Monday, October 26, 2009

Muddying the Jaded Waters

Commenting on an interchange between Human Rights Watch and Hamas regarding their rocket fire aimed at Israeli villages, Matthew Yglesias writes:
Clearly, in the real world Hamas is not an organization that’s interested in human rights or the laws of war. But if you read the article you can see that Hamas is at least an organization that’s interested in pretending to be interested in these things and gets into a dialogue with human rights groups.

He then quotes a Hamas spokesperson alleging that their rockets were only intended to hit "military targets", which Matt correctly says is "pretty transparently nonsense."

Still, Matt does claim that "The point here is that Hamas seems to believe that its own legitimacy and interests can, in fact, be damaged by the perception that it is violating the laws of war and attracting the disapproval of human rights monitors." But I don't think the point here is that at all, at least not immediately. The point is Hamas' pursuit of a broader "lawfare" strategy against Israel that is dependent on blurring the boundaries of what constitutes a human rights violation (and violator). The engagement of dialogue is designed to be a stalling action, something they and their credulous defenders can point back to when it is noted that they are a terrorist organization. In other words, while it is correct to say that Hamas views the terrain of human rights as an important battlefront in its larger war against Israel, I think right now they view human rights discourse as being an offensive asset, rather than a defensive liability, and are behaving accordingly. This, obviously, is perverse, and its changing that incentive structure that should be a critical goal of human rights organizations.

Here, Matt's analogy to the Helsinki Watch concept, "aimed at holding the Communist Bloc to account for violations of agreements they had plainly signed in bad faith", is very instructive. Hamas is engaging in this whole human rights dialogue in bad faith. Getting them to talk about human rights is akin to getting the Soviets to sign human rights agreements -- it's the superficial, unaccountable move that is muddying the waters. The job of human rights advocates has to be putting them to their proof -- and calling them out when they fail to meet their stated "commitments".

No comments: