Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hamas Must Renounce Violence

Such is the wisdom of historian Mark LeVine, who argues that Hamas will never meet the goal of Palestinian self-determination until it abandons a strategy of wanton and astonishing violence that has so far achieved nothing. After surveying the history of the conflict and the failure of terrorism as a tool of liberation, he offers this recommendation to Hamas:

This revelation offers Hamas and the Palestinian leadership more broadly the chance to change the larger terms of the debate over the future of Israel/Palestine. It could help move Palestinian society (and with it Israelis society, however reluctantly) away from the paradigm of two nationalist movements engaged in a competition over territory—which Palestinians have never been strong enough to win and Israel not brutal enough to “finish the job” of 1948—and towards a common future. This process can only begin with the conversion of Israelis and Palestinians to the idea of sharing sovereignty, territory and even identity in order to achieve the greatest good for the most members of the two societies.

LeVine endorses a non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation, an approach which I know seems hopelessly naive and optimistic in the wake of three weeks of conflict and 1300 Palestinian dead (civilians and Hamas fighters alike.) But he argues persuasively that Hamas cannot hope to achieve any of its goals by violence, let alone hope to reduce the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, leaving a turn to non-violence and "civil disobedience" as the only possible conclusion. He argues convincingly that Hamas' campaigns of terror have only normalized Israel's occupation, and given Israeli hard-liners justification for periodic incursions into Gaza (and permitted many Americans to believe that such justifications were legitimate.)

It should not need pointing out that it has always been assumed by myself and my co-bloggers that acts of terrorism by Hamas (or any terrorist organization) were neither justifiable, nor in most cases, effective. At best, the motivation behind such acts is understandable, if only in the sense that one can understand how desperation would drive some men and women to commit atrocities (this is hardly the case in most acts of terrorism, such as the 9/11 attack or the 2008 Mumbai attacks where the motivation is generally grievances that fail to justify such violence or triumphalist Islamic "theology.") The reason we criticize Israel to the degree that we do, is because Israel is capable of the greatest violence in these campaigns (look up the total Israeli and Palestinian dead since the First Intifada and tell me that I'm wrong) and because Israel's justifications for such violence, that it can grant them some measure of peace and security, ring hollow. But it should never be thought that Israel is the only player that deliberately chooses its course of action, and has in the last two decades chosen poorly. A true resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only possible when both sides recognize the futility of ever greater acts of violence. Unfortunately at moments like these, such a realization seems farther away then ever.

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