Israel, Hamas and the Challenge of Gaza

March 5, 2008

During the first week of March, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks in the Middle East to discuss peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. Martin Indyk stressed that a resolution to the conflict is imperative for those two parties and the region as a whole.


“I think Secretary of State Rice must be thinking, as she’s heading out this time, how did it all go so badly wrong, so quickly. It’s little more than three months since Annapolis. All the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict were there assembled talking about making peace. Now we’re back to a war like situation in Gaza and she’s obviously got to get that situation under control. The negotiations have now have been suspended and so, before anything can go forward, there’s got to be some way of dealing with the challenge of Gaza. But, to deal with the challenge of Gaza is immensely difficult now. Because, with Hamas having taken control there by military force, there’s no sensible way out that can include Hamas since Hamas is not interested in negotiating peace with Israel since Hamas is engaged in a conflict with, not just Israel, but with the Palestinian Authority that Israel wants to negotiate peace with. If Hamas is somehow brought into the process you lose Israel and the rest of the Palestinian Authority so you don’t even have a negotiation then. But if Hamas is excluded it obviously has shown that it has the ability to blow up the process.

“So, it’s a real conundrum now, which I don’t think needed to develop in this way. If the secretary of state and President Bush had taken seriously their own objective of trying to achieve an agreement by the end of the year, they’ve just been absent from the arena since Annapolis, for all intents and purposes, except for the President’s magical mystery tour to the Middle East, which really did nothing to advance the process. And so now, as a result of this American lack of engagement over the last three months, we a have a far more difficult situation that she’s going to have to deal with.

“The Iranians are engaged in a bid for dominance in the region. They see the United States stumbling. They see the opportunity to spread their influence to Iraq, which they’ve done quite effectively. In Lebanon where, through Hezbollah, they’re helping to paralyze the Lebanese government and rebuilding Hezbollah’s capability of confronting Israel. And, in Gaza, where they are the primary supporters of Hamas. In that sense, they are using their influence in a very negative way to hold up the United States and its friends and allies. In a more fundamental way, they gain from the inability of the United States to show that its way works.

“You see, the message from Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, is violence, terrorism, defiance of the international community and U.N Security Council, works. “This is the way that we can achieve, not only, our ambitions as Iranians, but we can achieve dignity for Arabs and liberate Palestine.” And that’s the message that comes from Iran, from Hamas, from Hezbollah. And the United States through the Annapolis process was engaged in an effort to show that was wrong. That through negotiations, and reconciliation and peace Arabs, Palestinians can achieve their rights much more effectively. And, that’s what’s at stake here in a much broader sense. And, unless the secretary of state is able to get this process out of the rut that it’s now been driven into by Hamas’ actions we’re going to find the situation in which those who are identified with the process – whether it’s Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or Prime Minister Salam Fayed or the Saudis, or the Egyptians, or the Israelis, all of them – are going to be discredited are going to be and the Iranians will gain from that.

“I think that if people were rational, when George Bush turns up for Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations, that people in the Arab world will look at Israel and look at the Palestinians and say, ‘You know, it hasn’t work out so well and maybe there’s something that we need to do better.’  Because the Israelis, they’ve got a problem, but it’s not holding them back. And, it is destroying Palestinian society and creating more and more misery for the Palestinians. So, there tends to be a view, on the Palestinian side and the Arab world more generally, that ‘time is on our side.’ I think the message of the 60th anniversary is that time is not on the side of the Palestinians. Time is not on the side of peace. And, we really need, all who want  to see a  reconciliation, who want to see a Palestinian independent state living side-by-side with Israel, to redouble their efforts to try to achieve this before it’s too late.”