Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to the leaders of Hamas to come to Moscow killed two birds with one stone: it elevated his international stature to statesmanlike proportions, and it showed up American policymakers as a bunch of petulant ideologues.
Putin not only invited Hamas for talks, but explicitly rejected the U.S.-Israeli position that Hamas is a terrorist organization with which it is impermissible to deal. “Maintaining our contacts with Hamas, we are ready in the near future to invite the Hamas authorities to Moscow to hold talks,” said Putin:
“We haven’t considered Hamas a terrorist organization. Today we must recognize that Hamas has reached power in Palestine as a result of legitimate elections and we must respect the choice of the Palestinian people. We are deeply convinced that burning bridges is the easiest, but not a very promising activity.”
This is a direct challenge to the Americans, whose ties to Israel prevent them from looking at the region in more realistic terms and even from pursuing their own national interests instead of Israel’s. It is also a political masterstroke, with Putin moving quickly into the yawning gap between American rhetoric about “democracy” and Washington’s reaction to the results of the Palestinian poll.
U.S. policymakers are still reeling and have yet to come up with a coherent response to this upending of their democratist doctrine, which assumed that the democratic process would give birth to pro-American or, at least, more amenable governments in the Middle East. On the one hand, President Bush flat-out declared that the U.S. will not deal with Hamas:
“A political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal.”
On the other hand, he spent the rest of his interview with Reuters laying down the very conditions under which the U.S. would deal with Hamas: they must renounce terrorism, disband their armed wing, and give official recognition to the government of Israel:
“Although Hamas has rejected the U.S. demands, Bush said in the interview that it was possible for the militant group to change and that it had a responsibility to do so to improve the lives of Palestinians.
“‘Many of them ran for office on a platform that said “we’re against corruption, we are for better schools and better hospitals.” On the platforms I saw I didn’t see a lot of people saying “vote for me, I’m for war,”‘ Bush said.”
While this may seem hopeful, by setting down preconditions for negotiations, the U.S. effectively sabotages its own “peace process.” As Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel now at the Brookings Institute’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy put it:
“I wouldn’t make too much out of it because Hamas is not about to do any of those things [that Bush insists on], so it’s much more likely that the United States would not deal with that government.”
As for the Israelis, they are livid: the Putin initiative is “a knife in the back,” screeched Meir Sheetrit, the education minister. The headline of the popular daily Yediot Aharonot pretty much summed up the general reaction: “Anger in Israel: Putin Is Spitting in Our Face.” Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni declared that the international community was in danger of going down a “slippery slope” in granting legitimacy to Hamas:
“The Russian position is currently not accepted in the international community. Part of the danger is going down the slippery slope of first talking, then starting to understand why, then supporting with money, then granting legitimacy. This is a phenomenon that needs to be acted against.”
The French pulled the rug out from under Ms. Livni’s apparent self-appointment as a spokeswoman for “the international community” by promptly endorsing Putin’s proposal: more defections from the Anglo-American-Israeli position of putting preconditions on negotiations with a Hamas-led government will doubtless follow. Aside from that, the U.S. has indicated it will continue to deal with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and all the threats of cutting off aid to the PA will likely prove hollow: here Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice avers that a Hamas-run government won’t get a dime of American aid, while here Asharq al-Awsat reports:
“Rice denied that the U.S. administration will cut off aid to the Palestinians but indicated ‘When the matter is related to backing a government run by a movement classified as terrorist, the U.S. administration cannot offer its support.'”
My guess is that aid monies will not be cut off but instead will be funneled through the office of Abbas. As antithetical as the policies of this administration are to foreign policy realism, in this case they have no choice but to deal with the reality of Hamas in power.
The idea that Hamas is any worse than the Palestine Liberation Organization, or Fatah, is fanciful, to say the least. What divides them is ideology: Fatah is secular, while Hamas is Islamist. They are united, however, in their methods. Both groups have engaged in terrorist activities, but then they come from a pretty rough neighborhood, one in which all parties including the Israelis have their roots in what we would call “terrorist” organizations.
The Israeli war for independence was fought and won by armed groups that engaged in terrorist actions (i.e., the wanton killing of innocent civilians): the Irgun, the Haganah, the Stern Gang. These are Israel’s national heroes terrorists all, in theory and in practice.
All the Middle East’s major players came to power through brutal methods: if we apply the “we don’t negotiate with thugs” rule evenhandedly, and without prejudice, no one would be talking to anyone, effectively ending any “peace process” before it’s begun.
It is absurd to believe, as Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz does, that Putin’s invitation to Hamas has somehow legitimized the organization: their sweeping election victory in which Hamas captured 74 seats in the 132-member Palestinian parliament, to Fatah’s 45 did that. In asking the Russian president to reconsider his position, Mofaz wondered how it was that Putin, who must deal with his own terrorist threat in Chechnya, would open the gates of Moscow to the mad bombers of Hamas.
One has to wonder, however, why he would bring up the subject of Chechnya in this context. Especially since Israel’s amen corner in the U.S. is so overtly sympathetic to the Chechen cause, as evidenced by the endorsers of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, including such neoconservative superstars as Jim Woolsey, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, and the omnipresent Michael Ledeen. In reminding Putin of his Chechen problem, perhaps Mofaz is implying it could get much worse.
It’s interesting that the secretary of state is again making noises about the alleged dearth of Russian democracy, when it is the U.S. which refuses to recognize or deal with the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. Expect more caterwauling and crocodile tears from the neocon-connected “human rights” organizations, like the government-subsidized Freedom House, over “repression” in Putin’s Russia. Of course, what they really mean is that he is denying the U.S. and other foreign governments the “right” to funnel funds into NGOs that are nothing more or less than instruments of U.S. regime-change policies.
Putin’s challenge to the U.S. in the Middle East is given strength and credibility by his latest intervention. As the Russians mediate between the Iranians and the West and sell arms to Syria, Putin is emerging as the principal counterweight to American supremacism in the international arena an ironic and historic reversal of roles. Whereas once it was the Russians who spouted ideological bromides and exported their “revolution” and the West united in resistance, today it is the Russians who are the center of opposition to a self-avowedly “revolutionary” nation with global aspirations.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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