Mar 23 2007

debate on washington post by daoud kuttab

Published by at 5:38 pm under Blogs

PostGlobal Live Online Debate: U.S. And Hamas


On Friday, March 23 at 2:00 PM ET, Daoud Kuttab and David Makovsky debated whether the U.S. should speak with Hamas ministers in the new Palestinian National Unity Government, as part of mediating the Israel-Palestine conflict.


PostGlobal is a discussion forum on global issues with David Ignatius and Fareed Zakaria. The two veteran journalists created PostGlobal in 2006 as an experiment in global, collaborative journalism. The forum features discussions among dozens of the world’s best-known editors and writers at


Debate Transcript:



Natalie Ahn, PostGlobal

Note from the Editor: Please read the opening statements from our two panelists below. The debate will begin at 2:00 PM ET.


Daoud Kuttab 1:48 PM

For the first time in the history of the Palestinian Israel conflict, the vast majority of Palestinians, including the Islamists, are willing to accept a Palestinian state in the internationally acceptable border of 1967. The implicit recognition in this is supported by other clauses that talk about respecting the PLO-Israel agreements (which included mutual recognition) as well as respect for Arab and international resolutions and treaties. By demanding explicit recognition before negotiations begin, Israel and the international community are making unreasonable demands. No other case in the world has seen a demand on a people without sovereignty to recognize the occupier whose state borders are vague. By accepting an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel, the Palestinians have clearly declared the borders of their own state and therefore offer the possibility of mutual recognition through negotiations.

The need to put an end to what Israel and the US calls terror is also dealt with in this agreement. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas who is the supreme military commander has publicly called for an end to occupation through negotiations and rejected outright the use of violence. While insisting on the right of peoples to resist occupation using all methods, the Palestinian national unity program gives priority to nonviolent resistance by specifying political and popular resistance as a right for peoples refusing to live under military occupation. Furthermore by calling to extend the cease fire in Gaza to the West Bank , the new government is clearly offering an olive branch to the Israelis even before negotiations begin. Politically, the new government provides a logical process regarding Palestinian-Israeli negotiations for a permanent resolution. The program gives president Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO (which he chairs) the full authority to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel . Once a peace agreement is reached, the program states that it is to be ratified by the Palestinian National Council or through a popular referendum. Public opinion polls of Palestinians show consistently a strong support for a peace agreements based on the two state solution. So an Abbas brokered peace deal approved by the people is possible even with Hamas having won the recent parliamentary elections. Such a peace negotiated by a moderate Palestinian and approved by the silent majority is the best of both worlds and will institute real lasting peace. The alternate idea, to make a secret deal without public support, will not be lasting and will be easily torpedoed as we saw in the Oslo deal. Opponents of peace can find plenty of excuses if they wish to look at the empty cup. The Palestinian prime minister belongs to an Islamic movement that has not yet declared its strategic long term position visa vice Israel . By speaking about a 10 to 20 year hudna with Israel, those not interested in peace can say that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel . On the other hand Hamas defenders might point out that it took the PLO thirty years to come around and recognize Israel and that in the past twelve months, Hamas has come a long way by accepting the 67 borders of a future Palestinian state. The disciplinary commitment by Hamas of the Gaza only cease fire can also be shown the trustworthiness of Hamas to its commitments. In June 1967, Israel occupied Palestinian and Arab lands. The UN Security 242 called the Israeli actions ‘inadmissible’ and called for Israeli withdrawal. Yet forty years later the Israeli army is still occupying the land and oppressing the people, but the government is still supporting the building of illegal Jewish only settlements in Palestinian territories.


David Makovsky 2:09 PM



Due to technical problems, this opening statement did not load correctly for viewers to read online, but was prepared for the debate:




David Makovsky 2:13 PM


There is a consensus among key countries that the new unity government has not met the principles of the international community. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon called the new government’s terms "a little bit disappointing," adding, "They have not clearly stated that they will abide by . . . these three principles." On March 19, European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Javier Solana, standing alongside Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, echoed Ban’s position, declaring that the unity government does not "comply fully" with the Quartet principles. And while meeting the press along with Solana and other key European diplomats, Rice defended the Quartet principles, stating, "You cannot have a peace agreement or a peace process when one party does not recognize the right of the other party to exist or will not renounce violence." Similarly, chief State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that "resistance," which the new Palestinian government endorsed, is assumed to be a "codeword for the use of violence and terror."


Daoud Kuttab 2:15 PM


David, if the issue is peace talks then I think that the new government meets the core issues for them, if the idea is to find fault in the new national government, then there is plenty of possibilities to do that. I feel that the Palestinians are asked many things and are treated with lawyerly attitudes while the occupiers for nearly 40 years have not been asked to decide their own borders, to end their occupation and settlements and the taking away of taxes and not giving it to the people who are paying it


David Makovsky 2:17 PM


The terms of the Palestinian unity government end much of the residual ambiguity lingering in the wake of the Mecca accord. Those who withheld judgment amid hope that the status quo would improve are — like the Quartet members themselves — disappointed. On balance, it is difficult to view the new government as anything but a major step backward on the road to coexistence. First, it is setting the political clock back to a time before Oslo , when a two-state solution was not recognized. Second, by avoiding references to mutual recognition, the government’s platform marks the increasingly Islamist tone of Palestinian politics.


Daoud Kuttab 2:19 PM


I disagree completely that it is setting the clock to before Oslo . For the first time, Hamas is supporting the creation of a Palestinian state on the 67 borders, has allowed the president (who is a moderate nonviolence leader and the general public to decide the outcome of negotiations. On the other hand the siege that has been imposed on Palestinian banks not to receive any monies earmarked for the Palestinian government is also unjust. Many countries including allies of the US (like Saudi Arabia and Morocco) don’t recognize Israel yet there is no banking boycott on them.



Daoud Kuttab 2:34 PM


In the 40s Menahem Begin was considered a terrorists, yet years later he became prime minister and the international community dealt with him even though he had not radically changed nor had he publicly stated remorse for his actions (as far as I know), so I think the issues that are raised about the new government should not be an obstacle to peace talks, which are clearly the impression one gets from reading their political program


David Makovsky 2:36 PM


Daoud: Again, the technical difficulties are endless. I see Abbas moving towards Hamas, more than Hamas moving towards Abbas, and I think this is very unfortunate. Here is partially why: due to technical constraints of this chat program, I can only list a part of the reason here. Violence is rewarded over peace. Since its ascension to power, Hamas has regarded unity as a means to consolidate its electoral gains. Joining with Fatah provides political insulation, enabling Hamas to gain international legitimacy and avoid tough choices that would require it to modify its ideological program of political violence. Any international deference toward Hamas sends a message that terrorism does not come with a political price — that it is, instead, rewarded. Indeed, the notion of "resistance" — a euphemism for violence that includes attacks on civilians — is not skirted in the new government guidelines. Defined as "a legitimate right of the Palestinian people . . . to defend themselves against any Israeli aggression," resistance is, in fact, explicitly encouraged. Hamas has never enforced its ceasefires. Past commitments to tahdiya have been consistent with Hamas’s goal of consolidating victory. Ever since it reached a tahdiya pact in Cairo around the time it assumed power, Hamas has consistently told outsiders that it supports calm while not enforcing this policy among groups such as the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. For example, the government has done virtually nothing to halt an estimated 3,000 Qassam rocket attacks against Israel .


Daoud Kuttab 2:42 PM


let us take your issues one by one. You say that Abbas moved towards Hamas. I disagree. For the first time Hamas has accepted to be in a government that calls for an independent state in the internationally recognized borders alongside Israel (while not mentioning it by name). It has also accepted a mechanism in which its ideology can’t win. They accept that the president will negotiate and that the people through a referendum will decide, all polls show that the people are closer to Abbas than Hamas. As to the issue of resistance, again you are following the official Israel spin. First resistance to Saddam;s occupation of Kuwait was accepted and legitimized. Secondly, the new government says that Palestinians have a right to resist using all means but only specifies non violence by saying "including popular and political resistance." furthermore it calls for extending the ceasefire to the west bank which Israel refuses. Finally Israeli military leaders have recognized Hamas’s disciplinary commitment to the tahdia in Gaza . True Islamic Jihad has not, but we are talking now about the national unity government which Islamic jihad is not a member of


David Makovsky 2:49 PM


Daoud: If Hamas agrees to a two state solution, let it say so. All I hear is Khaled Meshal, leader of Hamas in Damascus and PM Ismail Haniye saying they will never recognize Israel . Moreover, I think if Hamas tried it hardest over a sustained period of time to halt the 3,000 rockets coming at Israel, it would be noticed by everyone. As they say, you may not need 100% success, but 100% effort. I think you would agree with me that it is more like zero percent effort.


Daoud Kuttab 2:53 PM


people under occupation have many problems, the Hamas Fatah fighting has been devastating and Palestinians were relived that they reached an agreement that stopped the internal killings, There are many reasons for the kassams including the presence of 10,000 prisoners thousands of them without trial or charge the irrational decisions to close the only crossing out of Gaza at rafah and the absence of a real horizon. If the Israelis want that attacks against it stop they need to negotiate a cease fire agreement with teeth, with neutral observers saying who is breaking it and with a robust political process, these are all absent, what is the incentive to the Palestinians now to seek yet more internal killings


David Makovsky 2:56 PM


Daoud, it is interesting that the technology is better in Ramallah than Washington . I was looking forward to a dialogue with someone whom I respect and have known for many years, but readers may see how disjointed the conversation is, may think our session reflects the conflict itself. You are surprised when I say that Abbas powers to negotiate a final-status deal with Israel are considerably diminished. According to the platform, such negotiations would either be submitted to a new Palestinian National Council — where Hamas is seeking a power-sharing role — or put to a referendum for "the Palestinian people inside and abroad" to decide. The phrase "and abroad" may seem innocent but, in fact, is likely to give the diaspora of millions of Palestinians and their descendants a veto over terms that would likely fall short of their aspirations of returning to their pre-1948 homes. The platform also says the Palestine Legislative Council will determine the referendum question and rules, where coincidentally Hamas has the plurality.


Daoud Kuttab 2:56 PM


The Israelis are right about one thing though, they are right that it is wrong for the US and the international community to talk to some members of the 11th Palestinian government. I think that they should take their program as a step in the right direction and move on from that to talk to all members in their capacity as the government of Mahmud Abbas with a peaceful program and not as Hamas or Fatah or independent members


Daoud Kuttab 2:59 PM


less than 10% of Palestinian refugees outside of Palestine want to return to what is now the internationally recognized borders of Israel (according to independent polls) and the majority of Palestinians outside Palestine (sure there are some hardliners) are in favor of a peace treaty and are therefore closer to the position of Abbas. So whether it is the new Palestine Council or a referendum, the majority of Palestinians will favor peace. The key is that we have now a mechanism to reach not a peace with a small group of Palestinian leaders but with all Palestinians, I would think Israelis and their supporters would prefer peace with leaders and people rather than peace with leaders only


David Makovsky 3:02 PM


Daoud, you are someone who knows Fatah. Explain to me how Fatah is going to be rebuilt. The unity government deprives Fatah of its ability to campaign against Hamas in the next election as an alternative to a failed government. Consequently, people who favor bolstering Abbas at the expense of Hamas (Rice, Livni) will find it harder to make their case. As you know, unity government might sound warm and fuzzy, but they do not produce progress. Look at the Israeli national unity government between 1984-1990. Labor could not win against Likud in 1988 because it was in the same government.


Daoud Kuttab 3:06 PM


True that the national unity government might be bad for Fatah in terms of recruitment, but the highest need now is to stop the internal killings and to go to talk to the peace talks with a strong position. Talks between Palestinians and Israel need national unity. I think both parties have lost a lot because of the past year and therefore I believe a third or fourth party will become the kingpins in any future elections and governmental coalition. For the most part those who are not Islamists will be closer ideologically to the secular Fatah than to Hamas.


David Makovsky 3:06 PM


I see the upcoming Arab Summit meeting in Riyadh as a way to cut through the horrible deadlock. The Arab governments should say Palestinian refugees to Palestine, not Israel . Isn’t this why so much effort is being invested in a two-state solution? Nobody wants a single refugee to live in squalor. Their plight was tragically exploited by several Arab governments for a half century. There needs to be political cover for a historic compromise that would end this conflict and bring dignity to both sides.


Daoud Kuttab 3:10 PM


I think you are putting the horse before the cart. First the occupation should end and then the issue of refugees will become easier. Israelis want Palestinians to compromise on this issue before getting anything in return. this is the type of issue better left to secret negotiations, the atmosphere is set for that and the people would generally agree to a peace deal that includes Israel accepting the historical responsibility for causing the Palestinian refugee problem (read ethnic cleaning by Ilan Pepe) while Palestinians accepting that most refugees will live in the Palestinian state and not Israel, but this will not be done in public by the Arab world before talks begin


David Makovsky 3:13 PM


Daoud: I think the biggest impediment for Abbas is Hamas, not Israel . The Hamas Interior Minister Said Siam says that they have an "Executive Force" in Gaza with 6,000 and want to increase it to 12,000. Haven’t we learned in Mideast that militias of any party destroy democracy? Thankfully, David Ben-Gurion sunk the Altalena in 1948, or else I don’t know if Israel would have developed into a democracy. Imagine if Howard Dean of the Democrats or Ken Mehlman of the Republican National Committee had their own militia? This is a cancer. To turn the blind eye could mark the end for Palestine .


Daoud Kuttab 3:17 PM


both Hamas and Israel are a problem for Abbas, but Israel is a much much bigger problem. Palestinians, like any other people, unite when an outside military force is occupying their entire lands. when rafah is closed it is closed to Fatah, Hamas and to the majority who belong to neither party. Said Siam is no longer minister of interior, so no need to highlight dreams of an ex minister, the new Minster will merge the executive force into the security forces, the real problem is the occupation and the lack of a serious will by Israel to negotiate. Olmert yesterday said that he is willing to negotiate with his bitterest enemies but he was talking about Syria and not Hamas? The international community and especially the US should stop its bias and begin an even handed effort on both either the Israelis and Palestinians who is truly stopping in the process of peace


David Makovsky 3:17 PM


You are saying: the Palestinians should have what they want now and then things will work out for Israel . I don’t think this will work. This is why I think in theory Secretary of State Rice is correct in searching for a "political horizon" that will articulate the fundamental principles that would govern the resolution of this wretched conflict. You have to deal with everything together. The glitch in the Rice approach is the political weakness of Olmert and Abbas and the Arab states that could jump-start this process by providing a political imprimatur for a political compromise. Instead, we get almost worthless speeches from Jordan ‘s King Abdullah, whom I generally admire. However, when he spoke to the US Congress, he said basically let the US twist Israel ‘s arm, but we Arab states contribute nothing to a resolution. I thought such grandstanding is not something his father would have done.


Daoud Kuttab 3:21 PM


King Abdullah was pointing out the truth and it hurts, I understand that aipac spin doctors think that is ok to keep occupying people for 40 years and yet the victim and the rest of the Arab world need to do things while the occupier puts conditions. This is twisted logic. What Palestinians want is what the UN Security Council resolution said in its preamble namely that what Israel did in occupying Palestinian and Arab lands in 1967 is "inadmissible" Israelis are having a much more robust debate than Americans? Another twisted logic


David Makovsky 3:27 PM


Well, Daoud, for the first 45 minutes, we had technical problems communicating, but we found a way. I wish this was a metaphor for this conflict. It needs to be resolved, but I fear it is going backwards. In 1993, the Palestinians were willing to be explicit that they want peace with Israel, and in 2007, they cannot utter Israel ‘s name in the new government’s platform. Leadership is telling your own people tough truths. Amid many mistakes, this has been happening in Israel as their leaders now speak about a two state solution, and even Ariel Sharon took on the settlement movement, evacuated 8,000 and split the Likud Party that he founded. But the Likud could return to power if indeed the approach at the upcoming Arab Summit in Riyadh is posture, but don’t be politically exposed. If this is the case, Rice will get nowhere. Bottom line: if there is no common platform, national unity governments favor the party that does not want progress since they have a veto. In other words, paralysis. We miss Rabin and Hussein who told people what they needed to hear and not what they wanted to hear. I hope I am wrong, but I fear things will get worse. I pray that I am wrong.


Daoud Kuttab 3:30 PM


In conclusion I think we both agree that the way out is through peace talks and not through either violent occupation or violent resistance. But negotiations must start immediately without preconditions, each side should decide who represents it in the talks and should decide its own mechanism to ratify agreements. If the Israelis still have preconditions about the Palestinian government, Palestinians can also make preconditions about the need to rescind illegal settlement activities. The reality is that Palestinians have little to give to the Israelis, while on the other hand Israel has the power to withdraw it forces and end its illegal occupation and settlements. Peace through negotiations based on reasonable conditions is the only way out; let us hope for the peace lovers on both sides to win


David Makovsky 3:38 PM


Daoud: I think Rice is correct in pursuing the "political horizon" idea, but it is not looking good. The only chance to reach a historic compromise is if something happens that did not happen in 2000, namely the Arab states provide a political imprimatur for a deal. If they do not say that their offer is negotiable rather it is a take it or leave it proposition, then it is all spin. I urge readers to look at Tom Friedman’s column today in the NYTimes. All eyes are on Riyadh . Inshallah, we shall see better days.


Natalie Ahn, PostGlobal


Thank you both for an excellent debate. Our apologies to the panelists and readers for the technical difficulties at the beginning, but you managed to communicate diplomatically anyway! There may be multiple lessons for the world coming

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