Hamas, not Israel, is threat to peace and stability

Hamas is the greatest barrier to Mideast peace

By Shimon Fogel, Calgary Herald, December 5, 2012

With a ceasefire now in place between Israel and terror groups in Gaza, the dust is starting to settle from another painful episode in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we can draw a single conclusion from recent events, it is one you may not expect to hear from the organized Canadian Jewish community.

The Palestinians deserve better. The children of Gaza deserve a future of democracy, prosperity, peace and — yes — even statehood. And Hamas is the greatest single obstacle to the realization of these goals.

I write this not to be glib, but to expose an important disconnect in how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is usually portrayed. For Canada’s Jewish community, the moral equivalence often implied in coverage of Hamas and Israel is frustrating and saddening.

Simply put, almost four million Israelis — one-half of the entire country — were forced to experience a 21st century version of the London Blitz. Were it not for Israel’s costly investments in warning systems, bomb shelters and the Iron Dome defence system, which intercepted hundreds of missiles en route to major cities, the human toll would be staggering. The psychological impact on southern Israelis, where post traumatic stress disorder is prevalent, particularly among children, is nonetheless devastating.

But what’s often missed is that the daily bombardment of missiles into Israel is nothing less than a double war crime. Just as the targeting of Israeli civilians is illegal under international law, so too is Hamas’s use of Gazans as human shields. Unfortunately, much of the western media coverage tends to reduce the conflict to a one-dimensional Israeli-versus-Palestinian narrative.

It’s time for a paradigm shift in the West. To begin, it’s time we viewed this issue not as a simplistic conflict between two sides, but rather as a struggle between two very different sets of values.

The violent aftershocks felt across the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring have exposed a prevailing misunderstanding of the link between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the region as a whole. Rather than being the engine of Middle East strife, the decades-long conflict that flared recently is in fact an extension of deeper trends that plague the region. Those trends are evident in the historic shift in recent years from corrupt Arab nationalist regimes (such as the Hosni Mubarak government in Egypt) to fundamentalist sharia-seeking parties like the Muslim Brotherhood.

This has similarly played out within the Palestinian Authority in the struggle between the classic nationalist Fatah and fundamentalist Hamas factions. Hamas has gained strength over its Fatah rivals in recent years, as seen in its violent takeover of Gaza in 2007 and subsequent missile fire into Israel.

The sad reality is that neither secular corruption nor creeping radicalism are in the interests of the Palestinian people. But as events in the region have shown, those with extreme religious-political values have increasingly enjoyed the upper hand over moderates. Without a strong foundation of democratic norms, including minority rights and a commitment to resolving disputes peacefully, moderates are at a natural disadvantage.

All of which leads us to why we must rethink the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Liberal democratic values are faction-neutral, in that their emergence would pave the way for a peace that benefits both sides. Our organization has long held that we do not see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a zero-sum game. In fact, this is the very premise of the negotiated two-state solution. A future for Israelis and Palestinians alike need not come at the expense of the other.

However, this can only unfold in an environment where the basic norms that underpin liberal democracy are accepted and upheld. This includes the understanding that mutual compromise will be necessary, signed agreements will be upheld, and signatories will prevent extremists from using violence to derail peace.

Hamas could choose to become a partner for peace by accepting the international quartet’s conditions for legitimacy. Those conditions — to renounce violence, accept Israel’s right to exist and abide by past Israeli-Palestinian agreements — are modest by any objective standard. Such a momentous decision would make life safer for both Israelis and Gazans and be a bold first step toward the realization of peace and a Palestinian state.

But that choice remains in the hands of the Hamas leadership. For our part, those of us in Canada who care about the future of the region must appreciate the role that competing values play in this conflict. This begins with refusing to see Israel and Hamas as morally equivalent — and understanding that Hamas itself is the greatest obstacle to a positive Palestinian future.

Shimon Fogel is CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

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