Getting past the “Ifs” after Gaza


Conditional peacemaking isn’t exactly new in the Middle East; "If" Hamas rejects terrorism, "If" Israel freezes settlements are among the "ifs" littering current considerations of what to do in the wake of the Gaza Strip war

Sometimes the stars come together and the "ifs" become reality, but I can’t recall a crisis as beset with "ifs" as the current one. Much of it is the legacy of the last year or so of the Bush administration: Condoleezza Rice, for instance, made much of the modest improvements scored by Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank, never explaining what this had to do with the fact that Hamas terrorists controlled Gaza.

Nathan Brown at the Carnegie Endowment has the best run-down I’ve seen so far of how tenuous these "ifs" are, separately and – even more so – as an accumulation. His conclusion: The real negotiation underway — the one not conditioned on "ifs" — is taking place, as we speak, between Hamas and Israel, however much the parties deny it. Take it from there, Brown suggests, without any prescriptions that would require further "ifs."

I’m not sure whether I agree entirely  — realistic preconditions are not out of place in peace-making — but so many of the conditions wrapped into the current proposals are anything but realistic. (Is the Abbas P.A. really ready to assume control of Gaza’s borders? On whose say-so? What imaginable post-Feb. 10 Israeli government is going to immediately freeze settlements?)

I do have one quibble though: Brown’s summary is the first time I’ve read about reports of the Hamas government’s incorporation of crucifixion into its jurisprudence. Apparrently, this has been bouncing around the right-wing echo chamber (spurred, particularly, by Palestinian Media Watch), and Brown does a good job of puncturing it (I’ve had my own frustrating brushes with over-eager right-wing reaches for examples of Palestinian nefariousness).

Apparently, crucifixion was never made law — it was listed in considerations of  punishments by Hamas’ Justice Ministry, based on examinations of ancient Islamic laws, and has gone no farther.

Brown uses this as an example of a cautionary tale: Don’t let the echo chambers overwhelm the dialogue.

I’m not sure this is the best example. The fact that crucifixion was even under consideration by the Hamas Justice Ministry is shocking enough, and I think worthy of attention — not the front page story I’d give the "Hamas passes crucifixion law" story it turned out not to be, but an inside page 8 story, I think.

And I’m not interested in religious, cultural differences, etc. We shouldn’t condescend to the Palestinians by ignoring this entirely. What if we found out about a memo examining the efficacy of death-by-stoning circulating inside Israel’s Justice Ministry? Or an assessment of the viability of burning-at-the-stake under consideration at the U.S. Justice Department?

In a sense, the right-wing treatment of this — as described by Brown — is a classic example of aiming for the hard-to-hit bulls-eye on an easy-to-hit target and ending up shooting yourself in the foot. Had Palestinian Media Watch stuck to the facts, this would have been useful evidence in the case against treading very, very cautiously — if at all — when dealing with Hamas. Now, it’s disappeared because the exaggerated story they peddled turns out to be B.S.

That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t reappear. We should assess it with clear eyes: Hamas thinks crucifixion is interesting enough to consider, but apparently understands that its introduction won’t help the case for recognizing the movement’s legitimacy. Ignore that and it becomes a whole new crazy-making "if:" "If we pretend Hamas adheres to modern standards of abjuring cruel and unsual punishment, it becomes so much easier to accept their control of the fate of 2 million people."

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