Metaphysics or Politics
By: Dr. Eyad El Sarraj
7 May 2006
Two days ago I met the New York Times correspondent. He was sad. He told me after his grim tour of Shifa hospital, the major hospital of Gaza strip, that there is a serious shortage of hospital drugs. He, like me and every one here are alarmed as the living conditions are fast deteriorating towards a humanitarian disaster. The Minister of Finance has announced that there are no salaries for the 150,000 Palestinian civil servants. UN projects are suspended because Israel doesn't allow building material to cross the border. An Israeli fuel supplier announced it will stop supplying the Palestinians with petrol and gas. The traffic of goods at the border is a trickle.
Soon, life will come to a standstill while Palestinian militias fire rockets across the border- 99% of them are harmless or explode on Palestinian homes- and Israel continues to shell the Gaza Strip. Israeli F16s, the tanks, the drones and the Apache combat helicopters deliver an average of 300 bombs and missiles daily at a cost of one million shekels. They have become a permanent part of the sky.
For years there has been a call for a boycott of Israel, the aggressor Goliath. But now the international community has turned on the Palestinian David.
What an irony.
This new chapter in the Palestinian on going tragedy was opened when Hamas won the democratic elections three months ago, an election that was a shinning example to the rest of the Middle East if we leave the ‘oasis’ of democracy, Israel.
Hamas victory has ripped the door open for all kinds of scenarios, good and bad. The major players in the game are confused and were not prepared. The US government, while applauding the democratic process, was adamant in its conditions on Hamas to recognise Israel, to renounce terror and to accept the road map before any dealing with its cabinet. Europe quickly followed. Then Washington started to talk about boycott and withholding aid, and lately made it clear that she wants Hamas government fail. An American diplomat told me that the US has no problem with Islamists taking power democratically but they have to respect the rules of the game, and that the US will continue to fight terror and terrorists organizations. He added that it is the Arab corrupt governments who try to blame America for insisting on democracy because these regimes are so insecure and morally corrupt.
As adamantly, Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and meet the Palestinian President¹s conditions on forming a government that respects his own guidelines of stopping violence and entering negotiations while introducing the needed reforms.
Hamas decided that it is unjust to demand recognition of Israel when Israel is not ready to recognize Palestinian rights. Hamas reminds Palestinians that Arafat and Abbas did not get anything in return for their recognition of Israel.
Rockets continue to be launched from Gaza across borders by militant groups. Hamas calls them self-defence, and does not see that these homemade and mainly useless rockets are giving Israel the justification to continuous shelling which has forced many families in the northern part of Gaza to flee from their homes.
While President Abbas condemns the suicide bombing carried out in Israel by Islamic Jihad and describes it as disgraceful, Hamas declared that too is a form of self defence against the Israeli occupation.. But Hamas denounces the terrorist attacks in Egypt¹s Dahab resort. Obviously there is a difference between innocent Egyptians and innocent Israelis. Abbas says that terror has eroded the moral standing of the just Palestinian cause. Hamas stands firm on believing that Israel is the cause. However, Hamas has stayed away clear from any form of violence against Israel for the last eighteen months and is ready to declare a truce indefinitely. This is why some Fatah militias are trying to embarrass Hamas by stepping up their campaign against Israel mainly through rocket launching.
Hamas position on the question of recognizing Israel goes beyond politics. The question of recognizing Israel has always been a burning issue for Arabs. It is not a political issue, but rather it is an emotional one. The defeat of the Arabs and their loss of the holy land is an open wound that is deepened by the Israelis¹ brutal arrogance of power, their total denial of their responsibility for the dispossession of Palestinians, and failure to acknowledge Arabs as equals. Arabs perceive the conflict with Israel as an imbalance between a military aggressor, basking in power and glory, and a defeated nation, overcome by powerlessness and humiliation.
The rise of Hamas and other Islamists in the Middle East is a call to the almighty God, Allah, to come to the side of the faithful. It is also an expression of guilt of the people for not being able to defend God¹s holy land, and an expression of grief over its loss.
The other important cause for not recognizing Israel is that Hamas, like all Islamic movements, considers that the land of Palestine is a form of Waqf, a sacred or holy land that will have to be Islamic and only Islamic.
Hamas made it clear over the years and recently through various spoke persons that she is ready to accept a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. But in return Hamas never said it would even consider the recognition of Israel. It is such ideological stand that makes Hamas look unprepared or even uninterested in politics. The drive behind Hamas entering the elections was not to negotiate a settlement of peace and was not to start a new war. Hamas was always driven by the Muslim Brotherhood main strategy and goal; to islamise the Arab societies, to turn people into good Muslims and establish the Islamic state which will house the Omma, the whole Muslim world. For that reason alone Hamas will not give up power.
Fatah which once was the major tool of Arafat is in deep crisis, defeated and fractioned, looks confused and incomprehensible. At one pole we have Mr. Abbas the President of the Palestinian Authority and the head of Fatah symbolising legitimacy but lacks cohesion and power. At a second pole we have Mr. Dahalan who is representing the younger generation of Fatah leaders, ambitious and powerful but antagonised by many Fatah rivals. It was observed lately the Abbass seems to have decided to beef up his power by increasing the number of his presidential guard force and appointing some advisers, consultants and even military commanders, which was described by Hamas as an attempt to form a shadow government. The most talked about solution to the financial crisis is to channel the funds through the president’s office, which will boost his credibility and power. Hamas has no option but to agree to it.
Meanwhile in Gaza and the West Bank family feuds and gangster wars are fuelling internal violence. The Hamas government has decided to appoint a militia leader as a top security officer. President Abbas refused to accept the appointment, prompting the Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, to lash out at Abbas and his supporters. Violent demonstrations erupted as students of Al-Azhar University, a Fatah stronghold, stoned their neighbouring students of the Islamic University, which backs Hamas. In another stark example of the power struggle, some armed Fatah militia stormed the office of the Minister of Health, the Minister called in the Hamas Aqsa brigade, who arrived in a few minutes and arrested the Fatah militants. It is now known that Hamas military troops are all on alert.
The political violent confrontation between Fatah and Hamas is not going to go away as both camps appear determined not to give in. Fatah supporters cannot digest the fact that they have lost power, while Hamas is determined not to relinquish it. The dangerous rivalry is compounded by economic hardship and social breakdown. And if that is not enough, we are told that the bird flu has infected our chickens.
The new Israeli government is the ultimate beneficiary of the Palestinian turmoil. By declaring itself as a non partner to peace talks, Hamas has given an important card to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to declare that his government will decide unilaterally where the borders of Israel will be, that the wall will be completed, the big Israeli settlements in the West bank will stay under Israeli rule and that Israel will only be Jewish.
So you have it, an Israeli government claiming a Jewish God and land versus a Palestinian government claiming a Muslim God and the same land. And on the far horizon an American government bent on new born Christians and neo conservatives.
In 1992, I took part in the Palestinian delegation to the Washington peace talks. In one of the exchanges between Haidar Abdul Shafi, the head of our team, and Elyakim Rubinstein, the later expressed his claim that the land is basically Jewish as God promised Jews of it. I thought then that we perhaps should call Hamas to negotiate an Islamic claim. Was that a premonition?
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