A theme of Season 4 of The Wire is the way that we create programs that work, and then let those programs fall apart for lack of political will. (I suppose that’s the lesson of “Hamsterdam” in season 3, as well.) Mr. Presbo took a student under his wing, helped him clean up his life, brought him out of the shadows, and then (spoiler alert) he got moved from Mr. Presbo’s 8th grade to 9th grade in a different school. Without his support network, including his friends and teacher, he gets lost again, and winds up slinging on street corners. Mr. Colvin’s pilot program socializes a few kids, but an obsession with test results rather than social results winds up sending kids back to classrooms, where some go back to disrupting other kids’ educations.
I thought of those cases as I read about the open warfare between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas had always been more than a militia, it provided support and social services to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and I had hoped that, with a modicum of political power, they would be able to do good and complete that transition. The internecine war in Gaza dashed those dreams.
Part of what drove Hamas back to the streets is that so few people were willing to let Hamas try. J.D.‘s dismissal of Hamas’s leadership as “elected ‘government’ ” is representative of how the US treated the legitimately elected government of a semi-sovereign people. That election, conducted fairly and openly, was a powerful sign of change, and I’m inclined to think we bungled badly by interfering with that government. There was a chance for a transition, a moment when the world could have taken a new course, and we threw it back in the faces of the Palestinian people. As j.d. so aptly notes, our policies have (and will) produce the effect that “Hamas will find itself unable … to do much of anything except its usual activites, which is to kill.”
This would be less tragic if Hamas had not been propped up by Israeli and American hard-liners precisely in order to block the possibility of a political resolution to the violence in the Middle East. M. J. Rosenberg explains:
Back when Hamas was just a gleam in Sheik Ahmad Yassin’s blind eye, Israeli right-ringers were implementing a strategy to eliminate the authority of Palestinian moderates by building up religious extremists. These Israelis (some very high in Likud governments) believed that only supplanting Arafat’s Fatah with Islamic fundamentalists would prevent a situation under which Israel would be forced to negotiate with moderates.
It was in 1978 when the government of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin indirectly assisted the start-up of a “humanitarian” organization known as the Islamic Association, or Mujama. The roots of this Islamist group were in the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, and it soon was flush with funding and political support. The right-wing strategists devised the theory of creating Hamas as an alternative to Fatah because they believed that Muslim Brotherhood types would devote themselves to charity and religious study and passively accept the occupation. They certainly would never put Israel on the spot by offering to negotiate.
Likud governments even deported Palestinian advocates of non-violent resistance (most notably, the Ghandian, Mubarak Awad) at the same time that it was doing everything it could to build the street cred of fanatics who, a few years later, would proclaim themselves Hamas, dedicated to Israel’s elimination.
The pro-Hamas tilt accelerated in 1988 when Yasir Arafat himself announced that he favored the two-state solution and that previous PLO demands that Israel be replaced by Palestine were, in his words “caduq” (inoperative).
An Arafat committed to two-states struck terror in the hearts of the settlers and their allies who were and are determined to hold on to the West Bank forever. Their worst fears were realized when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres repudiated this craziness and decided to engage with the PLO in order to strengthen it vis a vis Hamas, which was by the time Rabin came to office exceedingly powerful thanks in large part to the Israeli right’s support.
We all know the rest of the story. A young rightist killed Rabin in the belief (a belief indoctrinated in him by rightwing rabbis) that stopping Rabin would stop the peace process. As President Clinton told me in 1997, assassin Yigal Amir was right. Clinton said that unlike almost every other assassin in history, Amir achieved his goal, although not completely.
In this context, it is not difficult understanding how Hamas won the legislative elections in 2006. This is another ugly part of the story. First we demanded that the Palestinians hold elections (Abbas didn’t want them), then we dispatched monitors to certify sure they were “free and fair” which they were, but when we didn’t like the election results we rejected them and promised that the Palestinians would “pay.” Almost immediately Members of Congress rushed to stop almost all forms of aid not just to Hamas-run institutions but to the Palestinian people at large.
There was another way we might have gone. We could have welcomed Hamas’s participation in the election as a sign that Hamas was implicitly accepting the Oslo framework (which it was), insisted on the complete cessation of violence, and then used carrots and sticks to encourage the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority to mend its ways. But we offered no carrots, just sticks. And we didn’t even make much of an effort to strengthen Hamas’s arch-enemy, President Mahmoud Abbas, with Congress hastening to impose redundant and insulting conditions even on aid that was to be sent through him.
It was all fun and games, politics as usual. Meanwhile, Hamas looked better and better to a people whose salaries were not being paid, thanks to the US sponsored international boycott of the PA, and whose schools and hospitals were collapsing.
Today it is almost amusing to contemplate the professions of horror on the part of right-wing Israelis (and their neocon friends) who scream “bloody murder” about an outcome they helped effect and actually welcome.
The name of their game was, is, and always will be making sure that Israel has “no partner” with whom to negotiate. Their worst fear is of Palestinians like Mahmoud Abbas who is a credible negotiating partner.
I understand that this is a difficult point to assimilate. But the fact is that the Israeli (and American) right-wingers are rooting for the Palestinian extremists.
Everyone else is rooting for a peaceful two-state solution. A two-state solution is the only way to ensure that Israel can become a place where Jews have a guarantee of safety, at least without resorting to some form of apartheid for non-Jewish residents. Furthermore, the Palestinian state will have to incorporate the supporters of Hamas into the government, because Hamas will be involved in politics through guns or through ballots. In the latter case, there’s a chance we could actually build a better world, rather than continuing to tear things apart, as we’ve seen for the past half-century.