Friday, July 07, 2006



Over at Normblog, Eve Garrard tries a little zingaroo against Jonathan Steele on Israel, Hamas and that sort of thing. But while it's true that Steele did write some silly things on the whole condemning/understanding question some time ago and this gives Garrard something legitimate to zing about, I think this particular zingaroo lacks a bit of zing, since there's no real contradiction between, on the one hand, calling on Europe to condemn Israel's recent actions and, on the other, regretting Europe's "refusing contact" with Hamas after their recent election victory.

If Steele were calling on Europe to refuse contact with Israel, while condemning its decison to refuse contact with Hamas - well, that'd be zing heaven. But he doesn't seem to be doing that.

I think you should read the JS article again. Can you find a word of criticism of Hamas? I think you'll find the 'contact' he wants with Hamas is not the kind where the Euros give them a lecture on giving up terrorism and recognizing Israel. It's also clear that he wants Europe to pay Hamas's bills while the talking goes on. And on the other hand I'm pretty sure he would like Europe to do a bit more than tell Israel off (which in fact it has already done). If he doesn't support boycotts and sanctions against Israel, it's remarkable how popular his stuff is with people who do.

And above all it's the shift in tone that makes it a genuine zingaroo.
Well, firstly I think it's a bit tendentious to describe funds essential to maintaining the already pitiful living standards of the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank as "Hamas's bills".

Secondly, your engaging in some dodgy "guilt by association" thinking in your last sentence but one.

Finally, I'm not saying there's no zing at all, just that the zingeroo as a whole flatters to deceive. I'm not sure exactly what kind of approach Steele would like Europe to take towards Israel, nor towards the Palestinian "government". But if he's saying that it was foolish to cut off diplomatic contact with the Palestinian side and worse than foolish to cut off their funding, and that Europe should do more to pressure Israel into doing justice to the Palestinians, well, I think I agree with him.
To take your points in order:

1. If Palestinians need aid, fine (though let's recall that colectively they have in large measure brought destitution on themselves - it was the violence of the intifada that led to the cutting of economic contacts with Israel). But a terrorist organization which seeks to destroy Israel has no automatic moral entitlement to be the conduit through which aid passes, however many votes it gets.

2. Guilt by association? Not guilty, m'lud. I feel sure that Mr Steele is well aware of the kind of organizations which carry his articles (we're talking syndication, not just links), and if he objects to the association he only has to write an article making his position clear.

3. 'I'm not sure exactly what kind of approach Steele would like Europe to take towards Israel, nor towards the Palestinian "government".' Which in itself suggests a problem with the article. I continue to agree with Eve Garrard that it contains two unmistakeably distinct registers: hawkish 'let's get tough with terrorists' for the Israelis and dovish 'the only way to deal with terrorists is to talk to them' for Hamas. You've not responded, I note, to the point that the article contains no criticism at all of Hamas.

My view is that both diplomacy and pressure have their part to play in dealing with both sides, depending on the concrete circumstances. You say the international pressure on Hamas is foolish, but has it not borne fruit in the shape of concessions on the issue of Israel's existence?
The destitution of the Palestinians goes back further than 2001, and it seems fairly obvious that Israeli policies and actions have been a central factor, starting from 1948.

It's truly sad that the Palestinians turned to people guilty of terrorism in the last election (though I believe only a minority of the electorate actually voted for them, the electoral system doing the rest). I also regret that Israelis voted for Ariel Sharon, who has good claims to be called a war criminal (Unit 101, Sabra, Chatila, etc.).

As for the "two tones" point, well this is common enough when one wants to decry a percieved double standard. Steele presumably thinks that Europe is not tough enough on Israel, and too tough on Hamas/the PA. He thus argues for a tougher line on Israel and a softer one on Hamas.

In other words, maybe the two tones reflect Steele's bias against Israel - but maybe they simply reflect what he sees as Europe's own two tones i.e. economic sanctions against the Palestinians, verbal wrist-slap (at worst)for the Israelis.

Finally, on Steele's not criticising Hamas in this article, I don't think one is necessarily entitled to draw too many conclusions from what someone doesn't say in an article. It may be that Steele does take an overly indulgent line towards them, but I don't consider this article to be very good evidence of that.
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