Sunday, June 29, 2003

Ha'aretz's Zvi Bar'el pointed out an aspect of the Palestinian ceasefire (or "hudna") that I hadn't thought about- the reincorporation of the extremists into the Palestinian Authority:

this is not merely a step intended to kick
the ball back to the Israeli-American court. The importance of the hudna, if obtained, lies in the two objectives the PA will achieve from it. First and foremost, it will bring the opposition groups and the Hamas and Jihad, which were not part of the PLO, back into a broad national framework under a common leadership.

The second goal, deriving from the first, is the implementation of Abu Mazen's vision to have one law, one security force and one leadership. The PA will be spared going to war against Palestinian citizens to disarm them. The Hamas' weapons will become an inseparable part of the Palestinian defense establishment. The new Palestinian leadership will also be able to relieve the Hamas and Islamic Jihad of the title "terror organizations" and show the world a relevant leadership speaking with one voice and representing one policy.
This possibility highlights one of the difficulties with the situation- the question of purity vs. utility. As the article pointed out, the Israeli position as it stands essentially amounts to a call for civil war within the Palestinian community, as it provides no opportunity for Hamas and the other extremist groups to reintegrate themselves into any sort of "normal" Palestinian state. This means that no Israeli has to worry about the ethical ramifications of making a "deal with the devil", and there's something to that.

Unfortunately, it also means there is little or no incentive for anybody aligned with or sympathetic with Hamas to agree to any sort of compromise when it comes to the makeup of a future Palestinian state. It rewards extremism, because the unlikely possibility of ejecting the Israelis becomes (in their mind) a more rational route than the certainty of (at best) irrelevance or (more likely ) imprisonment and death, even when not considering the existing difficulty of dealing with what is, until now, a hated enemy.

On the other hand, as Mr. Bar'el points out elsewhere in the article, if the Palestinian people decide that their lot is better under the hudna, then it's quite possible that groups like Hamas will bend, if only to avoid political and social unpopularity, irrelevance, and impotence. This is not impossible, and I'd argue that it's not even improbable- we know as westerners that politicians look to which way the wind is blowing in order to maintain power, and I honestly doubt that the leaders of the extremists don't understand power politics.

It's also possible that they will refuse to give up their "vision" of "liberating" their former lands. Political organizations, however, have a way of gravitating towards the position of greatest influence and power even when individuals resist it. This is, I believe, one of the reasons why Hamas has become so influencial- extremism has many and sundry rewards in situations like the Palestinians', and this relationship between power, influence, and extremism has a reinforcing effect that any student of history could easily recognize. Fortunately, although it's harder to recognize, I believe that properly rewarded moderation has the same effect, and it would appear by his position and actions that Abbas believes the same thing. After all, he's staking his political career on it.

So, what is Israel going to do, and how would the Palestinians themselves react to a lessening of tension? In both situations, for both parties, it seems to revolve around one key question: is it better to have a righteous conflict, or to give up that virtuousness in the name of peace and prosperity? The South Africans did it, in the wake of brutal violence and, yes, terrorism. Can the Palestinians and Israelis do the same?

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