Thursday, February 22, 2007


Remarks in response to Norman Geras and Jeff Weintraub

Norm and Jeff Weintraub have responded to my last post.

Norm says that whatever about "the precise terms on which negotiations are to be entered by either side," his "main point was to draw attention to the imbalance in how the Guardian presented the situation, as if Israel were the sole offender."

The point I would make is that the Israeli government is in fact the sole offender, in the relevant sense - it refuses to enter substantial negotiations with its Palestinian counterpart. If I'm not mistaken the new Palestinian government is seeking substantial negotiations, but is being "boycotted" by the Israeli government (with the support of the EU and US - so I suppose it's wrong to say Israel is the sole offender after all). It was this boycott that the Guardian editorial Norm criticized referred to.

Now maybe Norm would say that this is a difference without a distinction - OK, Israel boycotts Hamas, but then Hamas doesn't recognise Israel, so there's two of them at it. And so the Guardian fails to be even-handed when it calls on Israel to end its boycott without making a similar call upon Hamas to end its non-recognition.

But as I see it this objection doesn't work, because if we take it to be the case that calling on Israel to end its Hamas boycott is the same as calling on Israel to recognize Hamas (and should therefore be matched with a call for Hamas to reciprocate) then it must be the case that in not boycotting Israel, in seeking negotiations with it, Hamas is already implicitly recognizing Israel.

In fact this view is not without merit. Ultimately Hamas will have to recognise Israel if peace and justice are to come about, but it is wrong to demand that they do so as a precondition for substantial negotiations, especially when there are signs that this is a position they may be moving towards - by entering into a coalition with Israel-recognizing Fatah in a government that has said it will respect previous (Israel-recognizing) agreements and also by observing an incomplete but nevertheless significant ceasefire. And it is reasonable to criticize the Israeli government (and its international supporters in this respect) for refusing seriously to negotiate, particularly when there is reason to doubt the sincerity of its public reasons for doing so.

To breifly address Jeff's points now:

As noted above, the new government's position seems to be that it will in practice respect agreements previously entered into by the PA. So long as the official negotiating position of the Palestinian government is that it seeks sovereignty only within the pre-1967 borders I wouldn't make it my priority to have Hamas publicly humiliate itself by very explicitly jumping through Israel-recognizing hoops - and I would suspect the motives of those who would. I would also note that it is hardly unprecedented that a change in government would see one side seek to redefine the political reality formed by the Oslo process - Sharon was elected against, so to speak, that process and proceeded unilaterally to declare the other party to the agreement (Arafat) an unfit partner for negotiations.

On the Irish analogy (which was made by Norm of course) - it can be dismissed in the same way as all analogies by pointing to relevant differences. It's true that there was far less at stake for Britain than for Israel. But I think Jeff might get more analogical joy from the comparison if he thinks about the decision of the Northern Ireland Protestants (led by David Trimble), rather than that of the UK government, to negotiate with the IRA at a time when the latter, while on ceasefire, continued formally to deny their right to self-determination.

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