ForeignPolicy

How to Make the Neocons Crazy About the Middle East: Tell Them the Truth

Hamas has long endorsed a two-state solution, but when the NY Times reported it, kooky neocon Charles Krauthammer went unhinged.

Old Charlie Krauthammer, the neocon who won't go away, is at it again.

Now he's hammering at an old favorite target -- the Hamas party and its political leader, Khaled Meshal -- and its new accomplice, that scurrilously liberal newspaper, the New York Times.

The Times' latest moral fault (according to Krauthammer) was to send two of its top Middle East reporters to interview Meshal and then actually report some of what he said (though the five-hour interview was boiled down to a brief article and ahandful of quotes). "Hamas Says It Grounded Rockets," the Times headline announced; Meshal explained that firing rockets from Gaza is not now a useful strategy for pursuing Hamas' goals.

But for Krauthammer the important news is Meshal's endorsement of a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state only in the West Bank and Gaza, currently occupied by Israel. "We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce," Meshal said. Asked what "long-term" meant, he said, "10 years."

Actually, that's not really news. Hamas leaders have been saying for several years now that they want a two-state solution and a 10-year truce, as everyone who follows the issue closely knows very well.

What's new is that the oh-so-influential New York Times is willing to bring Meshal's message to a much larger public and thus give it legitimacy for the masses in the U.S. -- which is precisely what has Krauthammer unnerved.

How does this message square with the infamous Hamas Charter that calls for the elimination of the state of Israel? Although Meshal still insisted that "he would not recognize Israel … he urged outsiders to ignore the Hamas charter," saying that it's 20 years old and, "we are shaped by our experiences."

In other words, times change even if charters don't; watch what we do now, not what we said years ago. Let us negotiate the 10-year truce and live in peace alongside Israel.

Aha, cries Krauthammer; there's the wily devil's trick: "After a decade of Hamas arming itself within a Palestinian state that narrows Israel to 8 miles wide -- Hamas restarts the war against a country it remains pledged to eradicate." And how do we know that's their diabolical plan? "The Palestinians" -- apparently a monolithic bloc like the Borg -- "have never accepted the idea of living side by side with a Jewish state."

For his "proof," Krauthammer points to the famous negotiations that President Bill Clinton convened at Camp David in 2000, between Israeli Prime Minister (now defense minister) Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat.

"No Israeli government would turn down a two-state solution in which the Palestinians accepted territorial compromise and genuine peace with a Jewish state," Krauthammer claims. "Barak offered precisely such a deal in 2000. … The Palestinian response (for those who have forgotten) was: No."

Actually, it's Krauthammer -- and all the AIPAC-ites so loudly supporting Israel's hard-line government -- who have conveniently forgotten the essential facts.

Actually, the Palestinians' response in 2000 was, "Let's keep talking." A year later, when agreement was closer at hand, it was Barak who pulled the plug on the talks. He turned down precisely a two-state solution in which the Palestinians accepted territorial compromise and genuine peace with a Jewish state. 

And several times since, when Palestinians were close to uniting around a similar peace proposal, the Israeli government has managed to torpedo the process -- just as it largely ignored the ground-breaking Arab League peace initiative of 2002. 

What about the territorial compromise the Israelis tried to force on the Palestinians at Camp David, which most Israelis and their supporters ritually refer to as "the generous offer?"  It was really territorial suicide for the Palestinians -- as Krauthammer would know if he read the Times (or at least its Web site) less selectively.

A Times blog -- called theLede -- recently offered a bald statement of the truth that careful analysts of "the generous offer" have always known: The Palestinian state as envisioned by Israeli leaders (even so-called liberals like Barak, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni) is a patchwork quilt -- an "archipelago" of little blocs of land separated by innumerable Jewish settlements, security roads and checkpoints -- where economic prosperity, and indeed ordinary daily life, would be as impossible as it is now. 

Imagine if someone suggested that the United States could get along fine with a bunch of disconnected states no longer part of the nation -- say, New York, Ohio and Indiana, Missouri and Kansas, plus all of New England and the Old South, and let's throw in the Northwest and a big chunk of the Rocky Mountain West -- plus another country's soldiers controlling most of the interstate highways. 

That's the kind of "generous offer" Barak made at Camp David, the same kind of offer that always passes in Israel for "genuine peace." As the Times' blogger put it with such delicate understatement (after all, this is still the New York Times, just tilting a tiny bit to the left), "since some degree of fragmentation is a feature of many of the maps proposed by Israeli governments in recent years for the shape of a Palestinian state, it seems important to ask what chance a country with this landlocked archipelago shape really has of becoming a viable nation-state."

Not much chance, Palestinian leaders across the political spectrum have answered. They know that if they accept the Israeli plan for an independent Palestinian archipelago, their own voters will reject them, and with good reason.

It's an unrealistic plan because it would create a state that's not viable. Such a fragmented Palestine would have no chance of economic prosperity and every prospect of continued de facto Israeli control, with all the impossible conditions that imposes on ordinary Palestinians -- humiliating waits of many hours at checkpoints are commonplace, often ending with some well-armed Israeli teenager arbitrarily refusing permission to continue the journey. Why would anyone vote for more of that?

What Hamas wants now is essentially no different from what Arafat wanted and what Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas is still insisting on (at least publicly):  A Palestinian state that encompasses virtually the whole West Bank, as well as Gaza, so Palestinians can travel throughout the West Bank with no restrictions and create the commercial life the new state would need to survive.

If Krauthammer and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee crowd want to make a real case against Hamas, they could point to the ambiguity of Meshal's words to the Times: "The central goal is the liberation of the occupied land and regaining our rights, ending the Israeli occupation, leading our people toward liberation and freedom, achieving the right of self-determination and living in a sovereign state on liberated land."

What exactly is "the occupied land?" For many years, when Hamas leaders used those words, they clearly meant to include all of Israel. In recent years, though, they've made it clear that they are now talking about settling for a two-state solution, with the Palestinians getting only the West Bank and Gaza.

"The world must deal with what Hamas is practicing today," Meshal told the Times. "Hamas has accepted the national reconciliation document [a joint program agreed to by Hamas and Fatah, often called 'the prisoners document' because it was hammered by representative of both sides who were inmates of an Israeli prison]. It has accepted a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders including East Jerusalem, dismantling settlements and the right of return based on a long-term truce."

Granted, those are hard terms for most Israelis, and thus for any Israeli government, to accept. That's why Israeli leaders have done their best to block united Palestinian peace moves.  But they are terms that most of the world now finds quite reasonable, or at least a constructive starting point for negotiations.

Hamas is a political party. It's leaders, like all politicians, practice the art of the possible. Naturally, they ask for everything they want when the negotiations begin. But, at the end, they settle for what they can get.

That's precisely what Krauthammer and the AIPAC-ites refuse to accept. Their whole worldview depends on turning political conflicts into moral dramas. So they make Hamas stand for all Palestinians, and all Palestinians stand for evil incarnate.

To treat Meshal and the Hamas leaders as ordinary human beings with ordinary political ambitions and compromises -- and very real grievances -- would bring that moralistic worldview crashing down.

They would rather deny the facts and keep the conflict going, even though it perpetuates the horrors of daily life in Palestine, endangers the security of Israel and weakens the global position of the U.S.

Fortunately, they're fighting a losing battle, and they know it -- which is why their emotional outbursts sound increasingly frightened, shrill and irrational.

Ira Chernus is professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder and author of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin.