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The Terrorists´ Triumph (FrontPageMagazine.com) By Barry Rubin 05/20/05)Source: http://www.frontpagemagazine.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=18136 Front Page Magazine.com Front Page Magazine.com Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Letís not mince words: The Hamas landslide victory in the recent Palestinian local elections is a disaster for the Palestinians, hopes for peace, and Israel. It is a historical turning point. The West will have to choose between recognizing what is happening or veering onto some very dangerous ground.

It is first necessary to dispose of the desperate, outrageously naive attempts to soften the blow. The main ones are to claim Fatah "won" the election despite the fact that it received only 40 percent of the votes or that victory will moderate Hamas.

The key point is that Hamas now will be able to veto even the smallest steps toward peace or compromise by Abu Mazin. In effect, a peace process that might produce a comprehensive agreement in the next few years is finished. Consider these points:

  • Fatah will not rise to the challenge by stamping out its own corruption or elevating better leaders.
  • Sensing Fatahís weakness, the dissident faction supporting Marwan Barghuti will raise its demands and perhaps think increasingly of an alliance with Hamas. If independent Fatah candidates run, Abu Mazinís forces will do even worse in the parliamentary election scheduled for July.
  • After this next balloting, Abu Mazin would face a parliamentary opposition of Hamas, leftist hardliners, and dissident Fatah members who can intimidate or block any hint of compromise, moderation, or even living up to the Palestinian Authorityís previous commitments.
  • Hamas did not win the election because of moderation but through its terrorist attacks, demands for total victory, and opposition to a negotiated peace agreement. While the movementís social services and reputation for less corruption also helped, no Hamas leader is concluding that the victory requires abandoning extremism. On the contrary, the vote is a mandate for intransigence.

    The essential issue is this: If Abu Mazin was too afraid to crack down on terrorists, to moderate Palestinian ideology, or negotiate a compromise peace with Israel when he had all the power, he will now be even more timid. Who cares if Fatah is still in control if it does nothing and changes nothing? If he would not disarm Hamas or use force against terrorists before will he act against such a powerful organization now?

    Two examples from before the election. Palestinian terror attacks rose 54 percent between March and April due to Abu Mazin´s passivity. When his forces arrested one Hamas member for firing a rocket at Israel , Hamas simply closed down Gaza with demonstrations for a few hours and threatened government officials´ lives until they released him. Is anyone going to be constrained now from attacking Israel or defying the Palestinian regime?

    In turn, this means that no matter how many concessions Israel makes by withdrawals and prisoner releases or how much money and support the West gives Abu Mazin, there will be no serious peace process. The Palestinian leadership is paralyzed and will do nothing to offend Hamas, which will veto any real peace negotiations, taunting Abu Mazin for real or imagined concessions. Whether Hamas, for its own purposes, lets the ceasefire continue or not, any hope of a real breakthrough is finished.

    So great is the assumption that the Palestinian movement must be moderate and pragmatic that many will simply ignore the new situation and go on expecting that Abu Mazin--all evidence to the contrary--to make peace. Others, especially in Europe , will argue that Hamas can be moderated if appeased at Israelís expense. Having failed to moderate Arafat or his successors, they would use the same tactics on the much tougher, more extreme Islamists.

    Aside from all the obvious points about its ideology, which has consistently demanded Israelís destruction, why should Hamas abandon a program so demonstrably appealing to Palestinians and a strategy clearly working? Its great advantage is terrorist violence. Carrying on more attacks against Israelis, its leadership reasons, will even further show how much more effective it is than rivals.

    Ironically, the foundation for Hamas´s victory was created and maintained by Fatah, the child of Yasir Arafatís combination of extremism and incompetence. It is the natural outcome of his rejection of peace in 2000 and his launching a four-year-long terrorist war. The nationalist leadership daily told the people for years that Israel will collapse, the Palestinians have a right to all its land, violence is the only tactic that works, and compromise is treason.

    Now Israel is faced with the problem of withdrawing from a Gaza Strip where Hamas will be dominant, turn over West Bank towns to a Palestinian Authority showing no interest in disarming or stopping terrorists, and try to help a regime that has no interest in making a peace agreement.

    The other factor is how the West will see these developments. Observers are already dragging in irrelevant analogies without reference to the specific facts about Hamas and Palestinian politics, concluding that a little kindness and running some town councils will moderate Hamas. Many will blame Israel for not making more unilateral concessions. But it was Abu Mazinís failure to break with the past and his colleagues´ disinterest in real change that made Hamas seem an attractive alternative.

    The problem remains the same as before: a Palestinian movement shaped by Arafat, extremism, terror, and demonization of Israel has not produced a moderate leadership or ideology. Western forces appeasing and even cheering the extremists ensure their intransigence. The last peace process took seven years to arrive at its bloody, depressing result; this round seems likely to last less than one year.

    Barry Rubin is Director of the GLORIA Center of the Interdisciplinary Center . His co-authored book, Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography, is now available in paperback and his latest book, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, will be published by Wiley in September. Prof. Rubin´s columns can now be read online at http://gloria.idc.ac.il/columns/column.html. (©2005 FrontPageMagazine.com 05/20/05)

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