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Israel should accept Hamas’ demands

Palestinian boys play in the rubble of Gaza International Airport on July 15, 2007, following an Israeli military incursion earlier that day. (AFP photo)

Palestinian boys play in the rubble of Gaza International Airport on July 15, 2007, following an Israeli military incursion earlier that day. (AFP photo)

This column appeared in Arab News on July 27, 2014:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

It is amazing that more than three weeks after the start of this Israeli aggression on Gaza, no one is discussing the proposal of the Palestinian group to put an end to hostilities. The 10 demands of Hamas are nothing extraordinary; on the contrary, they are items that have been discussed several times with Israel in the past but never implemented.

The Hamas demands include release of more than 400 Palestinian prisoners arrested by Israel after June 23 when three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and allegedly killed by Palestinians; an end to the naval and land blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt, with the full reopening of border crossings, which have basically been closed for the past seven years; establishment of an international airport and seaport for Gaza, and the permanent reopening of the Rafah crossing with Egypt under UN supervision; rehabilitation of the industrial zones in Gaza; that Israel refrain from interfering with the unity government between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank; and finally, expansion of the fishing zone in the Mediterranean Sea by six nautical miles. In exchange, Hamas promises to cease all hostilities against Israel for the next 10 years.

It is ironic that Gaza did once have an international airport financed with US, Saudi and European money, opened in 1998 by US President Bill Clinton and the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the late Yasser Arafat. Palestinian Airlines had flights from the airport to Cairo, Jeddah, Amman, Dubai, Doha and Istanbul. Unfortunately, the Israelis shut the airport down after the second Palestinian Intifada broke out in September 2000, and destroyed the 2.2 mile runway in December 2001 after an attack killed four Israeli soldiers. The Israelis also bombed the radar center. Today the airport remains in ruins, only emphasizing the sense of isolation that the Gaza population feel being cut-off from the rest of the world by the Israeli blockade of the territory.

The resounding silence that came from the Israelis and Americans to the Hamas proposal was not surprising. After all, it’s no secret that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hates Hamas, but likes to have them there in Gaza to derail peace talks with the Palestinians, and to ultimately prevent the formation of a free and independent Palestinian state, composed of Gaza and the West Bank. A radical and heavily armed Hamas launching missiles into Israel every two years, coupled with the growing number of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, authorized by the Netanyahu government, are the perfect excuse for the Israelis to never reach a final peace treaty with the Palestinians and so leave them living under the punitive and unforgiving fist of Israel.

The Israeli columnist Ben-Dror Yemini of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper partly agrees with me, writing that Israel should accept all the demands of Hamas, and even more, in exchange for the Palestinian group to disarm. He says it is necessary to demonstrate the willingness of Israel to negotiate a cease-fire and a durable peace, especially now that Israel is suffering both in the court of international public opinion because of the more than 864 Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza by the heavy Israeli bombardment, including over a hundred children, and more than 5,700 injured.
But it is extremely unlikely that Hamas will disarm. After all, what will it win in return? An independent Palestinian state, totally free from the control of Israel? No. And besides, no country in the world would accept being totally unarmed and at the mercy of its former enemy (Israel), which has the sixth largest army in the world and nuclear weapons. These demands are unrealistic.

What we saw this week once again was the shameful support of the administration of US President Barack Obama of the brutal Israeli offensive in Gaza, using US bombs paid for by American taxpayers to kill innocent civilians. According to calculations by the UN itself, only 110 of the more than 864 Palestinians killed in Gaza so far were members of Hamas. The American scholar Stephen Walt wrote a great article on The World Post website this week  entitled “AIPAC Is the Only Explanation for America’s Morally Bankrupt Israel Policy”, saying that the only explanation for the morally bankrupt US policy of how to deal with Israel can only be explained by the power and influence that pro-Israel lobbyists, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, have on most American politicians and the US Congress. And I have to note that there are many pro-Israel lobby groups on the Christian Right also. This has led to a paralysis of truth among American politicians, who are terrified of telling the truth when Palestinians are massacred by Israel, for fear that they will be punished by these pressure groups in upcoming elections. If an American politician has the audacity to criticize Israel publicly, do not doubt that in the next election pro-Israel lobbyists will not spare money to help competitors, funding attack ads on TV and radio.

If Israel accepted Hamas’ demands, it would force both sides to have to make efforts to show they were sincere in implementing the accord. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is enough goodwill in the Netanyahu government. It’s too hawkish and would rather play the role of victim and continuously blame Hamas for all of its problems.