The Terrorists´ Triumph (FrontPageMagazine.com) By Barry Rubin 05/20/05)
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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. Fatah will not rise to the challenge by stamping out its own
corruption or elevating better leaders.
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:
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
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
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
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