The latest ceasefire between Hamas and Israel calls for halt in hostilities, opening of Gaza’s crossings, and widening of the territory’s fishing zone. After a month, the two sides would discuss two issues of importance. For the Gazans, it is the construction of a Gaza seaport. For Israel, it is the exchange of remains of Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza for the release of Hamas prisoners. (1)
Yet, there are at least two reasons rooted in the past behavior of Israel and US that would suggest we should not be too optimistic about prospects of success for this latest agreement.
First, Israel has not followed through with similar promises to ease the blockade of Gaza. For example, even when rocket attacks had stopped almost completely after the ceasefire agreement in June 2008, Israel was allowing only about 700 truckloads of goods into Gaza in November – December or about what would have gone through in a single day without a blockade. (2)
Over the past seven years more generally, as Amnesty International stated in a recent piece:
“Enough has been allowed through [by Israel] for the Gazans to survive – but only just.
[A]t least a third are without clean water because Israel has blocked entry of sufficient
fuel and the spare parts to repair damaged sewage works. Fishermen are restricted
to a three-mile zone… and there have been heavy restrictions on the import of raw
materials and cement.
… [As result s]ome 80 per cent of the population is now dependent on barely sufficient
humanitarian aid…” (3)
Second, there is little in US politics that would raise hope for success of the agreement. The US supports Israel’s opposition to any reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. To do so would be to form a more representative negotiating front. Both countries have refused to talk to Hamas arguing that it is a terrorist organization. However, as Oxford University Professor Avi Shlaim notes:
“[D}espite its terrible Charter, Hamas is led by pragmatic political leaders who have
settled for a two-state solution along the 1967 lines, and who have made every effort
to end the conflict by diplomatic means. A major move in this direction was the
reconciliation accord between Hamas and Fatah and the formation, on 2 June (2014),
of a national unity government. This Ramallah-based government consists of Fatah
leaders, independent political figures, and technocrats; it does not include a single
Hamas-affiliated minister. And it fully meets the three principal Quartet criteria to
qualify as a negotiating partner: recognize Israel; respect past agreements; and
renounce violence.” (4)
Yet, Netanyahu denounced the accord as a vote for terror and the US expressed their disappointment. They warned Fatah of complications in the long running “peace process.” (5) A similar accord was rejected by Israel and US in 2011. (6)
Moreover, the US Senate, without a single nay vote, passed a resolution on July 18 in support of Israel. Blaming Hamas for the destruction in Gaza, the resolution called on Fatah to dissolve their unity government with Hamas and condemn the rocket attacks from Gaza. (7) Then in early August, Congress approved $225 million in extra funding for Israel’s Iron Dome system. The vote in the House was 395-8. The Senate approval was by voice vote.
The rejection of Hamas by elected officials in the United States goes deeper than their votes on specific legislation. Even members of Congress who have cultivated a progressive image have, when pressed, defended their decisions for many of the same reasons offered by the government of Israel to justify its attack on Gaza. In a recent meeting with constituents, Senator Elizabeth Warren defended her vote for extra funding for Israel’s Iron Dome as “the right decision” and one that would deny Hamas the ability to benefit from its terrorism. She also accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields. (8) Senator Al Franken also defended his vote as necessary in order for Israel to defend itself against indiscriminate attacks from Gaza. He also repeated the Israeli assumption that Hamas was behind the Hebron killing of three teenage settlers. (9) Senator Bernie Sanders, addressing a very skeptical constituency gathering in Vermont, accused Hamas of using aid to build tunnels to commit terrorism inside Israel. He also faulted Hamas for not recognizing the right of Israel to exist.
Members of Congress defending Israel even in the face of opposition has been a consistent stance since at least the early 1970s which is connected to two persistent features of America’s domestic politics involving the Arab-Israeli conflict. On one side of the ledger is the well-organized, well financed, and committed pro-Israel lobby. They are the people many elected officials rely on for votes and funding, particularly as they enter the 2014 midterms elections. A leaked memo from the Michelle Nunn’s senatorial campaign made the importance of pro-Israel lobby to those running for elected office clear:
“There isn’t a lot of upside and potentially a lot of downside of a lawmaker getting on
the wrong side of a community that is riled up, especially in the run-up to an election…
intensity beats numbers, and the people who support Israel are very intense.” (11)
On the other side of the ledger, the same politicians do not fear much from potential supporters of Palestinian rights. This summer, for example, the American public was blaming Hamas more than Israel for the violence (12). Pro-Palestinian demonstrations were few in numbers and participants (13). Either Arab-American organizations seemed to prefer to focus on domestic issues or they gave Gaza only an equal amount of attention to domestic US issues facing Arab or minority communities. (14)