Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hamas Shooting: Senseless Violence

By Liam Bailey

This article was originally about a glimmer of light shining on my hope that the new Palestinian unity government could bring a brighter Palestinian future. Unfortunately before I began writing an Israeli utility worker was shot and seriously wounded near a Gaza/Israel crossing. Hamas claimed responsibility for the shooting and two mortar attacks causing no casualties. Whether this has extinguished the light completely or not remains to be seen, but it has certainly slowed the momentum which seemed to finally be swinging in the Palestinians favour.

Firstly, there is hope in the fact that the new unity government is giving birth to the first real signs of disagreement between Israel and the Bush administration. Israel is advocating the new Palestinian Authority unity government receive the same treatment as its Hamas predecessor, i.e. financial strangulation and literal starvation in the form of an aid embargo and Israel withholding tax revenues. In short, financial sanctions that usually only the U.N. Security Council can impose but as usual, Israel and the U.S. can do what they want. The embargo will continue until the Palestinians succumb to the three demands and therein surrender the little dignity they have left. The three demands are to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and adhere to interim peace agreements, none of which are reciprocated by Israel.

The U.S. advocates a continuance of the policy enacted before the Mecca unity deal was reached, i.e. excluding Hamas completely from any negotiations, meetings or peace process, and dealing only with members of the more moderate Fatah party within the unity government. This is still the wrong track but the Bush administration disagreeing with Israel for the first time over dealing with the Palestinian government suggests that peace may be becoming more of an administration priority than keeping Israel sweet.

Israel's pressure for the world to maintain the financial force-field around the Palestinian Authority has continued since the new unity government was announced and amplified since the government was formed. The force-field is struggling to hold. The world knows how long the Palestinians have tried and failed to reach unity and refuses to ignore, or worse, as Israel wants, continue to punish them for what can only be viewed as a step in the right direction.

If the blockade were a wall, the foundations would have shook when Norway's deputy foreign minister Raymond Johansen ended Europe's diplomatic blockade by visiting the P.A. During the visit he announced that his country was also lifting the financial blockade and resuming normal relations with the P.A. under the unity government. The icing on the cake: Norway's decision came after meeting, not with a moderate Fatah member of the cabinet, but "an unreformed terrorist" as Israel calls Hamas leader and P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

When I read about Norway's decision it got my hopes up that such a move could make it easier for others to follow suit, and may create a domino effect capable of bringing down a sizeable chunk of the financial blockade wall. However what is really necessary is normalization of Israel/Palestine relations, most notably because of the 100's of millions in tax revenues Israel has withheld from the Hamas government and will continue to withhold from the unity government. It is possible that such a domino effect could have prompted a change in U.S. responses and in turn bring Israel/Palestine relations closer to normalization.

We will never know, because the Norwegian minister hadn't even left the PA when all the hope his announcement caused was dashed by Hamas militants acting against their own interests, their own government and their own people. All Hamas' first attacks against Israel in months did was strengthen the financial wall and weaken the potential for Norway's bold move to become a significant turn in European opinion in the Palestinians favour.

It is more than possible that other states would have followed the Norwegian precedent, especially given the recent U.N. report on the devastating poverty Palestinians are enduring because of the blockade. It would have been in the PA unity government's best interests to maintain the ceasefire thus making such transitions far easier for the states involved. In other words non-violence could potentially have harmed Israel far more than violence. Therefore Mar. 19's shooting and mortar attacks were definitely senseless violence.

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