Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Haniyeh's Blunder

Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh's statement that Osama bin Laden was an "Arab holy warrior" whose assassination was  "a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood" was remarkably stupid--indeed, offensive, not only because there was nothing "holy" about 9/11, but also because the same U.S. government that ordered the assassination of bin Laden also provided the initial leadership for a Western humanitarian intervention in Libya that may have saved tens of thousands of Muslim lives--just as it also saved thousands of Muslim lives in Bosnia and Kosovo.

At the very least, Haniyeh has made it even less likely that Israel or the U.S. will be willing to politically engage Hamas.  Nonetheless, what I have written below--on the lost opportunities to negotiate with Hamas--still stands.  As I said, Hamas has often made ambiguous or contradictory statements about its willingness to accept a two-state settlement (de facto, if not formally).  The crucial point is that the only way to explore Hamas's real intentions and bedrock position is for Israel and the U.S. to engage it in negotiations, which both countries have repeatedly rejected.   My own assessment of the situation--unprovable, to be sure--is that if Israel offered a genuine two-state settlement, Hamas would not obstruct it. 


Gene Schulman said...

"Humanitarian intervention"? They've killed more than they saved, in both cases.

Fat chance Israel will ever offer a two-state settlement. Even if it did, I think it would not be the solution to the conflict.

CK MacLeod said...

"They've killed more than they saved, in both cases."
You know this how? Some sort of iPhone app that allows you to define and calculate counterfactual military-historical scenarios? Can I make it work on my PC?

As for the main topic, Haniyeh has obviously made things more difficult for the saner segments of the Palestinian solidarity movement. (The ones off in conspiracy never-never land and other political pathologies are hopeless anyway.)

It's as though he really wanted to be sure that the "Palestinians celebrated 9/11" meme would never die. It just reminds me that I really can't put myself in Hamas's position - but that's the same as saying I can't sympathize with them, and am less sympathetic to people who would vote for and support them. I can reason out their position - tell myself that their treatment at our hands and at the hands of our major ally have made them implacably hostile to the American point of view. I can tell myself that they have to worry about their local constituency. But that then defines the political framework going forward.

Put simply, instead of saying “good thing we’re not OBL,” Haniyeh said, “killing OBL is wrong (please don’t kill us),” which leads the average American to say, “oh, just like we thought, you’re like OBL, better off dead, if you don’t mind us saying so, or even if you do.”

It means that to whatever extent we follow JS's preferred course of action, testing Hamas pragmatically, we will do so warily, with the possibly self-fulfilling presumption that the test will produce the answers we don't like, as different kinds of tests have done before.

I know JS hates hearing this, but the Morrises and Soffers just got a boost, another vivid, dramatic, easily and viscerally understood evidence point under "peace partners like these." More generally, those in the West trying to argue that designating Hamas a terrorist organization was a mistake that needs to be rectified, or that we need to see things from Hamas' point of view and not take their radical Islamist rejectionism-maximalism seriously will have to make themselves heard through one or two gales of scornful laughter.

Steve K said...

The notion that our "humanitarian intervention" in Libya was benignly motivated seems, at this point, so laughably naive that it's difficult to take Professor Slater's analysis of other aspects of the Middle East very seriously. Does he not know that 9/11 was blowback for the US neo-colonial dominance of the Middle Eastern countries whom our client dictators have kept in poverty? That the US overthrew the Iranian democracy & placed in power the despised Shah Pavlavi? That the US had overseen the theft of the entire Palestinian homeland by racist Israel, leaving millions of impoverished refugees in its wake? For a "progressive" liberal like Slater to still believe that our massive bombing of Libya is perfectly legitimate and indeed a noble act leaves me speechless.

Jerome Slater said...

Speaking of apps, CK, where did you get the app that distinguishes between statements by Hamas that provide definitive proof of your preexisting point of view (Haniyeh today), while allowing many other Hamas statements (Haniyeh and others in the recent past, including the hardliner Meshal) that open the door to negotiations--before Israel and the US slam it shut--to be dismissed, preferably with gales of scornful laughter? That is one hell of an app--think of the time and mental effort it saves, since it cuts through any kind of complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty, providing absolute reliability in interpreting conflicting statements. Better yet, it always confirms ones own views. I want one of those too.

Anyway, what's your point? That there should be no political negotiations with Hamas, because of the "possibly self-fulfilling presumption that the test will produce the answers we don't like, as different kinds of tests have done before." Whatever that means.
What, exactly, is your argument?

Gene Schulman and Steve K seem to derive their (nonexistent) facts from their brimming-with-self confidence ideological positions. So far as I am aware, no serious study has claimed that the allies killed more people than they saved in Bosnia, Kosovo, or Libya.

If Gene Shulman and Steve K are right, it is indeed odd that the rebels were delighted with the apparently neo-colonial US/NATO intervention, and even today, following the unintended civilian deaths from some NATO actions, they hasten to reassert that they are not calling for an end to a bombing.

I guess they must be "naive" as well. Poor suckers--can you imagine that they thought that Obama's motives were good ones and that the "massive bombing" was helping them--actually was indispensable? It's good that they can be instructed by Steve K, so let's hope that he really doesn't mean it when he says such beliefs leave him speechless.

CK MacLeod said...

My app, JS, doesn't presume that even Hamas knows where Hamas really stands or would stand under x, y, or z hypothetical situations.

It does tell me this: If you assume (as Haniyeh and Hamas apparently do NOT assume) that appealing to American public opinion and reinforcing remnant Israeli left-liberalism is in the interest of the Palestinians, then Haniyeh made a "blunder."

When you make a real blunder, you and your people, and your would-be allies, pay a real price. Part of the price may be the greater difficulty people like yourself will face trying to explain to skeptical American audiences why Israel and its friends should conduct themselves as though peace with an Hamas-ified PA is possible, and therefore justifies concessions, as well as absorbing attacks from supposedly independent/extremist operatives without responding forcefully.

Haniyeh just re-aligned himself ideologically with those (more-)extremists in a way much more likely to make an impression in a way that abrogates more moderate-sounding statements. You can concoct all sorts of scenarios whereby it wasn't a blunder at all - either because Hamas is, in sports terms, "what we thought they were" or because they're dancing a two-step within an even more complicated choreography... Whatever the explanation or the proper description, Hamas' undiplomatic diplomacy may or may not have much effect on what "should" be done, but it may affect what can or will be done.

John Robertson said...

Haniyeh's remark was indeed stupid, certainly ill-timed, but IMO ought not be grounds for Israel and the US to derail the possibility of a re-unified Palestinian national movement - without which, the dog-and-pony show that the peace process now is becomes a complete charade.
As for Libya and US motives, personally I found Ryan Lizza's recent New Yorker piece very informative. I honestly believe that Obama believed he was doing the "right thing" by not standing aside when Qaddafi seemed to be threatening the rebels with annihilation. But I'm not so naive as to believe that he was oblivious to more "realist" considerations in re "projecting power."
Bottom line: the cost in treasure and prestige that the Libya adventure represents only hastens the coming US broad pull-back and decline. And that does not bode well for Israel.

Jerome Slater said...

But what evidence is there that an additional Obama motivation was to "project power?" I find that implausible--it suggests that in addition to the genuinely humanitarian motivation that we both agree was probably the predominant one, Obama welcomed the opportunity for a further US intervention--as if Iraq and Afghanistan wasn't sufficient.

I've always felt that there were two kinds of naivite about international politics. The first,and most obvious kind, is when one takes at face value the protestations of politicians or political leaders that they only are trying to do the morally right thing. However, though less obvious, it is also naive--meaning, unsophisticated--to always assume that moral sentiments are invariably merely hypocritical, covers for the "real" motives.

I hasten to add that I am not accusing you of such naivite--I'm just seizing the opportunity to make a general point. While it doesn't apply to you, it certainly applies to those who think they are being sophisticated but are only simplistic when they take it as axiomatic that all US actions are to be explained,in infantile Marxist terms, as "neo-imperialism."