Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Why won't Hamas recognize Israel?

The reason right now that the Palestinians in the Gaza and the West bank are under such pressure is that the West won't recognize the democratically elected Hamas-lead government until Hamas recognizes Israel.

So why is this so impossible for Hamas to do? Usually religion or fanaticism is said to be the reason. According to this article, for Hamas to recognize Israels right to exist would be the end to any possibility for peace in the region. And no mention of religion is made, nor anything about erasing Israel from the Map.

In demanding recognition of its right to exist, Israel is ensuring that the Palestinians agree to Israel's character being set in stone as an exclusivist Jewish state, one that privileges the rights of Jews over all other ethnic, religious and national groups inside the same territory. The question of what such a state entails is largely glossed over both by Israel and the West.
I'm not completely sure that the writer is right in his conclusion that by recognising Israel Hamas would walk into a trap that is "designed to ensure that any peaceful solution to the conflict is impossible", but the article is important for explaining the rationale behind Hamas actions without referring any other reasons that clearly political ones that would be recognized by any democratic government.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Patrik.

"The question of what such a state entails is largely glossed over both by Israel and the West" - also, I think, the question of why the Palestinians should recognise such a state. I get really angry at the hypocrisy with which the West insists that the Palestinians do this. (Of course there are facts on the ground and the Palestinians may well have to do it eventually, but one what grounds can anyone else force them to make that decision?) Would they insist that any other conquered people who have had an ethnically exclusive state formed in their former homeland accept its right to exist?

You (and the article) point out that the refusal of Hamas is not about religion. The religious issue that concerns me has got nothing to do with Hamas, but is rather concerned with religious influences in the West that contribute to viewing Israel's right to exist (as an ethnic state etc) as sacrosanct. And I am not only thinking of fundamentalist Christian Zionists (horrific though they are) but of a more broadly diffused identification of Christians with Israel, even when they are are uncomfortable with some of the more extreme forms of Zionism. It raises all sorts of hermeneutical questions about how we read the Old Testament, ideas of covenant, etc.

Must stop now but I personally would like to see Christians wrestling a bit more with this!


Patrik said...

My working theory at the moment is that we could ignore the religious aspect completely from the whole middle East issue and not a lot would change.

Of course this is to simplify, but I think it would actually help us to see what is actually going on. We have to understand that Arabs are angry at Westerners not for religious reasons, but for political and historical reasons. By ignoring the religious aspect, usually introduced for covertly racist reasons ("muslims are violent for reasons we cannot understand"), we can comprehend that they have every reason to be angry at us and that, as Robert Fisk says, the Muslim world has been surprisingly forgiving towards us.

The same thing applies to the Israeli-Palestine question. If we for a moment disregard the fanatics, be the Muslim, Jewish or Christian, (and all three exist and play a significant role) we end up with a geo-political conflict where a colonial power is using the same kind of force colonial powers have always used.

Sandalstraps said...

Another theory I've heard is that Hamas feels as though recognizing Israel would also involve recognizing Israel's occupation of what they see as Palestinian land. One Hamas leader once asked Jimmy Carter (per a Terry Gross interview with Jimmy Cater on the NPR program "Fresh Air") "Which Israel should we recognize?" They want the issue of disputed territory to be addressed before they recognize Israel.

While I have a hard time seeing that point of view (why couldn't they recognize Israel, while at the same time recognizing only the narrowest possible borders for Israel?) it is a much less intractable position than the standard line "Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's fundamental right to exist and as such cannot be a partner in peace" indicates.

Thomas Adams said...

So let me get this straight: the refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist is actually designed to advance the peace process? This is convoluted logic, to be sure. Perhaps there's a simpler explanation, namely, that Hamas is not really committed to a two-state solution and that they sincerely want to see Israel eradicated. In fact, this is what Hamas has been saying all along, although its sympathizers in the West refuse to take such rhetoric seriously.

Patrik said...


I think the argument is that by recognizing Israel Hamas would loose the ability to negotiate a acceptable peace treaty.

As I said I'm not 100% sure about it, like sandalstraps I feel it would be possible to recognize an Israel within certain border with certain qualifications, like that it has to be a country that does not discriminate against non-jews.

But it is anyway a better explanation than your implied reason, that Hamas is simply stupid or evil.

Patrik said...

Mind you, I do not approve of Hamas actions, but I'm trying to understand them as human beings.

Anonymous said...

I would agree that the root causes of the conflict are not religious. And that Arabs (who are not only muslim) have good reason to be angry!

But as a South African I have been scandalised at how Western powers (and also western churches) which opposed apartheid have not opposed Zionism nearly so vigorously. Now I know that there are all sorts of economic and geopolitical reasons for this (and the role of western powers in relation to apartheid is also more complex) but I think that there is also a (sometimes subtle) religious identification involved.


PS You may be interested in this article on Hamas. Its slightly dated (July) but Alistair Sparks is a respected South African political commentator.

Patrik said...

Macrina, the link seems to be cut short...

Anonymous said...

No, that is the full link, I've just checked (although the website wasn't working this morning when I checked then).

I'm sure that there is a better way of doing this - I will try and get more clued up (and maybe register) soon.


Patrik said...

If it is this article you are refering to ( I still can't see all of the url you posted, its a good article and well worth a look at. Interesting perspective, especially considering President Carters recent book.

Patrik said...

Also, see this second part to that article.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that was it. I'd forgotten about the second article. Glad that you found it.