Topic(s): Palestine / Israel | Comments Off on Rene — BITTER FRUITS OF BOYCOTT

The Guardian
Thursday June 14, 2007
Alvaro de Soto is not the first experienced diplomat to have entered
the Middle East a moderate and to have left it two years later angry at
the role of Israel and the US in subverting the search for peace. Nor
will he be the last. In his confidential 52-page report, published by
the Guardian this week, the former Peruvian foreign minister describes
the reality of diplomacy. Informed observers already suspected that US
pressure had “pummelled into submission” the UN’s role as an impartial
negotiator, that it had made the Middle East peace process subservient
to wider policies on Iraq and Iran, and that the US had got the other
members of the Quartet negotiating team – the EU, Russia and the UN –
to impose sanctions on the government formed after painful negotiations
between Fatah and Hamas. The sanctions did not encourage the unity
government to function properly. They killed it off.
Mr de Soto does not spare Hamas either, with its “abominable” charter,
its links to Iran and its abysmal record on stopping violence
directed at Israeli civilians. What makes his report so prescient
is the full-scale civil war now raging in Gaza. Far from being a
success, the international boycott on the Hamas-led national-unity
government has proved to be a disaster. Its bitter fruits could be
seen in Khan Younis yesterday, when the Islamic militants demolished
Fatah’s security headquarters and took over the town. Last night they
began a fierce assault on security bases in Gaza City after members
of the Fatah-allied Bakr clan encamped in a seaside neighbourhood
surrendered. If the fighting is not stopped soon, the whole of Gaza
could fall to Hamas.
Setting aside the internal reasons for Palestinian blood-letting,
the assumption on which Israel and the international community have
been operating is that the longer the boycott is maintained, the more
likely it is that Hamas will split and accept the three conditions
that were imposed on it: ending violence, recognition of Israel and
acceptance of previous agreements including the road map. Israel has
refused to pay the Palestinian government money it is owed in tax
revenues, which would allow it to pay 160,000 workers. It has argued
that this down payment would be seen as a sign of weakness, a sign
that the rocket attacks on the Israeli town of Sderot had worked.
But as Mr de Soto argues, the three conditions for the lifting of
the Israeli siege on Gaza were phrased in such a way as to make it
impossible for Hamas to accept them. If they did, they would cease to
be a militant Islamic movement and they would lose their core of 20%
of the total vote. If there was little evidence of a carrot in the
Quartet’s conditions, there was plenty of stick.
Unable to pay its workforce, or to maintain control in Gaza, the
national-unity government ceased to exist some time ago. Hamas has
not changed heart, and if an election were to take place tomorrow
the party would keep the 43% of the vote it won in January last year.
The Palestinians can be blamed for weak leadership, for allowing
missile attacks that have no strategic value, other than to harden
the view in Israel that if they allowed the same thing to happen in
the West Bank, missiles would rain down on the runway of Ben Gurion
airport. But the impoverishment and fragmentation of Gaza is a result
not just of tribal Palestinian politics, but of the cumulative despair
generated by living in an open-air prison. As Israel is the jailer it
bears responsibility too for the conditions inside. The election of
Ehud Barak as the Labour party’s leader may embolden Ehud Olmert to
start a new initiative, such as talking to Syria. The return of the
former prime minister bolsters the battered authority of Mr Olmert’s
government. But if there is no partner for peace, Israel has to start
creating the conditions for one to emerge. If that means negotiating
with Hamas before it relinquishes its rejectionist position then it
has to do that.