Negotiating With Israeli Extremists and Pathologizing Militant Palestinians

By Yousef K.B.

The results of the Israeli elections are just coming in with the implication of the results in terms of who will lead the next government still up in the air.  What is very clear however is that there has been a tremendous swing to the right in the Israeli elections with the right-wing Likud and center-right Kadima (Kadima is comprised of many ex-Likud members) taking the top two shares of the votes, followed by the ultra-right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu of newcomer Avigdor Lieberman. The center-left Labour party won a surprising fourth place (don’t let the center-left label fool you as this party’s leader Ehud Barak was the defense minister and one of the chief planners of the recent atrocities committed in Gaza).


This shift to the right in Israeli elections presents a forceful turn to a politics that opposes comprehensive negotiations with Palestinians, favors military reprisals and attacks on Palestinians, as well as pushing for draconian security measures against Arab-Israeli citizens (top four party positions on the issues).  Avigdor Lieberman a champion of the settlements is the symbolic figure of this right-wing-turn with his call for loyalty oaths from Israeli Arabs, advocating capital punishment for Israeli Arab MPs who have met with Hamas officials, and opposition to the land-for-peace premise of the two-state solution.

Avigdor Lieberman is the head of ultra-right-wing party Yisrael Beitenu, which has won a suprising victory in the recent Israeli elections.  He holds a strategic position in negotiations over the next administration and symbolizes the turn to the right in Israeli politics.
Avigdor Lieberman is the head of ultra-right-wing party Yisrael Beitenu, which has won a suprising victory in the recent Israeli elections. He holds a strategic position in negotiations over the next administration and symbolizes the turn to the right in Israeli politics.

This outcome in Israel can be said to closely mirror the outcome of the last Palestinian elections in 2006 where Hamas was the surprising victor.   Both the right in Israel and Hamas have come out in opposition to the previous negotiation attempts and both propose much more “hard-line policies,” with hard-line being defined as opposition to the “peace process negotiation.”  In other words the mirror-effect is in terms of the discourse and rhetoric used around these parties.* Moreover the rise of both the right in Israel and Hamas in the occupied territories are similar, stemming from a disgruntled public that did not see advancement in terms of political settlement of the crisis, and saw domestic policy to be ridden with corruption and mismanagement (as the case of Ehud Olmert clearly signifies).

The similarities of Hamas to the right-turn in Israeli politics presents a good opportunity to see the explicit and gross double-standard and unequal treatment of Israeli politics and society as compared to that of Palestinians.  To see this, all you have to do is to ask if the media outlets, the UN security council, the countries in the quartet, as well as transnational and international institution will look at the Israeli parties as not worth dealing with and cut their ties with them?  Will the US cut their support to Israel, because they have “have one foot in politics and the other in terror” as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exclaimed after the victory of Hamas? Are we going to see the beginning of conversations about the nature of the Israeli electorate as willing to vote these type of “people” into power (simply consider these titles in newspapers: “terrorists voted into power,” “terrorist nominated as new PA prime minister,“Palestinians choose avowed enemy of Israel,” and many more such rhetoric was salient after the elections)?

This double standard reveals a telling paradigm used to look at Palestinian, namely that of pathologically violent and irrational people.  When Israelis elect such parties they are merely choosing people from amongst the political spectrum of right, center, and left, that even though each carrying a specific political outcome that we might agree or disagree with, all are a valid part of a democratic processes and deliberations occurring within civil society and hence reflected in the government.  Thus these political transformations represent a characteristic of civilized existence.  On the other hand if the same thing occurs within Palestinian territories the people voting for Hamas are not necessarily rational people engaging in rational national conversation in terms of strategies for the future, dealing with the failure of a past strategy, namely Fattah, and showing their anger and frustration by allowing a different party to come in, but rather they are showing the disturbing feature of Palestinian society, its traditionalism, its reversion to dangerous notions of holy war, and reflective of a culture of violence.  The most nuanced of these positions will say that of course this violence is not pathological but rather it is learned through the culture that facilitates and nurtures this thinking.

This discourse of pathology legitimates the way in which Israeli actions are allowed to take place, and enables the way that the US and Europe easily defend the violence of the Israeli state, and equate the Palestinian resistance to Israel’s advanced army.  This paradigm is part of the ideological apparatus to build legitimacy for Israeli actions that otherwise would be deemed criminal, vicious, and unbecoming of civilized and humane societies.

The Counter Argument: Don’t compare the Israeli Right to Terrorists!
The clear critique of my argument will be that it is impossible to compare Lieberman or Netanyahu with Hamas, because the Israeli parties recognize the position of Palestinians with Netanyahu advocating Palestinian self-rule and Lieberman pushing a unique “land-for-land” program.**   On the other hand Hamas clearly is not even willing to recognize the state of Israel, renounce violence, or agree to former agreements, seemingly easy propositions.

The Counter to the Counter Argument: Faulty Assumptions and Assertions

These critiques are faulty both in their assumptions regarding the Hamas position as well as the assertion of Israeli desire for a two-state solution. Clearly none of the Israeli parties have renounced violence as a way of dealing with the situation, achieving political demands, and always push for their “right to defend themselves.”  Moreover Israeli administration after administration has played games with the definition and requirements of agreements with the Palestinians, simply examine the expansion of settlements under the Labor and Kadmia governments.  They have clearly gone astray from these agreements as well as proclaiming at times that the agreements don’t hold as they did when they surrounded Yasser Arafat’s compound in Ramallah in 2002, or currently with Netanyahu calling for “an alternative to the peace process.”  Thus clearly in these two regards the Israeli parties hold very similar lines as Hamas does, with the only difference being that Israeli parties speak as a government entity whereas Hamas is a social movement.

In terms of the “recognizing the Israeli right to exist,” it is somewhat baffling how “experts” miss the simple political reality that exists for Hamas.  The recognition of the Israeli state is 1) a leverage point to be negotiated over and 2) a concession forcing the Palestinians to recognize Israel even though its borders are not defined, and without recognition of Palestine’s statehood or demarcation of its borders.  This is a risky concession on the Palestinian side, which makes difficult negotiations over its borders with a fluid state on the one hand that is consistently expanding its size, and a non-existent state on the other hand, that lacks the military and diplomatic prowess to stop the expansion.  Moreover the PLO attempted this calculation with Arafat in the Oslo peace accords, the results of which has been minimal without much change to the realities on the ground, which in itself was one of the main reasons of the rise of Hamas.  Thus Hamas has no rational or strategic reason***  to accept these conditions.  It is then important to understand that it is these reason why Hamas won’t commit to the three conditions provided by the quartet, and not some terror driven religious interpretation of Jihad or struggle.  If this is understood, then negotiation with Hamas all of a sudden is not such a bad idea!

Having shown the strategic reason why Hamas would not agree to the condition provided by the quartet, it is also important to realize what the two-state solution means.  As I have laid out in a previous article the two-state solution is a strategic goal of Israel, thus having that position for an Israeli politician is not a sign of his liberal or humanitarian credentials but rather simply a reflection of the emerging consensus within the Israeli political establishment of the two-state-solution tactic as I have explained it.

Putting it all together:

Israeli parties are never seen as beyond negotiations.  Their ludicrous propositions are never taken as a reason to stop talking to them (i.e. Lieberman, Netanyahu, and others).  Their criminal pasts are never seen as a reason to not engage them in negotiations or diplomatic efforts (i.e. Sharon, Begin, and others).   Staying within the bounds of what is considered reasonable political positions and what is legal according to international law are not criteria that Israeli political parties or forces are assessed on when it comes to diplomatic relations.  This explicit double standard, albeit due to western alliance with Israel and having congruent interests, is legitimated and rationalized through different views towards Israeli and Palestinian political capacities.  Israeli attitudes and political positions no matter how abhorrent are respected because they represent the political discourse of a democratic society who has complex thoughts and rationales.  Palestinian attitudes are only rationale, civilized, and respect-worthy if they only reach a certain level of resistance against Israeli actions.  As Palestinian attitudes increase in militancy (violent or non-violent) towards the occupation, the more the rhetoric changes towards them explaining this rise as a reversion towards pathological violence, traditional pre-modern attitudes, and religious demagogy.  This becomes especially true if the Palestinian attitudes start to push for violent resistance, or resistance based on religious values and understandings.  Therefore marginalizing radical and militant resistance to the occupation of Palestine, no matter how popular, is justified by making it rooted in irrationality and uncivilized discourse that should not be tolerated in today’s world.  So then it is easy to disregard what would objectively be regarded as reasonable (if taken from their point of view) and strategic positions of Hamas as grounds for not engaging them at all, and blaming Palestinian attitudes for their marginalization.

If negotiations with every extremist party that comes out of Israel are possible, the same should be true of Palestinian parties. The only reason against that is the assertion of the “pathology of violence” of the colonized, espoused by every criminal colonial regime and their allies!

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*It is important to note that the political parties in Israel and the occupied territories are very different.  In fact within the occupied territories Hamas represents a the most impoverished masses, most of whom are huddled into refugee camps in Gaza.  The split between Hamas and Fattah is based on a changing social base, with Fattah representing more the elites of the Palestinian population (of course elite is a relative term here) and Hamas the masses who at times were forgotten by the corrupt elites of Fattah.  We can look at Frantz Fanon’s description of the national Bourgeoisie in the Wretched of the Earth for a theoretical description of the position that a party such as Fattah would take.

**The Likud platform rejects a Palestinian state, proposing in return Palestinian self-rule.  This self-rule would not allow the Palestinians to have things that can be considered a threat to Israeli security.  Netanyahu includes such things as an “army, control of airspace or the Jordan Valley.”

*** Beyond the criminal atrocities committed against its people by Israel and supported by the US and Europe, with the rest of the world remaining largely silent.

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