There is no joy, say our Sages, like the resolution of doubts. If so, Hamas’ unexpected victory in the Palestinian Authority elections is a welcome event, for it clarifies Israel’s situation vis-à-vis our Palestinian neighbors to an unprecedented degree.
The Hamas victory does not mark a transition from a Fatah-led Palestinian Authority that accepted the existence of Israel and committed itself to a two-state solution to a Hamas-led entity irremediably committed to Israel’s destruction. Rather it marks the transfer of power from Fatah, which appreciated the benefits to be gained from engaging in a misnomered "peace process" with Israel, to Hamas, which is much more forthright about its intention to reclaim every inch of Palestine from the Jewish invaders. Given the identity of aims between the two, Israel is far better off both internally and internationally with Hamas’s frankness.
There is no reason for Israel to join in lamenting the passage of the "moderate" Fatah from power. During the first ten years of the Oslo process, Yasser Arafat used the Palestinian media and school system to whip the population into a frenzy of hatred for Israel. No map in the Palestinian textbooks showed Israel in any boundaries. In Palestinian summer camps, labeled Camp Terror by the New York Times’ John Burns, children were instructed in techniques for killing Jews and little girls dressed in white and wielding daggers were patted on the head by Arafat as they sang charming little ditties about how those daggers would drip with Jewish blood. A cult of martyrdom took hold of the Palestinian population.
From first to last, Arafat conceived himself as a revolutionary whose life mission was the destruction of Israel. He showed scant interest in building the organs of Palestinian statehood or in ameliorating the plight of the Palestinian people, from whose international aid he shamelessly skimmed off close to a billion dollars. When a Palestinian state was handed to him on a platter at Camp David, he responded by declaring the Al Aksa intifada, which claimed 442 Israeli lives in 2002 alone. Over the last five years, Tanzim and Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade terrorists, under the Fatah banner and many of them holding day jobs in the Palestinian Authority security services, carried out nearly as many terrorist attacks as Hamas.
Arafat’s great trick, however, was to simultaneously wrangle concessions via a faux diplomatic process, even while directing a terror campaign at the same time. He knew when to extend his hand on the White House lawn and what to say in English so that a gullible world would award him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Both Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas also knew how to turn weakness, or the appearance thereof, into strength. They broke every promise, and each time offered the same excuse: the Palestinian street would rise up and kill them if they attempted to deliver. And each time the remedy for that weakness was the same: further Israeli concessions – territorial withdrawals, prisoner releases, the dismantling of checkpoints – that would increase their prestige on the "street" and this time finally allow them to deliver on their promises.
The great advantage of Hamas is that it cannot play this duplicitous game with equal skill. First, there is the matter of the Hamas charter, which declares the "liberation of Palestine" to be "an individual duty for every Moslem wherever he may be." Palestine is described as "an Islamic Waqf (trust) consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day." To liberate Palestine from the Jews, each Moslem is required to raise "the banner of jihad" and to swear "I wish to go to war for the sake of All-ah. I will assault and kill, assault and kill, assault and kill."
Prior to the recent elections, Mahmoud Zahar, mooted as a possible prime minister in a Hamas-led government, reiterated the stance of the Hamas charter on Palestinian TV: "We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, nor his right to be our neighbor, nor to stay, nor his ownership of a single inch of land."
Hamas will not be able to renounce its charter. Religious principles cannot be declared inoperative. Even Shimon Peres acknowledges that "religious parties do not compromise." Though Hamas leaders have spoken of the possibility of a long-term cease-fire with Israel in the wake of their victory, they have made it clear that they will never accept, in the words of Khalid Misha’al, the Syrian-based head of Hamas’s political bureau, "the legitimacy of a Zionist state created on our soil to atone for somebody else’s sins …" The "thousands of martyrs, the millions of refugees who have waited for 60 years to return home," would never, according to Misha’al, permit it.
Finally, a Hamas-led government will not be able to disassociate itself from Hamas terrorist activities, as Mahmoud Abbas sought to do. Writing in National Review Online, Emanuelle Ottolenghi put the matter clearly, "Until Tuesday, the PA could hide behind the excuse that they were not directly responsible and they could not rein in the ‘militants.’ Now the militants are the militia of the ruling party."
FOR HAMAS’S VICTORY to redound to Israel’s benefit, however, there is one crucial condition: the Western democracies cannot let themselves be distracted from the fundamental contradiction, noted by President Bush, of allowing Hamas to engage in a diplomatic process with an enemy it has declared itself duty-bound to destroy. And they must cut off all funding to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
So far the Western European democracies have followed the lead of the United States in declaring that Hamas must renounce terrorism and recognize Israel to receive further funding, but already there are signs of vacillation. The Hamas victory, it is argued, did not represent a vote for terrorism (which, in any event, Fatah equally embraced), but rather a vote to throw out the corrupt Fatah leadership.
True, it would be hard to imagine a party more deserving of electoral defeat than Fatah, a loose federation of clans and gangs, each bent on pocketing as much of the international aid directed toward the Palestinian people as possible. The international community has funded the Palestinian Authority at a level unprecedented in history -- $300 per person per annum – with little to show for it except for expensive villas for the various security chiefs and the hundreds of millions in Arafat’s bank accounts.
But it is also true that most Germans who voted for Hitler would have explained their vote as a repudiation of the Weimar Republic. Yet the Nazis never hid their hatred of Jews or their intention to act upon that hatred. And as Hamas leader Khalid Misha’al makes clear, the Palestinian voters who voted for Hamas "knew what it stood for. They chose Hamas because of its pledge never to give up the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people…" Hamas’s prestige among the Palestinians surged in the wake of the Gaza withdrawal, which is perceived by 80% of the Palestinian population as a victory for Hamas’s strategy of armed struggle.
Had the Palestinians sought only clean government, they could have voted for Salam Fayyad, a former high official with the International Monetary Fund, who resigned in disgust after serving as Finance Minister in the Palestinian Authority.
Next it is argued that cutting off funding to the Palestinian Authority shows a lack of respect for Palestinian democracy and an unwillingness to abide by its results. Charles Krauthamer has the appropriate "tough-love" response: it is a sign of respect for Palestinian voters to teach them that their votes have consequences. The failure to cut off Western aid would undermine those few voices of Palestinian moderation who have been warning for years that the failure to accept Israel’s existence and eschew terrorism would result in the Palestinians becoming international pariahs.
Finally, it is argued that Western failure to continue footing the Palestinian Authority payroll – 58,000 men in the various security services alone -- will only drive Hamas into the arms of Iran. The problem with that argument is that Hamas is already there, bound by a common Islamic-based jihad ideology.
Letting Iran pay the Palestinian tab, however, has two distinct advantages. Hamas has raised Palestinian expectations of an improved standard of living now that it has thrown out the corrupt Fatah regime. If it must make due only on the support it receives from Iran and the oil-rich Gulf states, those monies will largely go to economic development projects and not into funding terrorist activities. Given the fungible nature of money, even "humanitarian" funding from the West would only free up money for weaponry and terrorist activity. Secondly, large-scale Iranian funding for the Palestinian Authority would not play well domestically in Iran, where popular disenchantment with the mullahs is widespread, and might weaken their grip on power.
To be sure an Iranian proxy on Israel’s Western and Southern borders to go with its Hizbullah proxy on the Northern border will keep Israel’s security establishment up at night. The proper response, however, is not to provide Hamas with more funding, but to make sure that the Palestinian Authority never gains possession of missiles aimed at Israel’s heartland, like the thousands of missiles currently aimed at Israel by Hizbullah on the Northern border. That means holding on to the Jordan Valley as Israel’s eastern border, no matter what form future withdrawals take. By holding on to the Jordan Valley as a buffer, Israel reduces the risk of Hamas linking up to Abu Musaf al-Zarqawi, or other Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists, to the West, and retains the ability to interdict the flow of arms into the West Bank.
The most immediate consequence of Hamas’s victory will be on the policy of unilateral withdrawal, of which the Gaza withdrawal was the first installment. The logic of unilateralism – in the absence of a Palestinian peace partner Israel must act unilaterally to define its security borders – becomes even more powerful in light of Hamas’s victory. But at the same time, as Yossi Klein Halevi points out, that victory increases the dangers of further withdrawals exponentially.
Israel cannot afford an Iranian-puppet close to its major population centers, especially if that puppet operates under the cover of an Iranian nuclear umbrella.