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Time in Palestine


Israel’s actions foster extremism

January 20, 2009 
  • By Malcolm Fraser – January 16, 2009

Talking to Hamas is the only way to achieve a lasting peace.

NEITHER Israel nor Hamas has paid attention to the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Israel claims it is fighting for and on behalf of the free world, that the destruction of Hamas will enable Fatah to reassert its dominance over the Palestinian territories so that peace negotiations can resume.

Israel’s public announcements claim that it is acting on a basis of principle that benefits all of us.

There is of course a contrary view. The death toll is estimated at more than 1000, a significant proportion of them children. This military action by Israel would have been condemned worldwide if it had been undertaken by any other country.

The approach is a totally disproportionate response to Hamas missiles. They too need to be condemned, but they are for a large part ineffective and inaccurate, and have done comparatively little damage. Their impact is more psychological than real. It is the kind of weapon used by those who have been pushed too far and basically have no resources.

How can this happen if we claim to live in a world of concern and of humanity? Israel’s actions have been condemned by the International Committee of the Red Cross, a rare action for the ICRC. The Security Council resolution was also clearly motivated by a deep concern about the consequences of Israel’s actions.

Far from destroying Hamas, Israel may well find that its actions strengthen resistance and earn it increased hatred and an increase in anti-Semitic activities around the world. It will make it even harder for a genuine peace process to be undertaken.

There are few political leaders in the West prepared to speak against Israel or to criticise Israeli policies. While debate often rages in Israel itself, criticism of Israel from other countries or by non-Jews is often condemned as anti-Semitic, a title nobody wants to wear.

Partly as a consequence of this concern, Israel has had a lock on the policies of the US and a great influence over the policies of Britain and of Australia. I used to regard Israel as a light on the hill. Somewhere along the line in the years after the 1967 war, principle has been put aside and the search for a peaceful future seems to have been forgotten.

Of course Israel must have secure and defensible borders. And today there are few who would not also say that Palestinians must have their own viable state. That means statehood in its full context, without limitations or restraints imposed by external powers, unless they be restraints placed on us all who wish to live in a community of nations.

The most grievous mistakes have been made by Israel and the US. When democratic elections were held in the Palestinian territories, Hamas won. That is not surprising. Aid workers from those territories knew that Fatah was regarded as corrupt and self-serving. If people needed somebody to turn to for help, they would turn to the local Hamas personnel. Victorious Hamas was immediately isolated and rejected. It was demanded that it change its policies forthwith as a condition of being allowed in the room.

There will be no peace and no settlement, no progress until Israel and the US are prepared to talk to Hamas. It would have been easy after the Hamas election to say that from our point of view your policies in relation to Israel must change, but we welcome your participation in the democratic process and we will therefore sit down and talk with you and seek areas of agreement. Progress would not have been easy, but if you wish to end enmity to create a peace in which everyone can benefit you must talk to your enemy.

The relationship between the US and the Soviet Union in the 1950s and ’60s demonstrates the importance of keeping the door open or undertaking discussion without condition. The Soviet Union was openly committed to the destruction of democracy and of America in particular, but that was not used to create isolation, to prevent diplomacy.

While few would agree with Hamas’ policies, to assume that Hamas really believes in the obliteration of Israel and that that objective will one day be achieved is to make an assumption without hope, without a future.

If one wants to end enmity, it is necessary to put oneself or to try to put oneself in the position of the opponent, or, if you like, the enemy, and ask, in their environment with their history, what can they do? What can they concede?

When Israeli settlements continue to expand in the West Bank, diminishing the prospect of a viable Palestinian state, the prospect of peace is remote. Such policies have been routinely condemned by the US, by European states, by many others, yet Israel ignores that condemnation and expansion continues. Is it surprising then, that when one is talking of two states, Israel and Palestine, Hamas will not recognise the future of Israel when it has little or no idea of the boundaries of a future Palestine?

And will Barack Obama even tentatively start to open a door to dialogue, to discussions with Hamas? Will he be prepared, as few American presidents have, to exercise the undoubted influence that the US could have on Middle Eastern politics and on Israel to begin a genuine search for peace?

It is indeed true that what Israel is now doing affects us all, because if we accept it we will all become increasingly at risk from those who hold extremist views.

Malcolm Fraser was prime minister of Australia from 1975 to 1983.

Reproduced from The AGE