Today, Singapore, 05/04/2006
Yet again, the parties in the Middle East have achieved unanimity on the only issue they have ever been able to agree on – how to make a miserable situation even worse. When Hamas decided to run in the Palestinian elections, Israel’s immediate response was to call the Palestinian Authority to order and insist on preventing Hamas’ participation. This reaction was based on the PA’s commitment in the Oslo Accords, not to permit political parties that call for the destruction of Israel to participate in elections. Regrettably, the Palestinian Authority, under pressure from Hamas and the public, refused to act and the US administration, probably in the mistaken belief that Hamas wouldn’t win anyway, leaned on Israel not to push the issue. Apparently under the same misconception that Hamas didn’t have the votes, Israel relented. To sum it up: It was right to prevent Hamas from running but everybody that should have and could have, didn’t. Hamas ran and won.
And now ? Israel, the US and much of the international community including Arab and Muslim countries would like to put the genie back into the bottle. This is not likely to happen. Hamas neither took the PA by force nor by storm, it won the elections, fair and square, not overwhelmingly and with only a modest plurality of eligible Palestinian voters (about 30%), nonetheless through a democratic process certified by observers from the international community. Israel and the US are now mobilizing that very same community to help choke Hamas.
How do you choke Hamas? Strangle the Palestinian Authority in a way that damages Hamas and not PA President Abu Mazen, harms PM Ismail Haniye and his government but not the Palestinian population. Is that possible? Any rational person will tell you that it is possible, just as it is possible that the Messiah will come down from heaven tomorrow morning. Is it probable? I don’t think so. The US and Israel are presently looking for ways how to channel humanitarian aid to the Palestinian population, bypassing the Hamas government, an endeavour which is unlikely to be totally successful, if at all. The international community is not united in its attitude towards Hamas and Russia, always ready to throw a spanner into any American initiative, has already broken ranks. Japan, China, India, South Africa, some members of the EU, notably France and others are in the process of doing so. Arab and Muslim countries, as unpleasantly surprised as they were with the Hamas victory and as much as they fear similar developments in their own countries, are not likely to support US lead efforts against Hamas which would cause more suffering to the Palestinian population and Iran is gleefully rubbing hands, ready to pour in support for the organization at the drop of a hat. Last not least, the Palestinian people will resist outside interference with their election results. They are resilient and have stood up to tremendous pressures before. They also have very little left to lose.
While Hamas must officially revoke the abhorrent policies and agendas vis-à-vis Israel it has promoted forcefully for more than 20 years, it is unreasonable to expect this to happen immediately. Hamas has already stopped terror operations more than half a year ago, is modifying and sporadically moderating its position by the day and is trying to find its way under almost impossible conditions. Is it changing fast enough? No. Are its leaders a likeable bunch saying nice things? Mostly not. But, objectionable as we may find them, due to poor decision making by Israel, the US and the Palestinian Authority, they now have one crucial element in their favor – the moral authority of a democratic election victory. This should give everybody a moment to pause and think. Or two.
There are only two choices left:
- Continue the brutal pressure against Hamas hoping fervently that it will work and at the same time, drive Palestinians to more violence and the PA into more chaos since collateral damage harming the population will be unavoidable.
- Let go, continue to support the PA as before, use diplomatic pressure combined with a carrots and sticks approach and give Hamas the opportunity and time to make the necessary policy changes.
Continued forceful efforts against Hamas could very well cause the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and convince Abu Mazen to hand the keys back to Israel. I have sincere doubts that anybody would cherish this outcome or would know what to do then.