THERE have been two differences between the Israeli military attacks on Gaza this week and similar attacks or incursions in the past. The first, obviously, is the unprecedented scale of the aerial bombardment. The second is the extent to which Israel has been successful in getting other Western nations to join the chorus, “Hamas is to blame”. Israeli spokesman in Jerusalem and ambassadors appearing on TV in Washington, London and elsewhere, have claimed that the action was necessary because of the risk to Israeli civilians from rockets fired from Gaza where Hamas is in control. One of the difficulties in dealing with the Israel-Palestinian problem is to know where to start. Do you go back to the Balfour Declaration of 1919 by which Britain agreed to support the case for a Zionist state in Palestine, or to the creation of the Israel State in 1948, or to the Six Day War in 1967, or to the Chabra and Chatila massacres of refugees in 1982, or to the suicide bombings of the 1990s -- or to any of the other events, major and minor, that have led to anger and resentment on both sides? In the particular case of Gaza and Hamas I think it is necessary to go back only to January 25, 2006, when a parliamentary election in the Palestinian territories - the West Bank and Gaza - was won by Hamas, defeating the incumbent Fatah movement. The election was declared to be free and fair by all observers but the result was not to the liking of Israel or the United States, Britain and the European Union. Over a period of many months these countries worked to undermine the authority of Hamas, partly by withdrawing aid assistance provided to the previous government, partly by refusing to take part in negotiations and, in the case of Israel, by refusing to pay customs dues that were owed to the Palestinian government. The main reason advanced for this subversive campaign was that the constitution of Hamas drawn up in 1987 included a reference to “the destruction of Israel”. However, the fact that the Hamas manifesto for the
2006 election did not repeat this phrase and instead expressed support for “the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital” was ignored. Also ignored was the Hamas declaration of support for the 2002 Saudi Arabian Peace initiative envisaging the recognition of Israel by all Arab states in return for a reinstatement of 1967 borders (an initiative rejected by Israel which, I understand, has recently been drawn to Barack Obama's attention). In this space throughout 2006 I wrote that Hamas should not be cold-shouldered but instead be given the chance to moderate its position on Israel over a reasonable period of time. Hamas agreed to form a government of national unity with Fatah but at the same time Fatah's security services were being rearmed and trained with US funds and in June 2007 a minor civil war broke out. Hamas moved its base into Gaza, creating an independent province of the Palestinian Authority and has remained there ever since. I am satisfied that this potted history is broadly accurate. What it shows is that Hamas was robbed of its electoral victory in 2006 by a conspiracy between Israel, Britain and the United States. The best chance for a long time of a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians was lost: Britain and the United States, having preached about democracy in the Middle East, actually worked to undo the best instance of it ever seen there. Blair and Bush, especially, have much to answer for.

Is it any wonder that Hamas does not trust Israel? But, as I have said many times, no peace will come until Hamas is recognised as the legitimate choice of the Palestinian people and invited to sit at the negotiating table. No bombs will change that essential truth.


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