel and previous agreements. And this is supposed to teach them they are making a mistake to maintain current policy? And this is supposed to make peace more possible?

The author argues that the EU has been moving toward recognizing Hamas and is pleased. She argues:

“Considering that the isolation of Hamas has proven to be a setback for peace efforts, waiting for the right time to engage might turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy and reinforce the belatedness of the EU’s response capacity.”

I’m not sure what belatedness of response capacity means, but nowadays EU rhetoric is inclined to the empty academic-sounding phrase. But at any rate it is not the isolation of Hamas that has set back peace efforts but the fact that Hamas still rules the Gaza Strip.

Here’s my favorite argument of hers for silliness: “The emphasis on supporting Fatah may have indirectly contributed to the inability of Hamas to renounce violence.” Why? Because EU forces are training the Palestinian Authority’s police and not those of Hamas! So Hamas would be more likely to renounce violence if the EU trained its forces, using that training, of course, to commit acts of terrorism and try to destroy Israel.

OK, one more. She explains why the Quartet should not demand that Hamas renounces violence by saying:  “Renouncing violence can–paradoxically – make peace less rational.”

Yes, quite a paradox, isn’t it?

But why listen to me? Here’s a typical piece of Hamas rhetoric from a high-ranking leader, deputy minister of religious affairs Abdallah Jarbu, who expresses its mainstream view:

"[The Jews] suffer from a mental disorder, because they are thieves and aggressors....They want to present themselves to the world as if they have rights, but, in fact, they are foreign bacteria–a microbe unparalleled in the world. It's not me who says this. The Koran itself says that they have no parallel: 'You shall find the strongest men in enmity to the believers to be the Jews.'

"May He annihilate this filthy people who have neither religion nor conscience. I condemn whoever believes in normalizing relations with them, whoever supports sitting down with them, and whoever believes that they are human beings. They are not human beings. They are not people. They have no religion, no conscience, and no moral values." (Memri translation)

Obviously, he's not saying this kind of thing because the EU hasn't persuaded him otherwise, though he might like Europeans to train Hamas's soldiers to wipe out that "foreign bacteria." Is it asking too much for those who write about such topic to look at what the radicals say and do? Is it asking too much for “respected” institutions to exercise some quality control over what they publish?

PS: To show the EU line, consider also Amr Elshobaki and Gema Martín Muñoz, "Why Europe must engage with political Islam," Papers for Barcelona Number 10, also just published, whose title tells you what it advocates, and it isn't talking about--or just about--the most moderate forces.. The site explains:

"It is time to engage with the Islamists in the Middle East and North Africa. As Amr Elshobaki and Gema Martín Muñoz argue, there is no prospect of a credible democratic transformation of the Arab world without the full integration of one powerful player that forms part of the reality of Southern Mediterranean countries: political Islam."

But again the question could be asked if there is a prospect for creating stable democracies with the full integration of Islamism as it actually exists today, as opposed to a moderate Islam-oriented movement which barely exists in most countries (perhaps Iraq is the main exception) and would have to overcome and defeat the radicals.

If you have time you can also read another paper published by the institute and described on its site as follows:

"The Iranian nuclear issue: a never-ending story," by Rouzbeh Parsi. "Iran is seeking nuclear technology that could be used to create weapons. But is the West justified in assuming that Iran’s nuclear aspirations extend to the acquisition of nuclear weapons, and to aggressive belligerence?" The author explains that maybe Iran is just seeking peaceful nuclear energy, or maybe wants to have the ability to build a nuclear weapon without ever actully doing so. So what's all the fuss about?

These are the three papers published by the EU's think tank on the Middle East in the last year: engage Hamas, engage Islamists, Iran's nuclear program isn't a threat. Naturally, there are no papers arguing the opposite propositions.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports. 

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