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Thursday, March 9, 2006
Prominent Arab-American Professor Cheers Hamas, Slams Bush

Prominent Arab-American Professor Cheers Hamas, Slams Bush
by Dr. Joseph Lerner, co-director IMRA

In the interview whch follows Rashid Khalidi, Director of Columbia
University's Middle East Institutre and Edward Said Professor of Arab
Studies, welcomes Hamas' election victory as deserved and as presenting an
opportunity to calm the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by a long-term truce.
He asserts that Hamas brought terrorism to the conflict and insists that
this should not interfere with its potential to serve the long-term truce.
Khalidi attacks Bush for taking a "messianic" stand against terrorism.

Although Hamas won the election on internal issues such as corruption,
Khalidi insists "resistance" (terrorism) will persist so long as there is
occupaton. So, terrorism's support is not confined to a few, but
characterizes the Palestinian population.

As for Abbas, he is a figure head. Although not stated, it follows that
Israeli-Palestinian negotiation would be a sham.

Khalidi believes that given a suitable electoral victory Olmert "... may
go beyond the limits of Sharon's thinking".

It should be recalled that Palestinian moderates opposed suicide bombing
as being counter-productive, damaging the Palestinian international
reputation and so interfering with achieving national objectives. Khalidi,
in effect, completely disagrees. His interview signifies a public
relations victory for Hamas , considering his prestigious academic position.
Those who hope that Arab intellectuals in the West would induce
reasonableness to the Palestinian scene are being proved wrong, either by
silence from the Arab intellectual community or by positions such as
thatenunciated by Khalidi.

Well before the election it was widely held that Hamas did not qualify to
run in a democratic election. The United States and Israel made a profound
error in permitting Hamas to run and assuring the world the consequence, if
Hamas won, would be dealt with after the election.

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THE DAILY STAR (Lebanon) 7 Mar.'06:
"Khalidi: World community is not willing to do what is necessary to advance
Middle East peace process"

HEADING:"Arab-american academic says resistance will continue, in some form,
as long as there is occupation" [IMRA: Except where not clearly indicated in
Khalidi's answer, the interviewer's questions were omitted.]

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Editor's note: Below is an interview with Rashid Khalidi, director of
Columbia University's Middle East Institute and Edward Said Professor of
Arab Studies, was conducted by cfr.org, the online branch of the New
York-based Council on Foreign Relations, and is published by permission.
. . .
I was not surprised that Hamas did extremely well. I have been watching the
declining ... Fatah for a very long time, ... this has been expected by
anybody who's been watching ... downhill for Fatah, and uphill for Hamas. I
did not ... expect the level of ineptitude shown by the Fatah campaign,...
Nor did I realize the degree to which the electoral system would affect the
outcome, so that in the half of the seats that were distributed according to
proportional representation, Fatah and Hamas were almost even, 44 percent
against 42 percent. But in the seats that were distributed on a constituency
basis, the most votes winning a district, Hamas cleaned Fatah out. ... .
. . .
... People voted for Hamas for several reasons. One is the corruption of
Fatah. The second is the ineptitude of Fatah on negotiations with Israel,
and the fact that 15 years of negotiations and of peace processes and of
establishment of the [Palestinian] Authority, and then the intifada, have
left the Palestinians much worse off than they were before. ... not just in
terms of corruption. It was also the fact that Fatah failed to improve
people's conditions. They failed in their negotiations with Israel...
getting a terrible deal. So a lot of people who do not subscribe to Hamas'
charter or many of Hamas' ideas want a much tougher negotiating ... .
... What is going to happen? ... starving the Palestinians will have the
same result that it's had in the past, which is to create more problems.
... The second thing ... a lot has to do with how people deal with the
Palestinian political system.
There are people making sweeping statements: "The president has no
importance, what's important is the prime minister; If you have this kind of
a legislature, then you have this kind of a state," which have no basis in
reality. ... This is a system in evolution. The role, authority, and
prerogatives of the president, of the prime minister, and so forth, of the
legislative branch, the executive branch, are not defined.
. . .
..., American aid is so minimal it really doesn't matter. The only question
is whether the United States is going to prevent other donors from giving
money to the Palestinian Authority. American aid does not go generally to
the Authority anyway. It goes multilaterally through the World Bank, through
AID [the U.S. Agency for International Development], or through the United
Nations. ...multilateral institutions over which the United States has
influence, like the World Bank and the European Union, Japan, and even
donors in the Arab world, may well be influenced by American pressure ...
without that external funding the very precarious structure of the
Palestinian Authority and ... the Palestinian economy will really collapse.
Q: ... The Europeans have put Hamas on the terrorist list just as the United
States has. Now, how terrorist is Hamas?
A: Well, I'm not particularly comfortable with any of these categories. ...
American law, and ... r European law, which bans dealing with people because
of a certain kind of action, is ... self-defeating. I think there are ways
of weaning people away from undesirable actions, including terrorism, which
are probably more intelligent than the ways in which we're going about it.
... you have to deal with a group that has won an election, whether they
have done things that are terrorist or not.... Suicide bombing, in the last
decade and a half, was pioneered by Hamas. I don't know how much more
terrorist you can get, if you're talking about violence directed against
civilians. That and aerial bombardment are the worst you can get. But
talking ... about what Palestinians do since they don't have fighter planes,
or helicopters, or drones, there's no question that Hamas has not just been
engaged in this, Hamas has in many ways been the motor of a specific kind of
terrorism directed at Israeli civilians. It's been very narrowly directed
against Israelis ... but it has been not just a contributor to this. Hamas
initiated this in the Palestinian arena in the mid-90s.
... the only reason there's been a ceasefire for the past year, with all of
the breakdowns that have occurred ... has been because Hamas has held its
fire. They've been much more committed to this than ... Islamic Jihad or...
military wing of Fatah.
... If you think of it as a behavior that is unacceptable and heinous but
which can be stopped, then I think what people should be doing is not just
looking at whether Hamas carried out terrorism in the past, ... but whether
it's amenable to stopping it permanently ... .
... look at other examples. ... Ireland and ... at Israel. We have to look
at two of the most distinguished prime ministers in modern Israeli history,
who were bloodthirsty terrorists according to their opponents. ... Begin
and Yitzak Shamir ... both regarded as terrorist groups by the British
mandate powers]. ... .
I wonder about this semi-religious use of the term "terrorism." ... once a
terrorist, always a terrorist, and the only way to deal with them is to
extirpate them. There is that messianic strain in the Bush administration.
There are some Israelis in positions of power, who seem to have that
attitude, and then there are other people in Israel who have a much more
nuanced understanding of this.
. . .
... If your benchmark is a lasting cessation of violence, that might be
possible to achieve with Hamas. Are you going to get them to renounce
violence under any circumstances? No. They have an interpretation of this
that is actually closer to the view of most Palestinians and most people in
the Arab world than to the American or Israeli interpretation, which is that
the overwhelming majority of the violence that goes on daily is the violence
of the occupation, ...until that stops there's going to be resistance.
Now, I don't think Americans are going to accept that, but it's really up to
Israelis, ...go back to war to the death with Hamas and the Palestinians, or
whether establishing a long-lasting truce, which would be much more stable
than anything we've seen to date, is a worthwhile objective. Now, the
Israelis want to be able to maintain their occupation and have the
Palestinians abjure any form of violence. ... it means you can do anything
you want as the most powerful party, and that what you do is not bad and
that anything they do is unacceptable.
...if you get another Fatah that agrees to do something, which Palestinian
popular sentiment doesn't fully accept as long as the occupation continues,
it won't last. If you tame Hamas, there will be something else that will
come up and which will represent the fact that occupation will breed
resistance, ... .
... it's a hard call for the Israelis. They thought that they had gotten
from the PLO ... a renunciation of violence without the quid pro quo that
Palestinian popular sentiment demands, ... renunciation of the occupation.
... that's your first stumbling block, before you get to ... recognition,
before you get to the issue of a two-state solution. And that's... the most
important thing for Israelis, if they can get a real truce. ... something
we don't even have right now. Whatever this is, it's unsatisfactory in many
respects. You have a dozen Palestinians dying a week, some ... bystanders,
but there's a war going on inside the occupied territories between the
Israeli security service ... and the Palestinian population and various
militant groups. Mainly now it's Islamic Jihad and Fatah ... being
targeted.
Q: Do you have any sense that if the Kadima party dominates in the election,
... ] Ehud Olmert would be amenable to some kind of understanding with
Hamas?
A: My very hesitant response would be a lot will depend on who the second
and third parties are in a Kadima coalition, ... . And that in turn will
depend a lot on what may happen between now and the end of March [when
Israel holds its elections]. There seem to be people in the Israeli security
services who are pushing the Palestinians as hard as they can to get a
reaction. If they do get that reaction ... I'm not sure we can predict what
the effect of that on the Israeli voter will be.
... Those people I know who are experts in Israeli politics have pointed out
that coalitions put together in the way that [Ariel] Sharon put this
together before his stroke have not had a great history after their first
election. So a lot will depend on that. I think his instincts are similar to
Sharon's instincts, which is to not negotiate with the Palestinians,...
which is to impose a unilateral solution, and in my view, therefore, to
prolong the conflict. But Olmert has shown his ability to think outside the
box. He may go beyond the limits of Sharon's thinking.
. . .
... if there's not a reformed Fatah, I would say Abbas is going to have
serious problems. ...if he continues to be treated as he has been treated
by almost everybody in the world community, there's no way that he can have
any impact. ... .
And I'm not just criticizing the Bush administration ... ; I'm criticizing a
number of other actors, including the Israelis, but also including the
Europeans and others. If you want this thing to succeed, you have to treat
it as if it is worthwhile supporting. And that means saying to the Israelis,
"You have to negotiate." That means saying to the Israelis, "You cannot do
things unilaterally." ...this is extremely unlikely to happen. So my
expectation is that he's going to continue to decline ... .
Q: Should Fatah change its mind and join a government?
A: .... If I were Fatah, I would be focusing on reorganizing ...Fatah is not
going to exist for much longer as a major force if it doesn't do that,
whether it joins the government or not. ... it is urgent to have the entire
old guard drummed out of Fatah. I assume they will keep Abbas as a
figurehead, but if Fatah has not fully renewed, it's worthless, it's good
for nothing, it will have no impact on Palestinian politics in the near
future, nor will it deserve to.

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