Don’t Buy the Right-wing Disinformation Campaign on “From the River to the Sea”

Truthout May 5, 2024: This phrase was never about killing Jews. It emerged in the 1960s as a call for equal rights within a democratic state The wave of pro-Palestinian protests sweeping American campuses was triggered by Columbia University President Minouche Shafik’s order to forcibly clear a peaceful encampment on April 18. Her decision came as a direct result of her grilling the previous day before a House committee in Washington investigating alleged antisemitism on U.S. campuses: At the hearing, she pledged to take action against protesters. A major focus of the interrogation was the slogan, popular among pro-Palestinian protesters, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” [source]

Israel’s War on Gaza: 3 TV & Radio interviews October-December 2023

The United States and Israel: An Alliance or a Protection Racket

Tikkun May 17, 2017
   Given the centuries of persecution against the Jewish people, threats by Arab neighbors to Israel’s very survival in the early days of its independence, and decades of terrorist attacks by Palestinian extremists against Israeli civilians, it has been understandably difficult for many Israelis to recognize the willingness of the Palestine Authority (PA) to make peace.
   As the principal mediator in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, one would think that the United States would be eager to underscore the Authority’s willingness to accept Israeli control of 78 percent of historic Palestine, allow for Israeli annexation of most of the major settlement blocs in the West Bank in exchange for an equivalent amount of land recognized as part of Israel, and the implantation of strict security guarantees, including the demilitarization of a Palestinian state, the disarming of Hamas and other militias, and the deployment of Israeli monitors and international peacekeeping forces.
   Unfortunately, the U.S. government and leading American political figures have done just the opposite

America’s Hidden Role in Hamas’s Rise to Power

No one in the mainstream media or government is willing to acknowledge America’s sordid role interfering in Palestinian politics.

The United States bears much of the blame for the ongoing bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and nearby parts of Israel. Indeed, were it not for misguided Israeli and American policies, Hamas would not be in control of the territory in the first place.

Israel initially encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the secular coalition composed of Fatah and various leftist and other nationalist movements. Beginning in the early 1980s, with generous funding from the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the antecedents of Hamas began to emerge through the establishment of schools, health care clinics, social service organizations and other entities that stressed an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, which up to that point had not been very common among the Palestinian population. The hope was that if people spent more time praying in mosques, they would be less prone to enlist in left- wing nationalist movements challenging the Israeli occupation.

While supporters of the secular PLO were denied their own media or right to hold political gatherings, the Israeli occupation authorities allowed radical Islamic groups to hold rallies, publish uncensored newspapers and even have their own radio station. For example, in the occupied Palestinian city of Gaza in 1981, Israeli soldiers — who had shown no hesitation in brutally suppressing peaceful pro-PLO demonstrations — stood by when a group of Islamic extremists attacked and burned a PLO-affiliated health clinic in Gaza for offering family-planning services for women.

Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement), was founded in 1987 by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who had been freed from prison when Israel conquered the Gaza Strip 20 years earlier. Israel’s priorities in suppressing Palestinian dissent during this period were revealing: In 1988, Israel forcibly exiled Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad, a Christian pacifist who advocated the use of Gandhian- style resistance to the Israeli occupation and Israeli-Palestinian peace, while allowing Yassin to circulate anti-Jewish hate literature and publicly call for the destruction of Israel by force of arms.

American policy was not much different: Up until 1993, U.S. officials in the consular office in Jerusalem met periodically with Hamas leaders, while they were barred from meeting with anyone from the PLO, including leading moderates within the coalition. This policy continued despite the fact that the PLO had renounced terrorism and unilaterally recognized Israel as far back as 1988.

One of the early major boosts for Hamas came when the Israeli government expelled more than 400 Palestinian Muslims in late 1992. While most of the exiles were associated with Hamas-affiliated social service agencies, very few had been accused of any violent crimes. Since such expulsions are a direct contravention to international law, the U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the action and called for their immediate return. The incoming Clinton administration, however, blocked the United Nations from enforcing its resolution and falsely claimed that an Israeli offer to eventually allow some of exiles back constituted a fulfillment of the U.N. mandate. The result of the Israeli and American actions was that the exiles became heroes and martyrs, and the credibility of Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinians grew enormously — and so did its political strength.

Still, at the time of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, polls showed that Hamas had the support of only 15 percent of the Palestinian community. Support for Hamas grew, however, as promises of a viable Palestinian state faded as Israel continued to expand its colonization drive on the West Bank without apparent U.S. objections, doubling the amount of settlers over the next dozen years. The rule of Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat and his cronies proved to be corrupt and inept, while Hamas leaders were seen to be more honest and in keeping with the needs of ordinary Palestinians. In early 2001, Israel cut off all substantive negotiations with the Palestinians, and a devastating U.S.-backed Israeli offensive the following year destroyed much of the Palestinian Authority’s infrastructure, making prospects for peace and statehood even more remote. Israeli closures and blockades sank the Palestinian economy into a serious depression, and Hamas-run social services became all the more important for ordinary Palestinians.

Seeing how Fatah’s 1993 decision to end the armed struggle and rely on a U.S.-led peace process had resulted in increased suffering, Hamas’ popularity grew well beyond its hard-line fundamentalist base and its use of terrorism against Israel — despite being immoral, illegal and counterproductive — seemed to express the sense of anger and impotence of wide segments of the Palestinian population. Meanwhile — in a policy defended by the Bush administration and Democratic leaders in Congress — Israel’s use of death squads resulted in the deaths of Yassin and scores of other Hamas leaders, turning them into martyrs in the eyes of many Palestinians and increasing Hamas’ support still further.

Hamas Comes to Power

With the Bush administration insisting that the Palestinians stage free and fair elections after the death of Arafat in 2004, Fatah leaders hoped that coaxing Hamas into the electoral process would help weaken its more radical elements. Despite U.S. objections, the Palestinian parliamentary elections went ahead in January 2006 with Hamas’ participation. They were monitored closely by international observers and were universally recognized as free and fair. With reformist and leftist parties divided into a half-dozen competing slates, Hamas was seen by many Palestinians disgusted with the status quo as the only viable alternative to the corrupt Fatah incumbents, and with Israel refusing to engage in substantive peace negotiations with Abbas’ Fatah-led government, they figured there was little to lose in electing Hamas. In addition, factionalism within the ruling party led a number of districts to have competing Fatah candidates. As a result, even though Hamas only received 44 percent of the vote, it captured a majority of parliament and the right to select the prime minister and form a new government.

Ironically, the position of prime minister did not exist under the original constitution of the Palestinian Authority, but was added in March 2003 at the insistence of the United States, which desired a counterweight to President Arafat. As a result, while the elections allowed Abbas to remain as president, he was forced to share power with Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister.

Despite claiming support for free elections, the United States tried from the outset to undermine the Hamas government. It was largely due to U.S. pressure that Abbas refused Hamas’ initial invitation to form a national unity government that would include Fatah and from which some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders would have presumably been marginalized. The Bush administration pressured the Canadians, Europeans and others in the international community to impose stiff sanctions on the Palestine Authority, although a limited amount of aid continued to flow to government offices controlled by Abbas.

Once one of the more-prosperous regions in the Arab world, decades of Israeli occupation had resulted in the destruction of much of the indigenous Palestinian economy, making the Palestinian Authority dependent on foreign aid to provide basic functions for its people. The impact of these sanctions, therefore, was devastating. The Iranian regime rushed in to partially fulfill the void, providing millions of dollars to run basic services and giving the Islamic republic — which until then had not been allied with Hamas and had not been a major player in Palestinian politics — unprecedented leverage.

Meanwhile, record unemployment led angry and hungry young men to become easy recruits for Hamas militants. One leading Fatah official noted how, “For many people, this was the only way to make money.” Some Palestinian police, unpaid by their bankrupt government, clandestinely joined the Hamas militia as a second job, creating a dual loyalty.

The demands imposed at the insistence of the Bush administration and Congress on the Palestinian Authority in order to lift the sanctions appeared to have been designed to be rejected and were widely interpreted as a pretext for punishing the Palestinian population for voting the wrong way. For example, the United States demanded that the Hamas-led government unilaterally recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist, even though Israel has never recognized the right of the Palestinians to have a viable state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or anywhere else. Other demands included an end of attacks on civilians in Israel while not demanding that Israel likewise end its attacks on civilian areas in the Gaza Strip. They also demanded that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority accept all previously negotiated agreements, even as Israel continued to violate key components of the Wye River Agreement and other negotiated deals with the Palestinians.

While Hamas honored a unilateral cease-fire regarding suicide bombings in Israel, border clashes and rocket attacks into Israel continued. Israel, meanwhile, with the support of the Bush administration, engaged in devastating air strikes against crowded urban neighborhoods, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties. Congress also went on record defending the Israeli assaults — which were widely condemned in the international community as excessive and in violation of international humanitarian law — as legitimate acts of self-defense.

A Siege, Not a Withdrawal

The myth perpetuated by both the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties was that Israel’s 2005 dismantling of its illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of military units that supported them constituted effective freedom for the Palestinians of the territory. American political leaders from President George W. Bush to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have repeatedly praised Israel for its belated compliance with a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for its withdrawal of these illegal settlements (despite Israel’s ongoing violations of these same resolutions by maintaining and expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights).

In reality, however, the Gaza Strip has remained effectively under siege. Even prior to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the Israeli government not only severely restricted — as is its right — entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel, but also controlled passage through the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, as well. Israel also refused to allow the Palestinians to open their airport or seaport. This not only led to periodic shortages of basic necessities imported through Egypt, but resulted in the widespread wasting of perishable exports — such as fruits, vegetables and cut flowers — vital to the territory’s economy. Furthermore, Gaza residents were cut off from family members and compatriots in the West Bank and elsewhere in what many have referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison.

In retaliation, Hamas and allied militias began launching rocket attacks into civilian areas of Israel. Israel responded by bombing, shelling and periodic incursions in civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, which, by the time of the 2006 cease-fire, had killed over 200 civilians, including scores of children. Bush administration officials, echoed by congressional leaders of both parties, justifiably condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas-allied units into civilian areas of Israel (which at that time had resulted in scores of injuries but only one death), but defended Israel’s far more devastating attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip. This created a reaction that strengthened Hamas’ support in the territory even more.

The Gaza Strip’s population consists primarily of refugees from Israel’s ethnic cleansing of most of Palestine almost 60 years ago and their descendents, most of whom have had no gainful employment since Israel sealed the border from most day laborers in the late 1980s. Crowded into only 140 square miles and subjected to extreme violence and poverty, it is not surprising that many would become susceptible to extremist politics, such as those of the Islamist Hamas movement. Nor is it surprising that under such conditions, people with guns would turn on each other.

Undermining the Unity Government

When factional fighting between armed Fatah and Hamas groups broke out in early 2007, Saudi officials negotiated a power-sharing agreement between the two leading Palestinian political movements. U.S. officials, however, unsuccessfully encouraged Abbas to renounce the agreement and dismiss the entire government. Indeed, ever since the election of a Hamas parliamentary majority, the Bush administration began pressuring Fatah to stage a coup and abolish parliament.

The national unity government put key ministries in the hands of Fatah members and independent technocrats and removed some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders and, while falling well short of Western demands, Hamas did indicate an unprecedented willingness to engage with Israel, accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and negotiate a long-term cease-fire with Israel. For the first time, this could have allowed Israel and the United States the opportunity to bring into peace talks a national unity government representing virtually all the factions and parties active in Palestinian politics on the basis of the Arab League peace initiative for a two-state solution and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. However, both the Israeli and American governments refused.

Instead, the Bush administration decided to escalate the conflict by ordering Israel to ship large quantities or weapons to armed Fatah groups to enable them to fight Hamas and stage a coup. Israeli military leaders initially resisted the idea, fearing that much of these arms would end up in the hands of Hamas, but — as Israeli journalist Uri Avnery put it — “our government obeyed American orders, as usual.’ That Fatah was being supplied with weapons from Israel while Hamas was fighting the Israelis led many Palestinians — even those who don’t share Hamas’ extremist ideology — to see Fatah as collaborators and Hamas as liberation fighters. This was a major factor leading Hamas to launch what it saw as a preventive war or a countercoup by overrunning the offices of the Fatah militias in June 2007 and, just as the Israelis feared, many of these newly supplied weapons have indeed ended up in the hands of Hamas militants. Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip ever since.

The United States also threw its support to Mohammed Dahlan, the notorious Fatah security chief in Gaza, who — despite being labeled by American officials as “moderate” and “pragmatic” — oversaw the detention, torture and execution of Hamas activists and others, leading to widespread popular outrage against Fatah and its supporters.

Alvaro de Soto, former U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, stated in his confidential final report leaked to the press a few weeks before the Hamas takeover that “the Americans clearly encouraged a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas” and “worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah with recognition and weaponry.” De Soto also recalled how in the midst of Egyptian efforts to arrange a cease-fire following a flare-up in factional fighting earlier this year, a U.S. official told him that “I like this violence . it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas.”

Weakening Palestinian Moderates

For moderate forces to overcome extremist forces, the moderates must be able to provide their population with what they most need: in this case, the end of Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip and its occupation and colonizing of the remaining Palestinian territories. However, Israeli policies — backed by the Bush administration and Congress — seem calculated to make this impossible. The noted Israeli policy analyst Gershon Baskin observed, in an article in the Jerusalem Post just prior to Hamas’ electoral victory, how “Israel ‘s unilateralism and determination not to negotiate and engage President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority has strengthened the claims of Hamas and weakened Abbas and his authority, which was already severely crippled by . Israeli actions that demolished the infrastructures of Palestinian Authority governing bodies and institutions.”

Bush and an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress have also thrown their support to the Israeli government’s unilateral disengagement policy that, while withdrawing Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, has expanded them in the occupied West Bank as part of an effort to illegally annex large swaths of Palestinian territory. In addition, neither Congress nor the Bush administration has pushed the Israelis to engage in serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which have been suspended for over six years, despite calls by Abbas and the international community that they resume. Given that Fatah’s emphasis on negotiations has failed to stop Israel’s occupation and colonization of large parts of the West Bank, it’s not surprising that Hamas’ claim that the U.S.-managed peace process is working against Palestinian interests has resonance, even among Palestinians who recognize that terrorism by Hamas’ armed wing is both morally reprehensible and has hurt the nationalist cause.

Following Hamas’ armed takeover of Gaza, the highly respected Israeli journalist Roni Shaked, writing in the June 15 issue of Yediot Ahronoth, noted that “The U.S. and Israel had a decisive contribution to this failure.” Despite claims by Israel and the United States that they wanted to strengthen Abbas, “in practice, zero was done for this to happen. The meetings with him turned into an Israeli political tool, and Olmert’s kisses and backslapping turned Abbas into a collaborator and a source of jokes on the Palestinian street.”

De Soto’s report to the U.N. Secretary-General, in which he referred to Hamas’ stance toward Israel as “abominable,” also noted that “Israeli policies seemed perversely designed to encourage the continued action by Palestinian militants.” Regarding the U.S.- instigated international sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, the former Peruvian diplomat also observed that “the steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbor Israel have had precisely the opposite effect.”

Some Israeli commentators saw this strategy as deliberate. Avnery noted, “Our government has worked for year to destroy Fatah, in order to avoid the need to negotiate an agreement that would inevitably lead to the withdrawal form the occupied territories and the settlements there.” Similarly, M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Center observed, “the fact is that Israeli (and American) right-wingers are rooting for the Palestinian extremists” since “supplanting … Fatah with Islamic fundamentalists would prevent a situation under which Israel would be forced to negotiate with moderates.’ The problem, Avnery wrote at that time, is that “now, when it seems that this aim has been achieved, they have no idea what to do about the Hamas victory.”

Since then, the Israeli strategy has been to increase the blockade on the Gaza Strip, regardless of the disastrous humanitarian consequences, and more recently to launch devastating attacks that have killed hundreds of people, as many as one-quarter of whom have been civilians. The Bush administration and leaders of both parties in Congress have defended Israeli policies on the grounds that the extremist Hamas governs the territory.

Yet no one seems willing to acknowledge the role the United States had in making it possible for Hamas to come to power in Gaza in the first place.

Congressional Legislation Aimed at Isolating Hamas is Likely to Backfire

Since the Palestinian Legislative Council elections earlier this year, in which the Islamist group Hamas captured a majority of seats, the Bush administration has suspended U.S. economic assistance to the Palestine Authority (PA) and has led an international effort to impose sanctions against the Palestinians. This has meant enormous hardship for ordinary Palestinians, with reports that hospitals in Gaza have difficulty providing immunizations for children or dialysis machines for kidney patients. The World Health Organization warns of a “rapid decline of the public health system … toward a possible collapse.”

Even Jimmy Carter, who as president opposed Palestinian statehood and sent billions of dollars worth of arms and aid to support the Israeli occupation, remarked, “It is unconscionable for Israel, the United States, and others under their influence to continue punishing the innocent and already-persecuted people of Palestine.” Rather than challenge Bush’s dubious policy, however, Congress has taken steps to make it even stricter. On May 22, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4681, the “Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006,” by an overwhelming 361-37 majority.

Hamas’ armed wing—the Al-Qassim Brigade—has not only waged armed struggle against Israeli occupation forces but has also been responsible for a series of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. U.S. policy has been to denote the entire party as a “terrorist organization.”

There is a widespread consensus in the United States that U.S. policy should not reinforce Hamas politically and that direct assistance to Hamas-controlled segments of the PA should be suspended as long as Hamas remains in office and fails to alter its extremist positions denying Israel’s right to exist and encouraging the use of violence against civilian targets. However, the recently passed House bill goes well beyond isolating Hamas and appears designed to suppress even moderate Palestinian nationalists. It also places extraordinary limits on the ability of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide assistance to a population already suffering from nearly 50 years of foreign military occupation.

Representative Jim McDermott observed, “It doesn’t make sense to put restrictions on funding the NGOs that provide the Palestinian people with hospitals and schools.” The Washington Democrat, a physician by training, said he was “gravely concerned about the fate of millions of innocent Palestinians who rely on international aid for food, health care, and for developing their economy and businesses.” In McDermott’s estimation, “This bill will only make the already dire situation even worse … Allowing innocent Palestinians to go hungry while denying them medical treatment cannot possibly correct injustice or lead to peace.”

The bill largely eliminates the president’s authority to waive sanctions in the interests of U.S. national security, a longstanding provision of virtually all other U.S. sanctions legislation. It would prevent, for example, a president from providing emergency assistance in the event that subsequent Palestinian elections bring more moderate forces to office or in the wake of a natural disaster.

House Resolution 4681 also appears to be designed to make it impossible for the Palestinians to meet all the demands required to lift sanctions. It thus provides little incentive for Palestinians to challenge the policies of Hamas. Indeed, the bill sets conditions that no Palestinian government could realistically achieve as long as Israel maintains its policies of occupation, repression, land expropriation, and colonization. H.R. 4681 requires squelching “anti-Israel incitement” (such as calls to resist foreign military occupation), prescribes “confiscating unauthorized weapons” (presumably necessitating house-to-house searches to enforce gun control regulations far stricter than those in the United States), and mandates “fully cooperating with Israeli security services” (which have killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians in recent years).

And it appears that the sanctions contained in the House bill are meant to be permanent. There is a provision that sanctions would remain in place until the PA “publicly acknowledged Israel ‘s right to exist as a Jewish state.” Though the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), President Mammoud Abbas, and other Palestinian leaders have long recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as an independent nation-state, opposition to the second-class status of Palestinian Israeli citizens has precluded most Palestinians from explicitly recognizing Israel as a “Jewish” state per se, a condition that even the Israeli government has never demanded of the PA.

The legislation also bans any aid until the president determines that the Palestinian leadership has made demonstrable progress toward “ensuring democracy, the rule of law, and an independent judiciary, and adopting other reforms such as ensuring transparent and accountable governance.” These are conditions that Congress has categorically rejected regarding other recipients of U.S. aid in the region, such as Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq. In short, the bill codifies the principle that Palestinians are to be held to much higher standards than are other potential recipients of U.S. foreign aid, even though the PA’s governing sovereignty is hobbled by a restrictive foreign military occupation. Is the lack of responsible governance by the Palestine Authority really of concern for the supporters of this legislation, or is misrule being used as an excuse to further subjugate the Palestinian people?

The liberal Zionist group Americans for Peace Now, which helped lead the fight against this legislation, sent out a press release noting that “H.R. 4681 is an exercise in overreaching that will undercut American national security needs, Israeli interests, and hope for the Palestinian people … undermining those Palestinian officials and activists who recognize Israel, reject terror, and support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Other groups opposing the measure include Jewish Voice of Peace, the Israel Policy Forum, Brit Tzedek, Churches for Middle East Peace, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Even the Bush administration opposed H.R. 4681 as too rigid and draconian. Presidential spokesman Tony Snow complained that the bill “unnecessarily constrains” the flow of essential humanitarian aid such as food, fresh water, and medicine. The State Department sent a report to Congress arguing, “The bill is unnecessary as the Executive branch already has ample authority to impose all its restrictions and it constrains the Executive’s flexibility to use sanctions, if appropriate, as tools to address rapidly changing circumstances.” Senate Republican leaders reportedly saw the House measure as “insanely irresponsible” and have vowed to challenge several provisions in conference committee. Despite all this, the legislation received the enthusiastic support of the House Republican leadership backed by such right-wing groups as Christians United for Israel, the Center for Moral Clarity, and the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

In a move that shocked many observers, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and assistant leader Steny Hoyer signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation and convinced more than three-quarters of their fellow Democrats to vote in favor of the measure, placing the Democratic Party to the right of the Bush administration on this key foreign policy issue. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders apparently felt that if sanctions against the Palestinians remained a prerogative of the executive branch alone, Bush might fail to punish the Palestinians sufficiently.

House liberals were clearly angered at the betrayal by Pelosi and other Democratic leaders. Rep. Earl Blumenauer charged that the bill “does little to prioritize on the basis of our strategic interests and provides no prospect for Palestinian reform coming through the process of negotiations.” The Oregon Democrat went on to note, “In so doing, it weakens the hands of those who advocate for peace negotiations and supports those extremists who believe in violence.”

Similarly, Rep. Betty McCollom complained that the measure went well “beyond the State Department’s current policies toward Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and potentially undermines the U.S. position vis-à-vis the coordinated international pressure on Hamas.” (As a result of her opposition to the bill, a representative from AIPAC informed the Wisconsin Democrat that her “ support for terrorists will not be tolerated.” McCollom banned AIPAC representatives from her office pending a written apology for the slander, though Pelosi and Hoyer continue to praise the right-wing Zionist group’s mission and leadership.)

Though Pelosi, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and other co-sponsors claim that H.R. 4681 targets Hamas and other terrorists, the legislation also bans the PLO—a broad secular coalition that has formally recognized Israel, renounced terrorism, and includes most of the opposition to Hamas in the Palestinian legislature—from maintaining an office in the United States (outside of its UN Mission) and places strict limits on travel by PLO officials. Although current Bush administration policy denies visas to members of Hamas, the House bill mandates that the ban be extended to anyone “affiliated with” the Palestine Authority, including civil servants and opposition legislators who are not part of Hamas and who support peace with Israel. This would make it virtually impossible, for example, for such pro-peace Palestinian legislators as Hanan Ashrawi, Nabil Sha’ath, and Saeb Erakatto or moderate PLO leaders like Yasser Abd Rabbo to come to the United States to speak at forums or engage in unofficial diplomacy with their Israeli counterparts, an increasingly common practice since the Israeli government suspended substantive talks with the Palestinians in 2001.

Even the State Department objected to the bill’s provisions blocking “support to non-Hamas controlled elements of the PA” — such as judiciary, local municipalities, executive agencies, the president’s office, and the Palestinian Monetary Authority—and targeting individual legislators who are not part of Hamas. The State Department also asked for an exception to the ban on financial assistance to “democracy and governance activities, activities which Israel may wish us to support,” but Ros-Lehtinen, Pelosi, and other co-sponsors rejected the proposed changes.

The House of Representatives apparently has no interest in legislation banning any Israelis from entering the United States, even government and military officials responsible for ordering military strikes against civilian areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which have resulted in far more civilian deaths than all the terrorist attacks committed by Hamas combined. Nor does H.R. 4681 deny visas to Israelis who defend terrorist attacks by extremist Jewish settlers or to leaders of Israeli parties that call for the ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories.

The provision preventing the U.S. government from issuing visas to Palestinian leaders, then, was not about preventing apologists for terrorism from gaining a forum in the United States; individuals affiliated with Hamas and other terrorist-related Palestinian groups are already banned from entering the country, and Israelis with violent and extremist affiliations are still allowed in. The purpose, apparently, is simply to silence the most articulate Palestinians opposing the Israeli occupation of their country.

The House legislation also requires the United States to work to eliminate several UN agencies and projects addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to withhold a portion of U.S. dues to the world body if the UN does not accede to U.S. demands. Among the groups cited are the UN special committee created to monitor the human rights situation in the Israeli-occupied territories; the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process; the UN office overseeing the work of church groups, human rights organizations, and other NGOs concerned with conflict resolution; and the committee supporting the efforts of the diplomatic quartet (consisting of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations) to pursue a performance-based road map to a permanent two-state solution to the conflict.

In the words of Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps of California, H.R. 4681 “places nearly insurmountable efforts to future U.S. efforts to engage Palestinians and Israel in peacemaking … and unbelievably, it would limit United States diplomatic contact with moderate, non-Hamas Palestinian officials. Why is this? These are the very leaders who recognize Israel and who support peace, and it makes absolutely no sense for us to undercut them at this critical time.”

The language of the bill also severely restricts support for private nonprofit Palestinian groups working for peace and conflict resolution. Rep. Sam Farr asserts that the legislation “would make it nearly impossible to fund nongovernmental organization reconciliation programs that work to build peace.” The California Democrat noted with irony that since such groups operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are pivotal in undermining the appeal of the extremist ideology perpetrated by Hamas and other radical groups, House leaders were wrong in their decision to omit language—contained in the Senate version of the bill—that “specifically includes an exception that allows for funding for coexistence and reconciliation activities.” Similarly, Rep. David Price contends that such projects “are critical to our interests, to Israel, and to the prospects for peace. They help prevent humanitarian crises and diminish popular discontent.” The North Carolina Democrat also declared, “They train peacemakers; they improve America ‘s standing in the Middle East. Why would we want to eliminate programs like these? Are they not needed now more than ever?”

In short, rather than being designed to fight terrorism, could the bill’s real purpose be to undercut efforts at peace and reconciliation? Israeli-Palestinian peace could threaten the billions of dollars worth of military contracts provided to U.S. weapons manufacturers annually to arm Israel and could make Israel far more reluctant to act as a surrogate for U.S. strategic designs in the greater Middle East.

Ironically, liberal groups like Peace Action, Democracy for America, and MoveOn.org have endorsed for re-election House members who were co-sponsors of H.R. 4681 and backers of other anti-Palestinian legislation that undermines the efforts of Israeli and U.S. peace activists. The failure of progressive political action committees to challenge congressional Democrats for co-sponsoring such legislation sends a message that they have little to lose by endorsing right-wing efforts to undermine the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The overwhelming Democratic approval for the “Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act” strengthens the contention by Green Party activists and other progressives that the Democratic leadership’s support for the invasion of Iraq and hawkish position on Iran are not isolated positions and that there is very little difference in the foreign policy objectives of the two major parties.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/congressional_legislation_aimed_at_isolating_hamas_is_likely_to_backfire

The Hamas Victory: Another Side to the Story

Lost amidst the predictably negative reaction to the victory by Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections is the crucial role that the U.S. government had in bringing the radical Islamist group to power.

Both Congress and the Bush administration are on record insisting that Hamas’ virulent anti-Israel stance and the history of terrorist activities by its armed wing, the Al Qassam Brigades, gives Israel the right to refuse to engage or negotiate with the Palestinians. However, Israel had already suspended peace talks nearly five years ago without apparent objections from U.S. officials. A majority of Israelis, according to public opinion polls, had supported a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority under its outgoing secular government, but the administration and Congress continued to back the right-wing Israeli government’s refusal to talk with its Palestinian counterparts on the implementation of the Road Map, a formula backed by the “Quartet” consisting of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations.

Following the 2004 decision of the Bush administration and a huge bipartisan congressional majority to throw its weight behind Prime Minister Sharon’s unilateral disengagement strategy in lieu of a negotiated withdrawal, many Palestinians saw the departure of Israeli colonists from the Gaza Strip as a result of Hamas’ armed resistance, thereby giving them even less faith in a U.S.-led peace process.

Exit polls appear to indicate that had Palestinian voters believed that re-electing the more moderate Fatah movement would have allowed for the resumption of peace talks, they would not have backed the hard-line Hamas. Israel cut off negotiations with the Palestinians when right-wing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came to office in February 2001, just one month after Israeli-Palestinian talks in Taba, Egypt came tantalizingly close to reaching a final peace agreement. The Israeli government, with apparent U.S. backing, has refused to resume negotiations ever since.

The Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority proved itself incapable of implementing the primary responsibility of any government: the protection of its own people. The PA could do little to resist the face of overwhelming power of Israeli occupation forces, particularly when backed by the world’s one remaining superpower. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority a little more than a dozen years ago, Israel has killed hundreds of Arab civilians, expropriated large tracts of land, bulldozed thousands of homes, built a 30-foot wall bisecting large segments of the West Bank, and destroyed orchards, vineyards, and other farmland. In reaction, radical militias such as Hamas’ Al Qassam Brigades have attacked Israeli occupation forces and settlers in the occupied territories and civilian targets inside Israel.

Faced with endemic corruption and incompetence in areas of the West Bank under PA control under the leadership of Fatah’s old guard, Palestinian voters apparently felt they had little to lose in electing Hamas. Though only a minority of Palestinians supports the terrorist activities of Hamas’ armed wing or its reactionary social agenda, they were propelled by a perceived need to clean house. The secular democratic and progressive opposition to Fatah was divided into five different competing factions. Also greatly appreciated was the network of schools, medical facilities, and social services provided by Hamas for the population suffering from the repressive military occupation and the often incompetent local governance under Fatah.

While rightfully condemning Palestinian terrorism, Bush administration officials and Congressional leaders of both parties have defended the Israeli government’s assassination policy against suspected Palestinian militants despite its violation of international legal norms. In addition, the Bush administration, backed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress, denounced the International Court of Justice for its 2004 ruling calling on Israel to uphold it obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention in the occupied West Bank. The Bush administration and Congress even went on record supporting Israel’s devastating spring 2002 offensive in the West Bank, openly contesting reports by Amnesty International and other human rights observers which documented widespread civilian casualties and damage to the territory’s civilian infrastructure. The Palestinian Authority lost many of its buildings and resources serving the population in those U.S.-backed attacks, a gap that was partly filled by Hamas.

Congress and the administration have made it clear they will not provide any foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel. However, the Israeli government’s failure to renounce violence against Palestinians or rein in its settler militias, and its refusal to recognize a viable independent Palestinian state alongside Israel has never jeopardized the billions of dollars of foreign assistance given annually to the Israeli government by the United States.

The limited amount of aid granted to the Palestinians by the United States generally bypassed the Palestinian Authority, and Congress this past year actually mandated stricter standards for U.S. aid under the reform-minded president Mahmoud Abbas than it did under his notoriously corrupt predecessor Yasir Arafat. Virtually all aid to the occupied territories has gone through various nongovernmental organizations.

President George W. Bush, in defending Israel’s insistence that it will continue to refuse to negotiate with Palestinians, claimed that “I don’t see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform.” In reality, Hamas had excluded such a reference in their electoral platform in an effort to appeal to more moderate Palestinian voters and explicitly expressed their desire to negotiate with the Israeli government. Hamas has also largely observed a unilateral cease fire against Israel for more than a year despite a series of assassinations of suspected Hamas leaders by Israeli forces.

Just as Hamas gained credibility with the Palestinian population through its social service programs, funded primarily by supporters in the U.S.-backed monarchies of the Gulf, it is possible that European and other supporters of secular, democratic civil society organizations would increase the prospects for those currents within Palestinian society to gain in strength. At the same time, a suspension of Western aid could lead the Palestinian government to become more dependent on the support of Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have backed radical Palestinian Islamists for decades.

Harvesting Cynicism

The refusal of the United States to deal with the elected Palestinian government will likely add to the cynicism within the Arab and Islamic world that the United States supports democratic elections only if the results support U.S. policy aims. In December the U.S. House of Representatives, with only sixteen dissenting votes in the 435-member body, denounced Palestinian President Abbas for even allowing Hamas to participate in the election, another indication of the selectivity of American support for democracy in the Arab world.

The core issue, however, remains the Israeli occupation and the U.S.-backed Israeli government’s refusal to allow for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. As President Bush pointed out in reference to neighboring Lebanon when Syria maintained its overbearing presence, “Elections under occupation are not free.” Hamas and radical Islam was never a feature of Palestinian politics until after years of Israeli occupation. Hamas never came close to majority support until more than a decade following the Oslo Accords, when Palestinians saw the hope of a negotiated settlement under U.S. auspices fade.

The best means to stop terrorism is to deny the agenda which propels it, such as foreign military occupation. Indeed, as Great Britain belatedly recognized in Northern Ireland and in countless other examples, incorporating armed groups which represent a significant portion of the population—even those which engage in terrorism—in the electoral process and in negotiations is a better way to end the violence than with your own violence.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/the_hamas_victory_another_side_to_the_story