Sunday, May 28, 2006

Hamas and the Referundum

Hamas and the Referundum

Arab American News
May 28, 2006

To soften the hard line position of Hamas on Israel, President Abbas issued last week a threat to call for a national referendum within ten days. This initiative seems to be rapidly losing momentum. Some Palestinians see it as ploy while Israeli officials do not endorse it.
It would be very surprising if Hamas yields to move of Abbas to challenge governing party authority in such a dramatic way. Hamas’ rejection of Israel is visceral; rejection is its “badge of identity”. Hamas’ formal position on the state of Israel can only be changed with military force, electoral defeat or informal erosion of its local constituency. This power erosion is not likely to happen soon or easily. Abbas’ referendum move may be interpreted by some Arab power centers and many of the Palestinians as an outcome of US/Israeli pressure to marginalize Hamas. The perceived wish to please the West in Abbas’ move may be the referendum’s kiss of death.
Hamas is pressured from the Western world but it is receiving additional support from within the Arab and Islamic world. Religious mobilization operates on “renewable energy”. Will the referendum cost Abbas political power? It is still too early to bury this sudden initiative, but Abbas’ move is an indication that Palestinians are struggling to get out of a political dead end situation.
Israel exploits Hamas’ politics of rejection to the maximum. Is Hamas’ rhetoric offering Israel a pretext to freely justify its oppression? In Ehud Olmert’s speech to the Congress (unilateral action: further annexation, wall of separation and future borders) last week, there were threats of terminating the peace process, leaving Palestinians hanging in the air, at the mercy of future Israeli hegemony.

What choices do Palestinians have today facing an adversary whose policies are their “unconditional surrender”. Palestinians face grave asymmetry of power with the occupier. They are backed by feeble Arab regimes and they are threatened by crippling divisions of ideology. Will Olmert’s speech force Palestinians to swallow their pride and become politically more discerning?
The choice of militant resistance assumes that Palestinians will achieve victory through war, with and without rules of combat. Maximalist leaders dream of bringing Israel to its knees. Hamas and Islamic Jihad mobilize young men through religious symbols, demand unlimited Palestinian sacrifice, count on expanding demographic power and call for increased Arab support. Is this form of struggle working?

Israel’s occupation is gradually turning into annexation. The international image of Palestinians is not improving. Unintentionally, a chaotic Palestinian military strategy extends the life of Israel’s hegemony.
Political leadership has been divided and fratricidal. The toll of human suffering has been too harsh, especially on civilians and children. Militant ideologues ignore the fact that political liberation includes state building; it is not only land liberation. Authoritarian leadership and closed ideologies do not generate mature political independence. Palestinians are fighting an unrealistic war against a regional superpower, backed by a global superpower. Too many Palestinians are choosing to fight and lose, to fight more and lose more. For how long will militant Palestinian ideologues perceive victory in failure?

Israel may enjoy for the near future a political honeymoon in the absence of an international mechanism to effectively enforce justice. But through its ruthless occupation Israel is sowing the seeds of corrosion of its political system. Israel will not be able in the long run to cope with the consequences of the Palestinian occupation.

Since peace is not realistic in the near future, Palestinians should develop a longer term strategy of popular resistance similar to the first Intifada and even more peaceful. Is it time for Palestinians to recognize the power of long term civic resistance, emphasizing social tactics of influence, (e.g. hunger strikes, demonstrations, political theater, intensive human rights reporting ) in order to reverse the occupation with collective political mobilization? In recent times, popular resistance worked well in South Africa, Eastern Europe, Ireland and elsewhere. They need to unite, make the law in their struggle work for them (Is suicide bombing helping their case legally?) and open links with peace partners internationally. Palestinians have lost so much so far. Yet their unity, moral courage and vulnerability may turn out to be there greatest assets for a brighter future.


The author, a Lebanese American, is former Middle East Director of the Geneva based World Council of Churches. He can be reached at Grubeiz@philadelphia.net.

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