Hamas’ War 2.0 Counterstrike

From We Are Cyborgs:

Hamas has launched a new website, www.palutube.com, to highlight pro-Palestine videos from the war in Gaza and assorted other pro-Palestinian content including nationalist songs and spirited demonstrations. This is in response to Israel’s already strong Web 2.0 presence covering the war. Palutube is in Arabic by default but a drop down menu on the right side allows you to switch to English. Currently I am having a great deal of trouble loading the site so don’t be surprised if you are have trouble as well. Nonetheless I will try to embed a video from Palutube below. It is worth noting that because Hamas has chosen to host their own website (though not host all of their own videos), they are not bound by any other web portal’s terms of service (like the IDF is bound to YouTube’s TOS and authority). Thus there is some powerful and controversial language on Palutube. Most notably a banner that reads “The Zionist Holocaust in Gaza of the Innocent People [sic]”.

(Editor’s note: For some reason WordPress is not allowing me to embed video from Palutube here despite the fact that it works on the other site)

palutube

We are now talking about a war in which Israel refuses to allow foreign journalists access into Gaza, and both sides are battling for global support and to shape the narrative of the conflict via Web 2.0 strategies. As the Gulf War was the first cable news war, the current Israel-Palestine conflict is the first YouTube war. The obvious question being: is this the future of wartime journalistic propaganda?

It is clear from watching just a few of the videos available on Palutube that there is a different tone here than on the IDF’s YouTube channel. The IDF’s content has focused on justifying their attacks, which have been widely criticized as a disproportionate response to Hamas’ aggression, through videos of Hamas’ rocket attacks and evidence of other Hamas wrongdoing. In contract new Hamas site is a mix of videos that either display the large scale suffering that is going on in Gaza or provide evidence that Palestinian morale in Gaza is not dead through songs and videos of demonstrations.

The latter videos are particularly of interest considering the character of the Israeli attacks. It is quite clear that Israel’s attacks are an act of aggression by the side with the upper hand. Hamas rocket fire into Israel, while indefensible from the perspective of someone who would like to see the conflict resolved through diplomacy, is essentially impotent in comparison to the Israeli response. The Israeli message is that Hamas is thoroughly out gunned and by continuing to fire into Israel Hamas is inviting Israel to respond tenfold simply because they can. In a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece Rashid Khalidi presented a particularly insightful quote from former IDF chief of staff Moshe Yaalon: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.” Temporarily setting aside how disturbing that statement is, with Palutube Hamas appears intent on saying it is also not correct.

Negotiation is the first step towards peace

Yesterday I wondered whether the incoming Obama administration would be able to maintain the realist/Clintonista/Obamanaut coalition of foreign policy operatives on difficult questions like the situation in Gaza. The apparent appointment of Richard Haass as Middle East envoy is the first step towards a more pragmatic, even handed role in the crisis (it could have been Clinton era negotiator Dennis Ross). Haass has had sensible things to say about the US’ role in the Middle East more generally, and I believe he understands the importance of strategic leadership in a post-unipolar world. Of even greater interest to the potential for a solution to the conflict is the possibility of negotiations with Hamas, who must be satisfied for any ceasefire agreement to have lasting effect. According to the Guardian:

The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush’s ­doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.

The move to open contacts with Hamas, which could be initiated through the US intelligence services, would represent a definitive break with the Bush ­presidency’s ostracising of the group. The state department has designated Hamas a terrorist organisation, and in 2006 ­Congress passed a law banning US financial aid to the group.

The article goes on to explain that the administration won’t give Hamas diplomatic status or hold high level talks. But  merely recognizing and engaging with Hamas could eventually prove to be a move towards reconciliation, and is a useful first step in the path towards a lasting peace. The situation in Gaza is in some ways analogous to the financial collapse: the collapse of current policy could provide political cover to finally make the sacrifices to move the world in a more positive long term direction. I hope the Obama administration will start to bring Hamas into the international community, just as was done with the PLO, and give credence to the complaints of the Palestinian people.

In doing so, Obama should embrace and extend the non-military aspects of Bush’s democracy promotion in the Middle East. Bush was committed to democracy in name only, and was not truly willing to accept the will of the people in instances where Islamist governments won free and fair elections. However, the US, and the West more generally, would be making a grave strategic mistake if they fail to accept the inclusion of Islamist parties in government, and will do much more harm than good by seeking to marginalize all Islamist groups. Hamas won a free and fair election to represent the Palestinian people and were immediately opposed by Israel, the US and the international community. This was a mistake from the start, and the Palestinian civil war, and the War on Gaza are the direct result of this decision.

What I am advocating here may sound radically pro-Palestinian, but I actually think of myself as a Zionist who wishes to see the continuation of a majority Jewish state in the Middle East. I believe the only way to reconcile my traditionally liberal political beliefs and my desire for a majority Jewish state is the creation of a stable, viable, Palestinian state that provides the Palestinian people with the autonomy and resources to create a future for themselves. The US must recognize the importance of the creation of a vibrant Palestinian state for the continuation of Israel as a Jewish state. Furthermore, we should recognize that any organization that legitimately represents the Palestinian people will express resistance to what the Palestinians view (as does most of the rest of the world) as a occupation by a foreign power. The current conflict will only solidify Palestinian feelings of injustice and powerlessness, and strengthen groups like Hamas that prey off the anger that ensues.

The US must be tough and fair with the Israelis – but also with the Palestinians. This means recognizing that Hamas is the most legitimate broker of the Palestinian agenda – an agenda that must be reckoned with. However, bringing Hamas to the table doesn’t mean acceding to their demands. The US should overwhelm the potential resistance to a peace deal by offering terms that would make Hamas look foolish for refusing. We could do this by pledging to underwrite a peace keeping force that would be responsible for maintaining preliminary international boundaries, while negotiations for a final agreement were underway. The terms of the final agreement will, for political and policy reasons, look something like the Arab Peace Initiative, and include an agreement with Syria.

Of course, the path I am outlining is a bold one, and will require an extreme amount of care taken towards solidifying Israeli public opinion. There are an incredible number of potential obstacles to this path, not the least of which is domestic American political opposition to the move towards peace by a right wing, Likud affiliated US pro-Israel lobby. However, after eight years of languishing without any hope of movement towards a lasting peace, any change in policy, not matter how slight, could be the first step in a forging a new path in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ah, there it is again: Hope! Change! In these halcyon days of transition from the administration that is the originator of all evils to the administration That Can, we (I?) can project any and all actions as a move towards the ideal policy.

Yes we might!