Hamas and the Tyranny of Labels

Israel is using the latest rapprochement between the PLO and Hamas as the newest excuse to reject peace talks. The charge is that Hamas is “terrorist” although the same label has been applied to the PLO and indeed to some of Israel’s own leaders, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

There is little reason for anyone to get very exercised, either with enthusiasm or with dismay, over the latest announced reconciliation between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization. After all, such unity agreements between these two entities have been announced in the past and never went very far.

Maybe something more will come from this one, but that prior record should put the possibilities into perspective. Palestinians have politics just like other people do, including chronic differences of view and the occasional gesture that makes it look like all of those differences have been overcome even if they haven’t.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu

But we should be dismayed, though not surprised, by how the Israeli government, with the United States falling in line behind it, has reacted to this announcement, just as those governments have reacted to previous announced agreements between Hamas and the PLO. That reaction essentially consists of invoking a label or slogan as if it were an acceptable substitute for policy.

Hamas is said to be a “terrorist” organization and as such not an acceptable interlocutor for negotiations. (In fact, Israel has engaged in extensive and detailed negotiations with Hamas over exchanges of prisoners.) Terrorism is a tactic, one whose use comes and goes, not a fixed category of people or of groups. If previous use of that tactic were to be a negotiating disqualifier forever, a lot of useful business would not get done, including on the very conflict at hand.

We went through all this with the PLO; there was a time when Israel was vehemently opposed to anyone even talking to the PLO, much less negotiating with it, and went as far as assassinating the organization’s representatives to try to keep the United States from talking to it. The birth of the state of Israel also included much terrorism, perpetrated by men who went on to become top leaders of Israel.

The Israeli prime minister says Hamas is “dedicated to the destruction of Israel.” Actually, Hamas leaders have repeatedly made clear a much different posture, one that involves indefinite peaceful coexistence with Israel even if they officially term it only a hudna or truce. It would be more accurate to say that Israel is dedicated to the destruction of Hamas, an objective that Israel has demonstrated with not just its words but its deeds, including prolonged collective punishment of the population of the Gaza Strip in an effort to strangle the group.

Such efforts have included large-scale violence that — although carried out overtly by military forces and thus not termed terrorism — has been every bit as lethal to innocent civilians. In such circumstances, why should Hamas be expected to be the first to go beyond the vocabulary of hudna and mouth some alternative words about the status of its adversary?

The Israeli and U.S. reactions do not seem to take account of the fact that the terms of the announced Hamas-PLO reconciliation are undetermined and still under negotiation. The agreement can involve Hamas moving much more toward the posture of Abbas and the PLO than the other way around.

Palestinian Authority representatives already have indicated that there will not be a change in its fundamental stance of recognizing Israel and seeking to resolve the conflict with it peacefully through negotiations. Hamas representatives have pointed out that support for a governing coalition with an established set of policies does not require each party that is part of that government to express identical policies on its own behalf. In fact, that is true of coalition governments everywhere. The coalition government in Britain does things that you won’t find in the Liberal Democrats’ platform.

Members of the current Israeli government certainly should understand this principle. Members of that government who are even more extreme than Benjamin Netanyahu have called for Israel to annex immediately all or most of the West Bank, which would be flagrantly inconsistent with the whole concept of negotiating an agreement with the Palestinians. Does that mean the Palestinians should no longer negotiate with the Israeli government?

There is good circumstantial evidence to suggest that it will indeed be Hamas that will be making more of the concessions in any bridging of gaps between it and the PLO. Although the unity announcement reflects weakness of both of the Palestinian parties, Hamas is currently the weaker of the two, in the wake of the Egyptian military’s coup and campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s resumption of participation in the strangulation of Gaza.

The Israeli and U.S. posture toward Hamas is fundamentally self-contradictory. It involves saying that a certain form of behavior is unacceptable and then making impossible the use of alternative behavior. It involves saying that we don’t like a group because it has used violence instead of peaceful negotiations, and then refusing to negotiate with it.

The same self-contradictory posture was exhibited in 2006, when Hamas did the most that any party could do to be accepted as a legitimate, peacefully installed representative of its people — it contested and won a free and fair election — but then Israel and the United States refused to recognize the election result. That not only contradicted the rationale for not talking to Hamas but also contradicted a supposed commitment to democracy.

Greater unity and cooperation between Fatah and Hamas is fundamentally a good thing for whatever possibility remains of a negotiated two-state solution, because a single Palestinian negotiating team that can plausibly and legitimately speak for the Palestinian people as a whole is necessary for reaching such an agreement.

The reality of the Gaza Strip cannot be wished away. In the meantime, however, this latest announcement has become yet another excuse for Netanyahu not to negotiate seriously or not to negotiate at all.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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3 comments on “Hamas and the Tyranny of Labels

  1. Coleen Rowley on said:

    What is terrorism? This quote (attributed to Sir Peter Ustinov altho’ it’s been said in different ways by many) sums it up best: “A poor man’s war is terrorism. A rich man’s terrorism is war.” They are the flip sides of each other and each serves to provoke and ratchet up the other. I wonder if anyone ever told Petraeus this when he was writing his famous manual on how to counter “insurgency.”

  2. The British called the varous Jewish factions after Balfour terrorists (many British soldiers were killed and letter bombs sent to politicians not sympathetic to the division of Palestine) and several became the Prime Ministers of Israel.
    And has it ended? Jonathan Cook (google his name), wrote a piece in July 2010 titled, “Netanyahu Admits On Video He Deceived US to Destroy Oslo Accord.” It’s very revealing by a good journalist. It is worth a read. Google the titile.

  3. The woman transfering masculine insecurity
    as a demonizing device to anyone disapproving
    the replacement of democracy with privatization
    is herself a good candidate for carrier of
    the “gay gene,” as this political device
    defines the pyramidal economics of the mafia,
    which had that populational effect.

    It’s judging to control to enslave.
    It’s control sold to arrogance.
    The persons taught scapegoating and
    who receives the gay gene is in league
    with the person taught denial of love
    and in its place insecurity.

    The pyramidal economics of masculine insecurity
    is the economics of the mafia.

    It had a populational effect.

    It’s the billionaire replacing democracy with
    privatization and the mouthpiece demonizing the
    disapprover.

    Selling out to it are people likewise taught
    denial of love in favor of scapegoating,
    transference of fear, or ego defense
    (arrogance, condescension,) except there
    are historic events literally marrying the
    functions, and sellouts with a naive
    aligned agenda.

    Because of this,

    http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-02-14/news/47336502_1_orientation-genes-chromosome

    Scientists tested the DNA of 400 gay men.

    They found that a region of the X chromosome called
    ‘Xq28′ had some impact on men’s sexual behaviour.
    If your Mom’s that, you have her
    gay gene.

    http://www.bild.me/bild.php?file=3016012img069.jpg

    the witchhunt community in-breeds the gay
    family genetics within its own community,
    the parent teaching his/her child to scapegoat
    will also be a likelier passer of the gay
    genetics–gay fascists.
    This is why those leading the “religious right”
    who are invested in scapegoating gays are
    themselves invariably proved being gay
    fascists.

    This is why the murderer of the married guy with
    children mistaken for gay invariably turns out being gay.

    MORE TESTOSTERONE, is associated with
    higher likelihood of being gay.

    http://goo.gl/FvnTJF

    “A finger on sexuality”
    No kids, more masculine, is why
    gays served their communities in the
    army in ancient times.

    http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2000/03/03-29-2000a.html

    (Left handedness too–a family genetic.)

    It’s an error confirming, not condemning
    anyone’s morality.

    As to the above, it looks like I’ve some
    more typing space here.

    It’s a singular errant J. banker who
    entered league with a singular errant
    non-J moral leader.
    This banking line took advantage
    of the witchhunt of masculine insecurity,
    beginning approximately with the installation
    of C. Richelieu in France, and the identification of
    the Peter Pan syndrome, proximately with the
    birth of modern psychiatry.
    It was the cornerstone of divide and conquer,
    which division and the chain of inpersonal
    first-sight fear derived from which are the
    basis of what oligarch’s puppets pander
    to and the judging that defines our lives
    and that has come to define our institutions.

    Even psychology has begun replacing
    admonishing “transference” with
    advocating it, where unfounded pre-
    judgements as science have become
    part of its norm.

    Judging to control to enslave has an
    opposite, which is love. Errant people
    seek understanding, foregiveness and
    love.

    It’s possible the “errants” run from the
    “Duel” (di Medici being the one who
    hired the hardly veiled assassination.)

    That relating of events immediately
    preceded the development of Pascal’s
    Triangle, which probably also marked
    what was likely Pascal’s view that
    math, morality, and event streams
    (history) are one and the same.

    It’s illegal to protest plutocracy in
    Israel cause Israel’s raisin d’etre is
    half divide and conquer in advance of
    plutocracy itself. The other half
    purpose would theoretically be to
    serve as placater of Jewish fears of
    ongoing scapegoating of themselves,
    though they are transfering that fear
    to the Muslims.

    The above implies they should meet
    at the one logical place where the
    above proving can be verified and
    information’s nature can be confirmed.