Something unusual is happening in the upper echelons of the US military establishment. There is a constant drip of reports calling for a change in official policy toward Palestine. What has entered the public domain may only be the tip of the ice-berg, and although the movement may be slow; some insiders believe the drift toward change is now unstoppable.
It is not the quantity of articles or their general trajectory that is generating media discussion. It is their openness and depth of analyses. Veteran military analyst, Mark Perry, in a recent article for Foreign Policy uncovered some cold truths underlining the debate raging within the Pentagon.
On the specific subject of Hamas and Hizbullah, Perry believes the top generals are beginning to think ‘outside of the box’. A recent report by a team of senior intelligence officers at the US Central Command – CENTCOM – regarded both movements as serious actors in the region who cannot be destroyed or ignored.
For better or for worse, Gen. Stanley McChrystal represented this trend when he challenged the conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill concerning Afghanistan. His successor, Gen David Petraeus had previously, albeit in a more nuanced manner, expressed his unease about Israel in a report to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen in January.
If nothing else, the recent reports indicate that the US top brass are tentatively edging closer to a position on Palestine that is distinctly at odds with their political masters on the Hill. Whereas the latter have obsessed themselves with an obscure messianic ideology, the generals are emphasising recognition of the grievance factor in the conflict. In the case of the Palestinians, that they have for too long suffered dispossession, exile and subjugation at the hands of America’s ally, Israel.
In their May 7th report titled ‘Managing Hizbullah and Hamas’ the senior intelligence officers at CENTCOM called for the creation of a unified Palestinian security force that includes representation from Hamas. Of itself, this is nothing new. The aborted 2007 Makka Agreement attempted to do precisely this. What is significant, however, is the fact that it is now coming from the US CENTCOM; significant not least because the US Security Co-ordinator (USSC) to the Palestinian Authority, General Keith Dayton, had worked tirelessly for years to prevent this.
Throughout his five years as USSC in Palestine, which comes to an end in the autumn, Dayton promoted a security apparatus that was exclusive to Fatah, hostile to Hamas and loyal to Israel. Perry notes in his article that senior military officers were critical of Dayton’s over-zealous public flirting with Israel, exemplified in his May 2009 address to the Washington Institute for Near East Studies in which he said the reason a high ranking officer was appointed as security coordinator was because he ‘would be trusted by the Israelis.’
If the purpose of an integrated Palestinian security force is to protect Palestinian interests and lives, the inclusion of Hamas would seem laudable and achievable. If, on the other hand, its purpose is to be an apparatus of the Israeli occupation, the project would certainly be doomed. American strategists will have to decide, therefore, whether they want to perpetuate Israel’s illegal occupation or want to support the Palestinians’ right to independence, freedom and security in their land. There is simply no political formula to wed an alien occupation with an indigenous aspiration for freedom.
The disquiet within the Pentagon will reverberate well beyond the US and its allies and particularly in Britain. Already, many parallels have surfaced. As Eliza Manningham-Buller, the ex-head of MI5, warned of the consequences of Britain’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, so too senior intelligence officers in CENTCOM are warning of the consequences of US policies in Palestine.
The political elite may yet continue, for whatever reasons, to ignore the writing on the wall. They may even continue their efforts to isolate, discredit, and humiliate Hamas; but can they sustain this for much longer? Unlikely. The genie is out of the bottle. Now that the generals have spoken, it is no longer a matter of when but how to break the taboo and engage with Hamas.