It is time someone in the mainstream media (besides my hard-working friend Scott MacLeod, here and here) took to task Dennis Ross, the AIPAC man who served the first Bush Adminsitration and then Clinton as a Middle East mediator, before returning to the AIPAC fold — but who is treated by the U.S. media as some sort of yoda figure, the fount of jedi wisdom in managing the Middle East.
Having presided over the failure of the U.S. to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, he now puts himself forward as a sage among sages (lately by writing a book about “statecraft” in which he introduces some of the .101s of diplomacy as if these were prophetic revelations, and always evading the policy failures he helped author). More insidious, however, are his efforts to shape the U.S. response to the current situation in the Palestinian territories.
That the U.S. should be talking to Hamas is blindingly obvious to anyone who believes in settling conflicts peacefully, and there are plenty of reasons to believe Hamas is open to a pragmatic dialogue — not least the fact that it’s leaders keep stressing the fact that they want to talk. But Ross exposes the hardline gatkes he has on beneath that pragmatic suit in his latest contribution to the New Republic (where Likudnik gatkes are something of a uniform, I suppose.)
Ross opens thus: “It may be fashionable among some in Washington or even Tel Aviv to believe that it is time to talk to Hamas. But to the members of Fatah and the Palestinian independents in the West Bank with whom I have been meeting, it surely is not. What you hear from them is that Hamas is made up of killers; that they want to be part of a larger Islamist empire; that they are already trying to bring Iran to Gaza; and that the worse thing to do now is to reward Hamas with recognition.”
Do you think we were born yesterday, Dennis? Have you bothered to ask yourself what the agenda of these Fatah members and Palestinian independents you are taking to might be? And why it is that they’re sounding like they’re running for office in the U.S. and seeking AIPAC endorsement? Could it be, Dennis, that you’ve managed to unearth a Palestinian Chalabi or two? Mazeltov, it took you long enough… “Hamas is made up of killers…” That’s straight out of Bush’s mouth. And what of Fatah, Dennis? No killers in Fatah? And does this mean that the Palestinian electorate has opted to be ruled by killers? (I guess that would be a convenient propaganda line for the purposes of those, like yourself, Dennis, who have now deemed it necessary to shut down Palestinian democracy.)
“They want to be part of an Islamist empire…” Puhleeze. No serious student of Hamas sees it as affiliated with the Qaeda vision, Dennis, and its leaders have made abundantly clear that their is a national and nationalist project. It has always refrained from attacking the U.S. and rebuffed efforts to enlist it for any “global jihad.” Its refusal to recognize Israel has nothing to do with religion — in fact, if you went to the Fatah base now and asked them if they would withdraw that recognition if they could, as much as half would answer yes. (That’s pretty much what happened in a Western funded survey of Palestinian opinion six months into the Western financial siege.)
Hamas’s number 2, Abu Marzook, recently explained its position in an L.A. Times Op Ed:
The sticking point of “recognition” has been used as a litmus test to judge Palestinians. Yet as I have said before, a state may have a right to exist, but not absolutely at the expense of other states, or more important, at the expense of millions of human individuals and their rights to justice. Why should anyone concede Israel’s “right” to exist, when it has never even acknowledged the foundational crimes of murder and ethnic cleansing by means of which Israel took our towns and villages, our farms and orchards, and made us a nation of refugees?
Why should any Palestinian “recognize” the monstrous crime carried out by Israel’s founders and continued by its deformed modern apartheid state, while he or she lives 10 to a room in a cinderblock, tin-roof United Nations hut? These are not abstract questions, and it is not rejectionist simply because we have refused to abandon the victims of 1948 and their descendants.
… Israel, which has never formally adopted a constitution of its own but rather operates through the slow accretion of Basic Laws, declares itself explicitly to be a state for the Jews, conferring privileged status based on faith in a land where millions of occupants are Arabs, Muslims and Christians.
You may not agree, Dennis, but don’t tell me this man is arguing on the basis of some sort of intractable religious logic; it’s simple nationalism grounded in the lived history of the Palestinians.
Ross even falls into the crudest Likudnik habit of linking Qaeda-style jihadism and Iranian ambitions. Hamas, he warns us, via his Palestinian sources, “has already begun to bring Iran into Gaza.” Right, and al-Qaeda, too, according to Abbas, crying wolf in the hope of getting what he wants out of Washington. (Iran and al-Qaeda are fighting each other in Iraq, are we now to expect similar outbreaks in Gaza? This is just daft. The idea that Hamas is “Shiite” has long been a propaganda standard among Fatah gunmen, but it has no basis in reality. )
Dennis, you know very well that Hamas is not Hizballah; its ideological orientation comes from the Muslim Brotherhood organizations in the Sunni Arab countries; its ties with Iran are secondary, although it is happy to get Tehran’s support. You also know very well, Dennis, that most of Hamas’s external funding came from the Gulf Arab states. But, of course, the Bush Administration cut off all that funding, not by convincing the Arabs not to send it, but by making the price of doing so being cut out of the U.S. banking system. So, you cut all of Hamas’s sources of funds other than Iran, and then you run to the rooftops shouting, “Look, they’re getting money from Iran!” Mazeltov, again, Dennis, you’re really good at this.
Dennis’s sources, who I can only imagine must be from that handful of corrupted Fatah chaps who have thrown in their lot with the U.S. — but who are increasingly beleaguered even within Fatah as more and more of the leadership looks to distance itself from Washington and reconcile with Hamas, must be getting a little desperate. He writes:
“For that reason, you also hear criticism of the Saudis who are pressing Mahmoud Abbas to reconcile with Hamas and forge a new national unity government. Indeed, I was struck by the almost unanimous sentiment that the reconciliation talks which both the Saudis and Egyptians are pushing–and Hamas leaders like Ismail Haniyeh favor–will not change Hamas’s behavior. Instead, the story goes, Hamas will use them as a tactic to try to build its international acceptability. Worse, it would use a new national unity government to try to do in the West Bank what it has now done in Gaza.”
The Saudis and Egyptians hate Hamas, and are threatened by it, but they’re not stupid, Dennis. They’re pressing for rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas because they know that Hamas is currently more representative than Fatah of the Palestinian people, and that there is neither peace nor stability to be achieved by maintaining the fiction that Mahmoud Abbas can speak on behalf of the Palestinians without the consent their elected government. If there was any other way to make Hamas disappear, Dennis, you can be sure the Saudis and particularly the Egyptians would jump at it.
Ross tells us that the Palestinians are predominantly secular, and were more alienated from Fatah than attracted to Hamas. Well, yes, Dennis, and Hamas seems to know and respect that. They don’t appear to be trying to enforce Shariah law in Gaza, do they? But what Dennis the Sage appears to avoid is to ask the question why are Palestinians alienated from Fatah?
Yes, Dennis, I know, you’ll tell yourself that the answer is corruption, even as the Administration continues to coddle the most corrupt element in Fatah. But the true answer is simply that Fatah lost its way; the Palestinian electorate could see that its path of negotiation, much of it under Ross’s stewardship, had only brought the Palestinians more settlements and checkpoints. They could see that Sharon had no intention of ending the occupation. And frankly, I think many of their leaders tacitly recognized that Fatah had abandoned its national goals, which accelerated the onset of an “every man for himself” ethos of corruption.
Ross claims that “creating new institutions in the PA will inevitably build the credibility of the PA and, by extension, the credibility of Fatah.” Uh, Dennis… You can’t build the PA’s institutions while ignoring its legal and democratically elected government. Prime Minister Fayyad may be quite the favorite in Washington, but he has a little problem — his government has not been, nor will it be approved by the Palestinian legislature. It is not really a legal government, Dennis. You either build democratic institutions, or you build Fatah — how on earth can you even suggest that the two are interchangeable?
Plainly, Dennis Ross is scrambling for logical arguments to support a patently flawed policy. He gets even more when he suggests that it’s crucial for the Fatah old guard to step aside and be replaced by a new generation of leaders capable of rebuilding the organization’s credibility. Good idea, Dennis. Except that the next generation of Fatah leaders, led by Marwan Barghouti from his Israeli prison cell, are advocating the exact opposite of your Fatah sources — they want Fatah to distance itself from the disastrous U.S. positions and reconcile with Hamas.
What Dennis Ross is advocating is a strategy that repeats all of the worst mistakes of the past decade of U.S. policy in the Middle East, and is bound to fail. Sooner or later, the U.S. and Israel will be forced to reckon with the political choices of the Palestinians, which will mean, among other things, talking to Hamas. And when that happens, you can be sure Dennis Ross will say yes, but it wasn’t the right time in the summer of 2007, which will be more self-serving evasion. The only difference between now, and the moment when the U.S. and Israel recognize reality, will be in how many people’s lives will be ruined .