Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Punishing prospects: pressure on Hamas or Palestinian Population?

It appears we will never learn that sanctions aimed at a regime or government rarely, if ever, achieve more than cause hardship for the population. The regime in question never complies with the demands imposed on it; instead it usually ends up further entrenched in its current position. During the Iraq sanctions, imposed by the UN Security Council (UN Resolution 661), 500,000 Iraqi children died (according to estimates by UNICEF). Saddam Hussein did not give an inch. The Oil for Food Program had to be brought in to counter the effect of the sanctions and allow the purchase of items to sustain the population.

With its aid cut-off to Hamas, the quartet is set to achieve a similar result, perhaps only differing in degree. And there are questions regarding the legality of these sanctions too. From The Guardian:

Tuesday May 9, 2006
The Guardian

International law bans collective punishment - a tenet the representatives of the Middle East peace "quartet" should bear in mind when they meet in New York today to consider the grave situation in the Palestinian territories. The US and the EU suspended their direct funding of the Palestinian Authority when the government of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, entered office last month. Their purpose was to pressure Hamas to formally recognise Israel, abandon violence, and accept agreements concluded between Israel and the PA when it was being run by Yasser Arafat and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas. The boycott has not achieved these goals. By not paying the salaries of 165,000 public employees it has aggravated the rapidly deteriorating economic crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It may thus achieve an undeclared and highly risky aim: the collapse of the Hamas government.
The quartet - Russia and the UN form the other half - are to discuss creating a special international "mechanism" to bypass Hamas and funnel aid through the World Bank, the IMF or the UN. Optimists hope Israel might agree to use this channel to resume its suspended tax transfers to the PA. It is unclear whether the US will back this. If it does not, the Europeans should for once be prepared to go it alone in resuming aid to the Palestinians, as Russia has done. That means cash will flow again to health and education, helping alleviate the misery and despair being reflected in new fighting between Hamas and Fatah gunmen. That in turn risks pushing Gaza, already a byword for deprivation and violence, over the edge of the abyss. The normally cautious World Bank is now warning of a "humanitarian catastrophe".

It does not take a genius to work out how to avoid this. Overall, greater imagination and flexibility is needed to handle Hamas. Having carried out 60 suicide bombings against Israeli targets, mostly civilians, it has maintained a ceasefire for 16 months. That is more important than the totemic issue of recognising Israel. Palestinians voted for it because they had despaired of progress towards a just peace under the discredited old PA regime, not because they had converted en masse to jihad. [my emphasis] Hamas won the sort of democratic election which the US claims to be encouraging. James Wolfensohn resigned recently as the quartet's envoy because he thought the aid cutoff was plain wrong. Jimmy Carter, the former US president, has put it well:"Depriving the people of Palestine of their basic human rights just to punish their elected leaders is not a path to peace."

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At 9:28 PM, Blogger Oleh Yahshan said...

I happen to agree with you that the moves were not done in the most smart way (to say the least). But there is still a problem with Hamas, and there is a problem giving them money, since there is not way to control where it goes.
I do not blame the Palestinians for this - although they knew full well who they were voting for before the elections. Not that that is an excuse to deny them medical and food.

On the other hand all Hamas would have to do is say that they denounce terrorism and they will negotiate with Israel and the world would have bent over backwards to help them out. Instead they continue to make statements - such as support for the Attack on T.A. over Passover - and a refusal to budge on the recognition issue.

At 3:25 PM, Blogger Gert said...


Hamas were already making noises towards recognition and a further, extended long term truce. But cutting funds and basically punishing the people Hamas is supposed to govern, is hardly going to be conducive to them throwing their hands in the air and comply. This kind of pressure tactics will only further delay everything by antagonising people.

At 4:02 PM, Anonymous David Zarnett said...

The charter of Hamas states: "Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors."

Many Hamas officials have even stated their refusal to recognize Israel as a legitimate entity. They only recognize that it does exist in reality but this is not the type of recognition that will further the chance of peace talks or some sort of reconciliation. Hamas outright rejects the idea of Jewish nationalism especially its manifestation in any part of 'Greater Palestine.' Article 28 of the charter states: "Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims."

The Hamas government is only pragmatic in the sense that it realizes it must do certain things, such as maintain a sense of relative quiet, to keep alive their ideological goals. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal recently said in Qatar: "We ask all the people in surrounding Arab countries, the Muslim world, and everyone who wants to support us to send weapons, money, and men." This is not indicative of a government considering recognizing the State of Israel as a true neighbour. Also, it seems like Hamas only wants resources to further violent resistance rather than other resources to help the socio-economic condition on the ground. If they stop chanting for war against Israel, they will no longer hold any power as anti-Israel sentiment is a unifying force in Palestinian society that is diverse and fractured. Money should be sent through sources that are out of the reach of Hamas.

At 6:25 PM, Blogger Gert said...


I'm surprised at your fairly hard words after re-reading one of your posts here.

"The charter of Hamas states: "Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors."

Threats that cannot be carried out remain empty threats, nothing more. I wouldn't want to give a penny to each hard-line Israeli in favour of forced "relocation" of all Palestinians either (don't make me dig up a few sample sites).

"Many Hamas officials have even stated their refusal to recognize Israel as a legitimate entity. They only recognize that it does exist in reality but this is not the type of recognition that will further the chance of peace talks or some sort of reconciliation."

Most Islamic states do not recognise Israel either and refer to it as the "Zionist Entity". Some of these are US allies. Hamas is therefore not unique in this.

"The Hamas government is only pragmatic in the sense that it realizes it must do certain things, such as maintain a sense of relative quiet, to keep alive their ideological goals. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal recently said in Qatar: "We ask all the people in surrounding Arab countries, the Muslim world, and everyone who wants to support us to send weapons, money, and men." This is not indicative of a government considering recognizing the State of Israel as a true neighbour."

This is only one and a rather narrow interpretation of Hamas' and Palestinian resistance. Most Palestinians today see the Intifada and other forms of violent resistance as a fight against occupation. Broadly speaking I support that interpretation as valid, regarding territories controlled by Israel, which should rightly belong to the Palestinian people.

You're pointing to Palestinian intransigence regarding the recognition of Israel and the renouncing of violence but what about Israeli intransigence and its constant and long-standing flaunting of UN resolutions regarding the settlements? The settlements remain the main obstacle to peace and should never have allowed to be built in the first place. It's difficult to see these settlements other than an expression of Israel's territorial ambitions, supported by a good few Israelis on the right side.

Already we're hearing that Olmert's unilaterlism will mean holding on to the main settlement blocks, which will be a thorn in Palestinian and Arab sides, as well as endanger the contiguity of a future Palestinian state.

"Also, it seems like Hamas only wants resources to further violent resistance rather than other resources to help the socio-economic condition on the ground. If they stop chanting for war against Israel, they will no longer hold any power as anti-Israel sentiment is a unifying force in Palestinian society that is diverse and fractured. Money should be sent through sources that are out of the reach of Hamas."

You're missing the central point of this post and the featured article here: isolating Hamas will not make them any more amenable.

No, it is time for Israel to make some serious concessions, then let them see what kind of reaction these get. You forget all too easily that Israel, whatever it does, cannot lose this conflict. It's from this arrogant bully perspective that it feels it can dictate whatever it feels: what could the other side realistically do about it? Thankfully, many Israelis are beginning to see it that way too.

At 12:24 AM, Anonymous David Zarnett said...

To this point, nothing has convinced me that Hamas' threat of politicide is empty or meaningless. Their goal to replace Israel is at the core of their religious-political existence. Hamas officials would agree as seen in their charter.

For Hamas, and like minde radical Islamist groups, patience is a key weapon. They are willing to sit and wait until the Jewish State is weakened politically, morally, economically and is at the point of collapse. Through educating youths not for peace but rather violent martyrdom they are preparing for the time when it will be right for an Islamic state to replace the Jewish one. I am not making this plot up - I have taken it from Hamas' own charter. If we both happened to be Israelis living next to a government who called for our political destruction, I think we would feel threatened.

I am of the opinion that little will change Hamas in terms of their core ideology. Engaging them now will create a pattern of deceit that will result in the "West" being tricked and prodded along convinced that Hamas has changed its ways. This will not be surprising since it occurred with the PLO (most elements not all) and Arafat. If Hamas is isolated, they will seek out support from their ideological partners - the Iranian government or al-Qaeda for instance. Both policy options (engagement or isolation) will have the same result - Hamas as an ideologically driven organization working towards the destruction of Israel with or without international aid. This is why I believe assistance must be given to reliable organizations who can actually give money to the people to meet their needs. Whether such organizations exist is another question.

The settlements are indeed a problem. They are the fault of the governments and army who let them be established rather than the people who actually moved there to build them. If the serious concession you mention here is to remove the Jews from the West Bank, I believe that this is a human rights violation. As the Guardian stated, collective punishment is contrary to international law. What Israel does need to concede is the military and economic control of the West Bank. The new Palestinian state must be ready to accept the Jewish minority as equal citizens under the law. No longer will the settlements be protected by the army and allowed to use a disproportionate amount of resources. And no longer will these settlements (which are really more like cities) be only for Jews.

We agree the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes was a grave human rights violation perpetrated by Arab and Jewish forces. This violation can not be undone by a second grave human rights violation that would deny the rights of Jews to live in what they view as the cradle of their civilization and religion.

The occupation must end but the residence of Jews in the West Bank must be able to continue under a Palestinian state.

I do not believe that the West Bank is rightfully Palestinian in entirety as I do not view the land of Israel as only rightfully belonging to Jews. The view that the West Bank is solely the property of the Palestinians rejects the importance the West Bank has for many Jews (both religious and secular). Even non-zionist Jews believe in the importance of the West Bank in Jewish history. Whether rooted in fact or not, this is a mentality that we can not deny them just as we can not deny that the Palestinians also have a claim to that land.

The settlements as Jewish enclaves are not the main problem. Rather it is the forms of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism that exist in the region. Zionism must be reformed to accept that ownership of the land is not exclusive to the Jews and Palestinian nationalism must also change in tandem.

Israeli Arabs live alongside Jews in Israel. There place in society is equal in law but unequal in practice but a change in this will occur only when the appropriate changes in Zionism happen. The same must be true for Jews living in the future Palestinian state.

So Gert, I think I have finally answered your question as to what my desired to solution is. Pragmatic or not, changes must be made in the identities of those in Israel/Palestine to accomodate a sharing of the land within a two-state model. For bi-nationalism negates these national identities because it rejects the right to self-government. Consociationalism sounds great but I dont think it will work in this context when both national groups desire government lead predominantly by their own community.

Not sure if all of this makes sense and I am sure you will point up some contradiction I have made.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Gert said...


Thanks for indeed providing your idea of a solution for the Palestinian question. There is of course no easy way out of the quagmire and any solution will be difficult and painful (and none may ever be achieved).

I will answer just a few points.

On Hamas we will simply have to agree to disagree. I'm convinced that the aspirations of a slow politicide and Islamic take-over of Israel will gradually fade out and disappear as I believe has already happened to a considerable extent. And I certainly don't believe such a plot is remotely realistic. I guess it's a matter of opinion.

How can removing Jewish settlers from the West Bank be a human rights violation or collective punishment? The settlers knew what they were doing and did it often in contravention of both International and Israeli law. Please don't tell me they were unaware of this. Like the Gaza settlers they would be resettled and compensated financially. Many in the West Bank haven't exactly lived there for a lifetime either, as is so often claimed.

I would have no problem with a Jewish minority living in the West Bank amongst a Palestinian majority and under Palestinian control. But I believe the idea would be abhorrent to the Jewish settlers themselves. This is not some kind of accusation of racism; I simply feel these people would not feel at all safe. Correct me if I'm seeing this wrongly.

If I understand your idea correctly you're proposing a two state solution with conservation (more or less) of current landownership and equal citizenships for Israelis and Israeli Arabs in Israel, and equal citizenships for Palestinians and Jews living in Palestine. Am I understanding this correctly? This seems to me to be close to Sophia's preferred solution.

If so, although such a plan has merit to me, it would indeed require both Nationalistic paradigms to shift dramatically. Is this achievable? Maybe. But it would take almost a generation, if not more, to cause an opinion shift in this direection. Both many Jews and many Palestinians would outright reject the idea, although many are in favour of it too.

It seems though that with Kadima, we're set for a different solution altogether. Hamas is unlikely to bow under pressure regarding the recognition issue. So, unilateralism appears the most likely outcome, for the time being at least.

Thanks for your comments (comment further if you like).

At 2:48 PM, Blogger Sophia said...

I am not participating in this debate on your blog as I pledged before. I just want to correct a misunderstanding:
I think you didn't understand 'my' solution. I am for the one state solution for all citizens with equal rights. 'Mine' is radically different.

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Gert said...

OK, Sophia, thanks for clearing that up.

At 3:35 PM, Anonymous David Zarnett said...

Hi Gert,

Settlers moving out willingly is not a human rights violation but rather their forced removal from their homes would be. As some ethnic cleansing occurred with the creation of Israel, the same should not happen with the creation of a State of Palestine. There does not need to be further evacuations of people from their homes if both nationalisms can reconcile with a dual-entitlement to the Land.

I would argue that these settlers did not view their action as illegal. In Israel, there are some who question the actual meaning of Resolution 242. Both Israelis and Palestinians have interpreted it in a way that benefits their agenda. So for many, settling that land wasnt necessarily against international law. I also wonder to what extent these people considered what international law said about settlement. In 1977, Israeli law under the Begin government increased settlement activity.

What these settlers were negligent in realizing was their inhabitance in the West Bank might not make the local Palestians that happy. But like that of International Law, this did not register in the mind of the settler as long as they had guns and the army. The settler was more concerned with either fulfilling the Religious Zionist ethos of settling the land to prepare for the Messiah, or was simply moving to the 'suburbs' for cheaper housing and a higher standard of living. If one is religious this is an understandable course of action especially if the opportunity presents itself to move to the land considered that of your ancestors. For those economic settlers, we all see the lure of the suburb for many and these Israelis are no different.

Their behaviour rather than their existence is problematic. To punish these people for their religious beliefs or desire to live a better life is wrong I think as long as they do not result on the infringement of Palestinian rights. Certain conditions must be put into place that will prevent these settlers from acting in a way that is detrimental to the lives of their Arab neighbours.

I think for those who are driven by religious conviction compensation will do little to persuade them to leave. This reasoning holds true for Hamas in that no amount of cash will persuade a real ideologue to give up his/her ideology. Gaza was home to many economic settlers who were more willing to accept money to leave their homes.

As you have pointed out, this solution is not as much a political one as it is one that demands grasssroot paradigm shifts. But I would argue that popular forms of Zionism are not so far off from the desired model as outlined above. In 1982 influential writer Amos Oz outlined his belief that Zionism must embody a dual entitlement to the Land. Many other Israeli academics indicate similar positions such as Emmanuel Adler who talks about identity changes for conflict resolution. At a popular level, I have no idea if such an idea is accepted. I find its too hard to generalize about Israeli society or even its "mainstream" movements. And I simply to do not know enough to make such an assessment.


At 3:48 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Hi David,

It appears to me that our viewpoints are converging rather than diverging at this point.

Let me first point out that 20, perhaps as little as 10 years ago, I would still have been in favour of a "land sharing" solution with equal rights for both Palestinian and Israeli inhabitants. But today, I see such a solution as increasingly utopian and removed from the reality on the ground. For that reason, and for that reason alone, do I believe the solution of "two segregated states" is more realistic and could be achieved more quickly. But then haste may not provide the best option. So let me ponder on a few points you mentioned.

The question whether the settlers perceived their own actions to be legal or not doesn't actually change the legal status of these actions.

A recent re-screening of "Israel's Generals" (Storyville series) brought this home in graphic detail, once more. In the episode on Yitzak Rabin, the General is ordered to remove a settlement. He does so with great difficulty, only to find to his visible exasperation these people had moved back less than a fortnight later. That a considerable portion of the settlers knew that what they were doing was illegal is really beyond reasonable doubt to me. As you pointed out, the real push for more settlements starts quite late in Israel's history.

You are of course right in pointing out that different settlers have different motives, from economic to Religious (summarising). It's also clear that most Gaza settlers were of the former type and that they accepted relocation and compensation mostly without too much protest. Only a relatively small group of die-hards resisted much, often helped by a bunch of "settlers-for-the-day".

You assert that those wanting to fulfil the Religious Zionist ethos will not be swayed by wads of cash. Fair point. That then leads me to ask whether they would accept Palestinian control, assuming they are given equal rights in the new situation. Logic would seem to point in that direction: if their connection is more with what they see as the Biblical Land of Israel and their ancestral homelands, rather than with the actual State of Israel, they should not feel much different about living under Palestinian control. But if push came to shove, how would they really feel about making do without the umbrella of the State of Israel? And considering some of them don't really seem to recognise the authority of the State, will they have the same attitude towards Palestinian authority? If so, that would be equally problematic.

Frankly, I've always found it baffling that a modern secular state like Israel seems (on the face of it) to bow to the whims of a number of religious zealots, whose basis for a Zionist ideology is contentious at best and complete nonsense at worst (but one cannot seriously discuss matters of faith). No, this isn't a pot-shot at Judaeism, but the more radical elements, like in any other religion, tend to base their actions on very ancient texts that appear rather void of meaning without a modern interpretation. It appears to me that the Israeli political establishment has been using these people as electoral fodder, possible also creating bargaining chips for any future peace negotiations.

At some point you compare the Religious section of the settlers to Hamas, in the sense that the latter will not be "bought" either. David, as I believe you well know, ideologists change their stance from fairly radical to quite moderate all the time. In their student years both Tony Blair and Jack Straw (and other Blairites) were firmly on the Left (some even on the Loony Left), today, at best, they are centre Right. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness (along with others Sinn Fein members) were once wide-eyed Irish Republican Revolutionaries and members of the IRA. I don't think I need to go on.

Hamas' participation in the political process indicates in itself a shift to moderation and pragmatism. You, David, may see this as a delaying tactic but to me it fits in with the classical conversion of the "revolutionary" to the "Real-politician".

As regards how the affinities towards varies "solutions" lie with various population groups, I remain as much in the dark as you, as I've stated elsewhere.

Again, thanks for the discussion.

At 7:00 PM, Anonymous David Zarnett said...

You raise some good points.

In regards to idelogues becoming more pragmatic over time I think that that is a more Western phenomenon. When it comes to radical Islam, I think there is less room for movement.

In the Irish and British case, those actors were less imbued with stric religious interpretations but rather secular western ideologies that were unproven and provided some ideological space that enabled some sort of reconciliation with other more moderate perspectives. (i.e. Fabian socialism reconciled with some attributes of Capitalism). Ben-Gurion initially was a Marxist but he then changed upon realizing that it was an impractical theory in the real world.

In regards to radical Islamists, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood indicate the trend that within their worldviews there is less of a chance for a reformation. The PLO was able to alter their ideology slightly because they were imbued with Western-secular notions rather than Islamic ones. Iran is another example of the reluctance for radical Islamist groups to become more pragmatic and to renounce their ideology even when they take power and form a government.

So in short I think a radical Islamist ideology provides less room for change or moderation than a comparable strict ideology emanating from the West as you have pointed out. But this is just my interpretation based on what I have seen so far, and perhaps I am missing some cases in which radical Islamist groups have indeed renounced their ideology and become more moderate.

At 3:12 PM, Blogger Gert said...

In my view there is little difference between for example Hamas and, say, the IRA, in terms of their evolution. The latter were extremists because of the near-religious zeal of their convictions (I'm not referring to the fact that nominally they were Catholics, that was more of a veneer than a conviction).

And completely atheist ideologies like Marxism also attract those who "have the faith" (in the "cause"), without necessarily being well versed in Marx's theory.

The IRA started to lay down the guns when it realised armed struggle alone would not achieve their goals and when the British Government showed willingness to negotiate. I see no real reason why Hamas would respond much differently. To me, by entering politics they have de facto already begun that process. And it's possible, even likely, that some backchannel contacts between Hamas and the Israeli Government are already taking place. I agree that Hamas must recognise Israel and renounce violence but this will not be achieved by not talking to them.

I also want to get back briefly to what you consider being human rights violations, the forced removal of some settlers. States have repossessed land and evicted its inhabitants in most countries of the world, to make way for public infrastructure such as roads and motorways. The owners have always been very generously compensated for their inconvenience. These aren't human rights violations in my view, although for those at the receiving end, the experience may not be a positive one

In a secular state I don't see why an exception should be made for those who invoke Religion. Undoubtedly there are some perfectly valid and legal exceptions to be made but the fact that someone believes "G-d" has given them the right to live somewhere cannot be one of them.

This is of course in the assumption that a shift in Nationalistic paradigms cannot be achieved. Considering little is being done to achieve this, right now that shift doesn't seem to be the most likely outcome.

At 6:06 PM, Anonymous David Zarnett said...

If Israel was a fully secular state I would agree with your assessment. But I do not think it is, and the government as well as portions of the population, realize that the "rights" of the religious sector (Haredi or nationalist) must be protected to some degree. One of the reasons that Israel has no constitution is simply because of the religious-secular divide as they could not agree on a definition of the religious nature of the state.

In this regard, the government realizes they must grant certain rights to religious communities and one of them seems to be the right to settle in the West Bank. So with the importance of religion coupled with the importance of the land, removal of these people seems much more problematic than that of a relocation of people due to the building of a highway. While your analogy is interesting, I feel like it does not fit the case of Israel.

Back to the issue of providing aid for Hamas. I have two issues I want to raise:

1) Why are other nations in which the people suffer to a much larger degree not afforded the same attention or financial support as it debated regarding Hamas? This doesn't make much sense to me considering the many humanitarian disasters in this world where the governments are not in fact espousing violent ideologies but rather just failed states.

2) If Hamas' ideology is as flexible as you argue, than why wont it simply give in to the demands of the international community and recongize Israel (as a legitimate entity) and renounce violence especially as their people suffer. If they continue to refuse, it is not the int'l community who is to blame for the plight of the Palestinians but rather their own government who refuses to consider the daily lives of their constituents as more important than their own ideological abmitions and power seeking personalities.

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Gert said...

I don't think anyone disputes that the religious sector of Israeli society must be protected in the same way as the secular part. But what you're asserting amounts to positive discrimination: because they are religious they should be afforded the right to settle in the West Bank. This is plain absurd: prior to 1967, Israel had no control over the West Bank, so these religious people couldn't have settled there without the 1967 war. After 1967 the Israeli Government's appetite for settlement there is at first not so great either.

I would have no problem with the land sharing solution you advocate, assuming these settlers would enjoy equal rights under Palestinian control and that this would be acceptable to the Palestinians. Both latter conditions are where the shoe doesn't really fit, in my honest opinion.

There is plenty land in Israel proper for religious settlers to "make the desert bloom" without having their human right violated. Frankly, regards the latter, I feel that you're building a very weak case.

As regards your two points on Hamas.

The Israel/Palestine conflict is one in which many feel they have a stake: many Europeans for obvious reasons, many Americans for often different reasons. This does indeed lead to disproportionate attention being aid to this particular part of the world, I agree with you on this.

I compared Hamas to the IRA: that's hardly an expression of belief in the flexibility of Hamas! The IRA took decades to fundamentally change its stance and ultimately lay down arms. Hamas is indeed unlikely to change quickly although we've already seen change: politisation surely is a step in the right direction?

On the recognition and terror issues Hamas will in my honest opinion change at some point (possibly closer to 2010). No doubt an internal struggle is going on between "doves" and "hawks", as is the case in any movement, from terror organisations to golf clubs. I see reports that the doves are making themselves heard quite clearly but they will meet resistance from hardliners. Again, rocket science this ain't...

My main objection to the aid cut-off is that it's likely to harden the hawks' position. To me that's simply a predictable human reflex. Nobody likes to be forced into doing something. Instead dialogue promotes mutual understanding and can lead to incremental changes in attitude and concessions which would be deemed more acceptable than a perceived u-turn of back peddle. I really don't see why this is so hard to understand. Want a precedent? Try PLO.

As regards your remark on Hamas' "ideological ambitions and power seeking personalities", it's gratuitous because it can be said about any government, not in the least the Israeli government. And without government the Palestinians won't get very far either.


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