The West cannot abandon Hamas, Palestinian people

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

The subject of Palestine dominates United States foreign policy in the Middle East, but subtly: It is the extremely influential Israeli lobbying committees on Capitol Hill that incorporate their personal interests into our American foreign policy, much to our detriment. Those interests do not benefit U.S. national security; instead, Israeli interests cause further chaos, and Americans must bear the brunt of it all.

Israel has engineered an American national agenda by funding groups as public relations agents, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Like successful advertisements on television encouraging you to buy into their product, lobbies for Israel have mastered subtle psychological techniques that convince Americans they are protecting their own national interests by supporting Israel. Recently, they have done so by focusing their greatest effort on disillusioning Americans’ perceptions of Hamas, the newly elected Palestinian government, as a tool to stop financially supporting Palestinians.

Israeli officials have sought to capitalize politically on the outcome of the Palestinian elections, diverting the attention of the international community away from Israel’s violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the occupied territories and refocusing it on the newly elected Palestinian government. But Israel refuses to recognize the new government of its closest neighbor. While there is no international legal obligation on Israel to recognize the Palestinian government, its aggressive measures to undermine the government constitute an attack on the right to self-determination by the Palestinians. This right is recognized by the UN Charter and upheld by the UN General Assembly, Security Council, Commission on Human Rights, and the International Court of Justice.

By freezing funds, lobbying against international assistance, and impeding Palestinian security services, Israeli officials have been starving the Palestinian economy. Comparing these actions to “an appointment with a dietician,” the special adviser to the Israeli prime minister, Dov Weissglas, stated that “the Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.”

In the last 17 years, Hamas has grown very strong as a resistance movement among mainstream Palestinians who have been brutally occupied by Israel. Though it is a democratically elected government, Hamas has lost almost all international support and essentially all of its assistance. As a result, and as Mahmoud Abbas made clear in an April 21 BBC article, Palestinians are facing a humanitarian catastrophe.

This international abandonment casts doubt on the credibility of our drive for democracy in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. After all, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter led the Carter Center/National Democratic Institute observation of the Palestinian elections in January and concluded that officials were elected in a fair and honest manner, sticking to American democratic values.

This plays perfectly into the hands of Israel. By cutting off all contact with the Palestinian government, the United States is only dialoging with Israel. Lack of communication with the Palestinians promotes the stereotype and illusion that Hamas is a radical Islamist terrorist organization, which is untrue. This is best put in a recent article written by the Council for the National Interest Foundation (CNIF): “Many Americans do not understand that Hamas is a typical anti-colonial insurgency responding to an Israeli occupation and what amounts to government terror against Palestinian civilians. It is not at all related to al-Qa’ida or 9/11.”

Americans do not see or read about how for a year Hamas has held a unilateral ceasefire with Israel even though Israel continues its illegal and immoral assassinations, called “extra-judicial executions,” that have killed more innocent Palestinian civilians than supposed militants. If an American majority knew of these activies, it would be outraged.

Moreover, Israel continues its illegal, internationally renounced, exclusively Jewish settlement expansions into what is left of the Palestinian homeland. In fact, as the CNIF noted, “Our $3 billion of direct aid to Israel each year is being used to destroy any peace process. It is being used to build illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank that will soon contain eight percent of the Israeli population (around 400,000 Jewish Israelis) and take over 25 percent or more of the West Bank, the heartland for a future Palestinian state. This is the single greatest obstacle to peace.”

Lobbies for Israel have shaped American policy by influencing Congress and, albeit indirectly, the public at large. How have they possibly managed to manipulate the minds of Americans, to convince us that helping Israel is more important than our own national interests and our own safety? According to a recent study by professors at Harvard and the University of Chicago, “AIPAC’s success is due to its ability to reward legislators and Congressional candidates who support its agenda and to punish those who challenge it. Money is critical to U.S. elections and AIPAC makes sure that its friends get strong financial support from the myriad pro-Israel political action committees.”

Is it truly in our best interest to cut off funding to Hamas or, for that matter, for the rest of the Western world to do the same thing? This only endangers our security and national interests, because isolating Hamas encourages the group to do what starved people must do to survive: find financial aid from any source for its people. Hamas’ history has shown its commitment to the health and care of its people; is it supposed to grovel to the rest of the world, compromising its people’s integrity, just to provide for them what every human deserves? Of course not — Hamas will turn to the only other countries that are willing to give them aid: Syria and Iran.

This will further isolate the United States from key Middle Eastern countries and escalate animosity due to miscommunication and the United States’ unwise foreign policy that is heavily biased toward Israel. Daniel Levy, the former advisor to prime minister Ehud Barak, summed up our foreign policy quite nicely in a Ha’aretz interview: “Defending the occupation has done to the American pro-Israel community what living as an occupier has done to Israel — muddied both its moral compass and its rational self-interest compass.”

From September 2000 until March 2006, 3982 Palestinians and 1084 Israelis have been killed in the conflict, and this includes many children: 708 Palestinians and 123 Israelis. It is time for us to put our foot down, start an open dialogue with the Palestinian government, and do what is in everyone’s best national interest. As Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, stated, “We in Hamas are for peace and want to put an end to the bloodshed. Though we are the victims, we offer our hands in peace, but only peace that is based on justice.”