Monday, July 27, 2009

Hamas and the House of (No) Commons(ense)

By Barry Rubin

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee has just issued a 100-page report on the Middle East. Here is the main conclusion as expressed by Mike Gapes, the committee chair:

“We see few signs that the current policy of non-engagement with Hamas is achieving the Quartet’s stated objectives....We therefore reiterate our recommendation from 2007, that the government should urgently consider engaging with moderate elements within Hamas.”

In those few words are expressed six of the main and most harmful Western myths about the Middle East.

First, make the problem go away. Anything other than that is failure. Containing Hamas, weakening it over time, showing that radicalism doesn’t pay, or other such goals are not worth pursuing. Only if there is no more problem can the objective be considered achieved. This assumes that peace, quiet, and the existence of no problems is the normal state of politics and international relations. It isn’t.

Thus, follows the conclusion that policy has failed, but it can succeed, and something must be done.

Second, problems can and should be made to go away fast. Patience is a failure, not a virtue. So something must be done immediately. Naturally, this is not the rule the Middle Eastern factors play by. They believe in attrition, wearing the other side down, in the belief that God and history is on their side, while the West is cowardly and weak. They are half-right.

Third, that something which must be done must be Western and Israeli concessions. The argument is that if the other side is intransigent, that means its intended victims cannot be since a quick solution has to be achieved. Even if the status quo is not so bad for the West and the other side is supposedly losing, since issues must be resolved our own defeat is preferable to steadfastness.

There are--in a reversal of all previous thinking--only two alternative strategies offered since victory has been defined as both impossible and undesirable: surrender because our side is suffering losses and casualties, or give in because the other side is suffering at our hands.

The first--human losses, fear of terrorism, desire for more money by, say, trading with Iran--is often the real reationale; the second--deprivation and death of those on the enemy side--offers a chance for humanitarian self-congratulation. The fact that this would empower terrorists and extremists to kill and repress more people is ignored since it isn't admitted that the conflict would continue no matter what concessions are given.

Fourth, the nature of your opponent is irrelevant. Ideology is unimportant. We all believe in the same things, don't we? So just because a group, Hamas in this case, says that Jews are sub-humans, that Israel must be wiped off the map, that Western power must be broken, that Islam must triumph over everything, doesn't really mean anything, does it? We all "want the same things" supposedly. So you deal with Hamas or Hizballah or Iran or Syria the same way you manage, for example, an environmental group from Surrey or a local housing authority in Kent.

Fifth, there’s got to be a moderate in there somewhere. President Ronald Reagan once joked that an optimist is someone who sees a room full of manure and concludes that there must be a pony in there somewhere. A modern European (and often American nowadays) statesman is someone who sees a terrorist movement or aggressive radical regime and is certain there's a moderate in there somewhere. And naturally if the West gives enough concessions to these "moderates" the "naturally" moderate character of the movement's members will take over and lead to a compromise settlement that will make the problem go away quickly.

Sixth, if anyone stands in the way of this grand design--like Czechoslovakia in 1938 or Israel in 2009--that foolish little country which actually thinks its own survival, much less interests, are of any importance becomes the villain. Why if only it sacrificed itself the problem could be solved and peace in our time established! There's an appropriate Yiddish proverb here: When a man is dead his problems cease.

A European in the audience angrily asked me during a recent lecture why they should all die because of Israel. Islamist terrorists are coming after them, you see, but if they just feed Israel to the carnivores, the sheep will be left in peace to live or at least make money and be left along. Such an accusation would be huffily denied and usually doesn't appear on the surface but it is, nonetheless, quite true.

One can only gape at the wisdom of Gapes. In the hands of such ignoramuses--not only ignorant of facts (which could be forgiven) but also on the most fundamental principles of politics and diplomacy--does the Western world's fate lie. Why not Israel's fate? Because it won't heed such counsels. But of course they can also do a great deal of damage to it as well.

This reminds me of something. In 1969, according to declassified British documents, the British government decided to open a dialogue with Fatah, which was daily carrying out terrorist operitions against Israel, portraying the PFLP as the radicals and Fatah as the moderates. Basically, in the meetings the British government is begging Fatah not to attack the UK and to discourage the PFLP from attacking.

The next year, in the war between King Hussein of Jordan--one of the closest British clients--and Fatah/PLO, the British government threw King Hussein under the bus and was ready to accept Arafat as Jordan's ruler. Fortunately, the US and Israel saved the king. If UK policy had had its way then, the results would have been horrifying.

Oh, and so the House of Lords doesn't feel left out here's something about UK policy toward Hizballah, which has been along similar lines.

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