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COMMENT: Reflections on the Israeli-Palestinian 'Peace Process'
First of all, the Israelis created Hamas. But before we explore that issue, let's start with a more important one. Let's be honest with ourselves. If we can look at the situation from beyond the confines of current political discourse, and look at the emperor without his "new" clothes, we all know that Israel does not want peace. They want all of Palestine, and their belligerent settlement practices confirm that.
But the Israelis are taking advantage of the world's ignorance of the realities in Palestine, and posturing as being willing to talk "peace", only to actually stall that very peace process, so as not to interrupt the further colonization of Palestine.
So anything that can be offered as an excuse will be. The most convenient ploy, presented with the sycophantic assistance of the media, is that of "terrorism".
But the masses are naive, and fail to suspect the Machiavellian extremes that certain leaders will resort to in order to aggrandize their power. This includes creating a false enemy – in this case, Hamas – whereby the right-wing leadership of the Israelis can point blame ro someone other than themselves for supposedly stalling the process.
The use of Islamic terrorism for the political ends of Western nations is nothing new. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1924, the British and Americans stepped in to fill the vacuum by providing their own versions of "Islamic" leaders. This started with the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was created through a grant from the British. Under British sponsorship, the Brotherhood flourished, and today represents a sizeable and powerful force in the Islamic world, but most worryingly, as the institution behind almost every act of terror in the name of Islam.
More correctly, the Brotherhood has been a tool shared my numerous Western intelligence agencies, starting with the Nazis, followed by the CIA, but also the Russians, French, Germans and Israelis.
Since the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, it has been a staple of foreign policy of the Cold War to exploit the Muslim Brotherhood to rally naive Muslims to reject "atheistic" Communism as an arch enemy of Islam. Ever since, the Americans and others have been able to manage the Brotherhood like a rabid dog on a leash to keep the Communist threat at bay.
Since the collapse of the Cold War, however, the Brotherhood has been used for new imperial objectives, where they pose as the bogey man which the Americans can chase with their armies into the Middle East and Central Asia, starting with Iraq and Afghanistan.
But, as NSC official Sheila Haslin explained, in a testimony at Senate hearings into illegal fund-raising activities, US policy in the region was to "promote the independence of these oil-rich countries, to in essence break Russia's monopoly control over the transportation of oil from that region, and frankly, to promote Western energy security through diversity of supply."
Israel has also maintained a long-standing relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, with its most recent manifestation being its participation in the founding of an offshoot organization, Hamas.
According to Robert Dreyfuss, who details the US's troubling relationship with Islamic fundamentalism, in Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, "And beginning in 1967 through the late 1980s, Israel helped the Muslim Brotherhood establish itself in the occupied territories. It assisted Ahmed Yassin, the leader of the Brotherhood, in creating Hamas, betting that its Islamist character would weaken the PLO."
According to Charles Freeman, a veteran US diplomat and former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, "Israel started Hamas. It was a project of Shin Bet [Isreali domestic intelligence agency], which had a feeling that they could use it to hem in the PLO."
In 1965, Yassin had been arrested by Egyptian intelligence, but after 1967, when Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza, he was freed. In 1973, under approval from Shin Bet, Yassin founded the Islamic Center, and began to establish effective control over hundreds of mosques. In 1976, Yassin created the Islamic Association, which membership branches throughout the Gaza Strip, and the movement grew.
Israel's formal support for Islamic fundamentalism came with the election of the right-wing Likud party. In 1978, Begin's new government formally licensed Yassin's Islamic Association, as part of a strategy to undermine the power of the PLO. One aspect of that strategy was the creation of the Village Leagues, over which Yassin and the Brotherhood exercised much influence. Up to 200 members of the Leagues were given paramilitary training in Israel, among whom Shin Bet recruited many paid informers.
David Shipler, a former reporter for the New York Times, cites the Israeli military governor of Gaza as boasting that Israel expressly financed the fundamentalists against the PLO:
"Politically speaking, Islamic fundamentalists were sometimes regarded as useful to Israel, because they had conflicts with the secular supporters of the PLO. Violence between the two groups erupted occasionally on West Bank university campuses, and the Israeli military governor of the Gaza Strip, Brigadier General Yitzhak Segev, once told me how he had financed the Islamic movement as a counterweight to the PLO and the Communists. 'The Isreali Government gave me a budget and the military government gives to the mosques,' he said."
As Dreyfuss notes, "during the 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza and the West Bank did not support resistance to the Israeli occupation. Most of its energy went to fighting the PLO, especially its more left-wing factions, on university campuses."
US diplomats and CIA officials were aware that Israel was fostering Islamic fundamentalism among the Palestinians, but, as noted by Martha Kessler, a senior analyst for the CIA, "we saw Israel cultivate Islam as a counterweight to Palestinian nationalism", but neither the CIA nor the US State Department did anything about it.
It was primarily Israel's far right, Begin, Shamir and Ariel Sharon, who pursued this policy. It is with them that we see the very cynical basis for the exploitation of Islamic fundamentalism in the region. This was explained by Victor Ostrovsky, a former Mossad officer who left the agency and became a strong critic, and wrote two books about the service:
"Supporting the radical elements of Muslim fundamentalism sat well with Mossad's general plan for the region. An Arab world run by fundamentalists would not be party to any negotiations with the West, thus leaving Israel again as the only democratic, rational country in the region. And if the Mossad could arrange for Hamas… to take over the Palestinian streets from the PLO, then the picture would be complete."
Very suspiciously, in 1983, Yassin was arrested by Israeli authorities, but although he was sentenced to 13 years in prison, he was released after only one. Then in 1986-7, Yassin founded Hamas. According to Philip Wilcox, a counterterrorism expert and a former US ambassador who headed the US consulate in Jerusalem at the time, "there were persistent rumors that the Israeli secret service gave covert support to Hamas, because they were seen as a rival to the PLO." Wilcox said the US officials in Jerusalem dealt "regularly and intensively" with Hamas.
After the Palestinian uprising of 1987, the PLO accused Hamas and Yassin of acting "with the direct support of reactionary Arab regimes… in collusion with the Israeli occupation." Yasser Arafat complained to an Italian newspaper: "Hamas is a creation of Israel, which at the time of Prime Minister Shamir, gave them money and more than 700 institutions, among them schools, universities and mosques." Arafat also maintained that Israeli prime minister Rabin admitted to him in the presence of Hosni Mubarak that Israel had supported Hamas.
Essentially, as analyst Ray Hannania pointed out, in "Sharon's Terror Child", published in Counterpunch, "undermining the peace process has always been the real target of Hamas and has played into the political ambitions of Likud. Every time Israeli and Palestinian negotiators appeared ready to take a major step forward achieving peace, an act of Hamas terrorism has scuttled the peace process and pushed the two sides apart."
This pattern continued throughout the shifting developments of the stalled peace process. In 2001, when the PLO secured a Hamas pledge to halt its terrorist attacks, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the assassinations of one of their top officials. As Alex Fishman commented in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot, "whoever gave the green light to this act of liquidation knew full well that he was thereby shattering in one blow the gentlemen's agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority".
In "Hamas and the Transformation of Political Islam in Palestine", for Current History, Sara Roy wrote:
"Some analysts maintain that while Hamas leaders are being targeted, Israel is simultaneously pursuing its old strategy of promoting Hamas over the secular nationalist factions as a way of ensuring the ultimate demise of the [Palestinian Authority], and as an effort to extinguish Palestinian nationalism once and for all."
Essentially, the Muslim Brotherhood (with its many manifestations like Al Qaeda and bin Laden) serves the same role as Samuel Goldstein of Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four: it is an ever-present and manufactured "terrorist" threat, used constantly as a pretext to justify repressive measures at home and expanded imperialistic objectives abroad.
Because, despite all the rhetoric employed in the War on Terror about the threat of "political Islam", unbeknownst to the general public, the manipulation of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the world is still a mainstay of American foreign policy.
According to Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer with experience in Iraq and the Middle East, as well as a neo-conservative hardliner with the notorious American Enterprise Institute:
Most American liberals and conservatives will strongly resist the idea that Islam's clergymen and lay fundamentalists, who usually dislike, if not detest, the United States, Israel, and progressive causes like women's rights, are the key to liberating the Muslim Middle East from its age-old reflexive hostility to the West. There men, not the much admired liberal Muslim secularists who are always praised and sometimes defended by the American government and press, are the United States' most valuable potential democratic allies."
As Robert Dreyfuss ends his book, "the devil's game continues."