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Friday, January 27, 2006

Hamas Rules

This is from the editorial in today's Wall Street Journal.

Hamas Rules

The sweeping victory of the Islamist Hamas party in Wednesday's Palestinian legislative elections can hardly be considered good news. But neither is it surprising, and it may even have the long-run benefit of educating Palestinians about the terrible cost of their political choices.

The ruling Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas governed corruptly, ineffectually and, until the death in 2004 of founder Yasser Arafat, dictatorially. So it is understandable that Palestinians wanted an alternative. That they went for the only other major choice on offer is not necessarily an indication that they share Hamas's goal of destroying Israel and all its citizens. [The next thing they will tell us is that the Germans voted for Hitler in 1933 only because of his economic plan and had no idea he was a racist. CiJ] The vote might even turn out to be clarifying--in the sense of showing the world that no Israeli-Palestinian peace is possible until the Palestinians have leaders who really want to live in peace with Israel.

Of course, there's no sugarcoating what this vote for the party of suicide bombers and social welfare says about the state of Palestinian politics. Partly this is the fault of the losing Fatah faction itself. Ever since its return to the Palestinian territories in the mid-1990s following the Oslo "peace" accords, Fatah has fed Palestinians on a diet of extremist, anti-Semitic propaganda. Its military wing assassinated "moderate" Palestinians, while allowing Hamas to flourish as a terror weapon--both to kill Israelis, and to scare Fatah's American and European patrons about the possible alternatives to its rule.

It should never be forgotten that in 2002--under Arafat's iron fist--Palestinian terrorists were allowed to murder 452 Israelis. That figure later dropped not because of any change of heart on Fatah's part but because Israel and the United States finally gave up on Arafat as a credible peace partner and turned to a strategy of unilateral separation (the infamous "wall") and military strikes.

Partly, too, Israel and the West must own up to their culpability for Wednesday's outcome. Foreign policy critics of the so-called realist school will no doubt be tempted to trumpet the vote as a setback for President Bush's strategy of democratizing the Middle East. But it's more accurate to say that Hamas's win only highlights the damage done by decades of realist support for "strongmen" and "stability."

The calculation at the heart of Oslo was that Arafat and Fatah would impose a dictatorial order on Palestinians that outsiders never could. The late Yitzhak Rabin put it most clearly when he said the point of recognizing Arafat in 1993 was not to give the Palestinians their freedom. It was because Arafat could deal with Hamas and other troublemakers without interference from "the Supreme Court and [the human rights organization] B'Tselem."

Rabin was right that Arafat would have scant regard for the rights of Palestinians. But he was wrong that Arafat would crack down on Hamas. Like every other strongman, Arafat didn't crack down on extremists but used them to his advantage where he could. Palestinians could see that the U.S. was coddling a man who oppressed them, breeding cynicism about U.S. motives and making it hard for democratic movements to flourish. [Of course, the President who coddled Arafat from 1993-2000 wasn't George Bush - it was Bill Clinton. CiJ] The Bush Administration is working hard to change those perceptions and build a Palestinian civil society, but this will take years.

So far the White House--which pushed the Palestinian Authority to hold these elections--has struck the right notes in response to the Hamas victory. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the vote for being peaceful and "by all accounts fair." At the same time she stated that "you cannot have one foot in politics and another in terror." President Bush rightly said Hamas should expect no relations with the United States until it stops calling for Israel's destruction.

The White House will have to resist the temptation, no doubt encouraged by Europe, to pressure Israel to deal with Hamas as it once was pressed to deal with Arafat. But given Hamas's history and declared goals, the onus is on its leaders to show that they have an agenda beyond terror. If Hamas begins to use Gaza as a base to import weapons and attack Israel, [Begins? What have they been doing since August? CiJ] the Jewish state will have every right to strike back in self-defense. And the U.S. should support it in doing so.


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