Friday, January 23, 2009

Legitimacy and Security

To follow up on yesterday's post, "The time of waiting is over" (as the Jerusalem Bible chose to translate the tenth chapter of the Book of Revelation): Yesterday Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton announced the appointment of George Mitchell as the US special envoy for the Arab-Israeli conflict. The story was covered for the Financial Times by Daniel Dombey in Washington and Tobias Buck in Jerusalem, providing a dual perspective, which ultimately emphasized the "sin of omission" that has most concerned me as we emerge from Obama's transition period. That sin of omission involves the legitimacy of Hamas, and it was evident in Obama's choice of words for the remarks he gave during the announcement of Mitchell's appointment:

The outline for a durable ceasefire is clear: Hamas must end its rocket fire: Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza: the US and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot re-arm.

As part of a lasting ceasefire, Gaza’s border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce, with an appropriate monitoring regime, with the international and Palestinian Authority participating.

In the first paragraph Hamas is confronted with an imperative, which serves as a precondition for a series of future-tense declaratives, giving the impression that progress depends critically on whether or not Hamas will obey a command. Subsequent future-tense language makes no further reference to Hamas, recognizing instead only the Palestinian Authority.

If the language in Washington came close to letting Hamas "pass unnoticed" (except for the "functional necessity" of following orders), the language in Jerusalem was clearer about taking notice:

Before Mr Obama gave his speech, an Israeli official said there would be tough conditions for any lifting of the blockade, which he linked with the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier held captive by Hamas since 2006.

“If the opening of the passages strengthens Hamas we will not do it,” the official said.

“We will make sure that all the [humanitarian] needs of the population will be met. But we will not be able to deal with Hamas on the other side. We will not do things that give legitimacy to Hamas.”

This smacks of that same ridiculous language that the United States invoked during the Fifties and Sixties concerning its refusal to "recognize Red China." Legitimacy was conferred upon Hamas by the people of Gaza through the democratic process of election, yet both Israel and the United States insist on holding to the position that this election "doesn't count," without producing any convincing evidence to support this position (nor did the people of Gaza insist that the results of their election be reviewed).

Yesterday I concluded my post with the hope that Mitchell would be able to initiate more productive communication to resolve the many differences between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I had anticipated that he would probably meet with considerable resistance from both Israel and the Palestinians. I had hoped that further resistance would not come from his boss or from his boss' boss. However, given Mitchell's capacity for hanging tough when things in Northern Ireland were at their most frustrating, I shall try, for now at least, to keep hoping.

No comments: