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It’s not right for the West and Israel to isolate Hamas, the Palestinians’ best hope

by Cesar Chelala

NEW YORK — As the son of a Lebanese pacifist, I am dismayed by the widening gap between Palestinians and Israelis that make a possible solution to the con- flict between them seem even more distant.

In Tucumen, a town in northern Argentina where my father chose to live, he was a cofounder of a cultural Athenaeum, an event that brought together the most important figures of the day to lecture on cultural issues.

The Athenaeum, named after the famous Lebanese poet Gibran Khalil Gibran, was housed in the Syrio-Lebanese Society, an organization formed by a group of Syrian and Lebanese expatriates. Before the advent of the Athenaeum, the main activities at that society had been social events and gambling.

The activities at the Athenaeum caused quite a stir in that society. Because of the quality of the lecturers, it attracted a wide array of people, many Jewish students and professors among them, whose presence was strongly objected to by the more traditionalist members of society.

My father and his friends were able to prevail, and for several years the Athenaeum constituted a cultural example of pacific coexistence between Arabs and Jews.

These thoughts are pertinent now, following Hamas’ stunning victory in recent elections, the threat from the U.S. and the European Union to cut off aid to the Palestinian people, and the reluctance of the Israeli government to deal with the new Palestinian leaders.

Does this attitude of trying to isolate Hamas advance the cause of peace? I don’t believe so.

In the present situation both sides have valid claims for territory and both sides can be equally blamed for acts of brutal aggression that have caused thousands of civilian lives.

Israel claims that Hamas doesn’t recognize the state of Israel’s right to exist. Israel, on the other hand, doesn’t recognize, in practice, the right of existence of an independent and territorially continuous Palestinian state.

Israel accuses Hamas of criminal aggression against civilians. Suicide bombers have caused the deaths of innocent civilians. So has Israel’s policy of assassinations of Hamas’ leaders and the demolitions of Palestinian homes where the so-called “collateral damage” has caused the deaths of equally innocent civilians. Remember the case of the young American Rachel Corrie, who was brutally crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while she was trying to prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes by the Israeli Army.

That brutal act brought no apologies by Israel or strong condemnation of the crime by the U.S. government.

Israel and the U.S. claim that Hamas is not a valid interlocutor. Was Fatah a really valid one? Ultimately, there were no negotiations between Fatah and Israel leading to a more peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. If Hamas is not a valid interlocutor then who is? Not even a blind person could deny the Palestinians’ overwhelming support for Hamas.

Regardless of how much one may reject Hamas’ policies, it is evident that that party has now the mandate to represent the Palestinian people.

According to U.N. statistics, the poverty rate in the occupied territories was 64 percent in 2005, and acute malnutrition affects 9 percent of Palestinian children. Threats from the West to cut off aid to the Palestinians will only increase their dismal poverty and will accelerate their search for support and the formation of alliances with other Muslim states.

Hamas has indicated that it is prepared to negotiate a settlement based on the concept of hudna, a temporary truce. This should be the beginning of negotiations and not a state of law and order as demanded by the West. Law and order will be the result of negotiations and not a precondition for it.

A rejection by the West of the results of the election will only confirm Palestinians’ belief that democracy is acceptable only when it responds to the Western countries’ own interests. In today’s context, to isolate Hamas means driving it into the arms of Iran, something that the world doesn’t need right now.

In his speech of June 25 on Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state President George W. Bush declared, “Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born.”

Although not the one envisaged by the West, Hamas is the leadership that best represents Palestinian goals. It is up to the Western powers to respect the results of the election and accept the truce offered by Hamas as a start of negotiations between the two sides.