Sunday, December 25, 2005

Nixon is to China as Hamas is to... ? 

A thoughtful commenter, Joe, asked the following in response to a previous post:

My brother and I were discussing the possibility of Hamas winning the elections. It is my belief, counterintuitive though it seems to be, that Israel has a better chance of reaching a deal with Hamas than with Fatah. I think there is NO chance of ever reaching a deal with Fatah, they are too worried about the militant, extremist faction, that is, Hamas. Hamas has no such difficulty, if they reach a deal they don't have to worry about repercussions from Fatah. Remember, Nixon went to China. Like I said, I know that it seems counterintuitive, but I wonder what you think.
It is often said: Only Nixon can go to China. That is, only the staunchest opponent of communism can succeed in reaching out to it. The statement embodies a powerful insight whose logic applies even in Israel. It is now almost axiomatic that, at least in the post-Rabin era, only the Likud -- or perhaps Kadima these days -- can bring peace. More recently the axiom is more specific: Only former general Ariel Sharon can bring peace. Does the equivalent logic point to Hamas as potential peace-making warriors?

As Joe points out, Hamas has several advantages it could exploit should it decide peace with Israel was desirable:
Yet I remain unconvinced. Here's why:

Hamas, unlike Nixon and Sharon, insists on a fight to the death. While Sharon has strong military credentials, his battles have been fought to counter threats to Israel's existence rather than to battle eternally for the destruction of neighboring states. Hamas fights a completely different war, publically sworn to fight unceasingly until the Jewish State is annihilated. One of the two is in a tree he can climb down from. The other has climbed into a hot air balloon that can't be exited without some serious puncturing or a very long fall followed by a very loud splat.

Unlike Israel, Hamas has neglected to prepare its people for peace, to put it mildly. Sharon (and Nixon) governed when outreach was at least conceivable, when the attitudes of significant segments of their populations had softened over time. Hamas, on the other hand, is reaching for power as the Palestinian population marches ever farther from the idea of peaceful coexistence, encouraged by Hamas to cheer suicide bombing of innocents whle opposing any and all compromise. They've done their best to ensure any move toward peace garners them no reward from their constituency.

Hamas convinces Israel that taking any chances for peace with Hamas risks catastrophe rather than stagnation. If Nixon had not gone to China, the world would not have collapsed and the US would have coped. Had Sharon not carried out disengagement, it would have had to wait a few years. But the consequences of being wrong with regard to Hamas are existential for Israel. While Fatah fights Israel and maintains maximalist demands, Hamas goes further, insisting on nothing but the complete, non-negotiable destruction of the Jewish State. It would be naive to give their genocidal ambitions a free pass on the grounds they lack the capacity to carry them out -- after all, they openly ally with Iran, publically threatening attacks in support of Iran's drive for nukes -- just to give the strongest example.

Hamas executes strategy formed by group consensus and attributed to divine will -- hard to change, especially with no individual leader like Sharon or Nixon working to change it. Nixon and Sharon were leaders who could change direction when it was called for. But any softening of Hamas policy is inhibited by group dynamics and cheering from numerous external peanut galleries. When Nixon and Sharon went against their past histories, they were yelled at by those who felt betrayed. Anyone in Hamas who betrays the party line and approaches Israel won't be yelled at, unless you count the famous last words: "Allahu Akhbar!"

Any Hamas-brokered peace could not be relied upon as anything more than a tactic subject to the larger eternal goal of Israel's destruction. Should Hamas gain power, I will of course pray they make a wise course change and negotiate a peaceful coexistence with Israel. In theory they could get away with it by using their unique positioning within Palestinian society to sell the idea that nothing more can be achieved. But even if they did, the silent, unpronounced word "yet" hanging off the end of that last sentence would call into question the result, undermining any such peace. When Nixon went to China, his trip, backed by the stability of the United States government, made a strong and reliable statement. Should Sharon sign off on a peace agreement, there is every reason to believe Israel would uphold it. But even if it's true that only Hamas can bring peace with Israel, there is no reason to believe that peace would survive the first day Israel relaxed its guard enough to enjoy it. Frankly, that's not peace.

Maybe Hamas can bring peace, but not today. They have no idealogical room to reach for it, their people have been trained to reject it, and they have made the risks to Israel too high to gamble a nation's life on it. Maybe someday things will be different. Until then, Sharon's separation strategy positions Israel for the long wait, until the hypothetical day Palestinians are ready to respond to yet another Israeli offer with a counter-offer rather than an Intifada.
Technorati Tags: , , , ,

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: