The Jerusalem Post
January 9, 2012
Six years after Hamas swept the first and only Palestinian parliamentary elections, the terror organization’s Gaza leader is on a victory tour of the region. Feted in Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia, with stops planned for Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Ismail Haniyeh has stepped out through the international blockade of Gaza, unscathed.
At the time, Hamas’ electoral victory in January 2006 seemed a political anomaly, but it was, in retrospect, the first blossom of the “Arab Spring” that would eventually bring Islamist forces to the fore in Egypt and Tunisia. Hamas’ perseverance in resisting any alterations to its ideology or long-term strategy has paid off, and Haniyeh is eager to spread the radical Islamist nectar. No wonder the Muslim Brotherhood called Hamas a model during his Cairo visit.
Elections, of course, do not alone make a democratic society, nor do they guarantee moderation on the part of the victor. Hamas violently ousted Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, from Gaza only 18 months after the election, and then imposed Islamic strictures, even banning Christmas celebrations. Similar hostility toward minorities has led hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee Egypt and Iraq.
Hamas remains steadfastly committed to destroying Israel. It rejects the Quartet’s offer to become a partner in the peace talks with Israel by recognizing the Jewish state, ending terror and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
That Hamas obstinacy, combined with the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza, led Israel – backed by the US and Europe – to impose a sea blockade, which remains in effect so long as these countries deem Hamas a terrorist organization.
The UN’s Palmer report endorsed Israel’s naval blockade legally, finding it necessary to defend against Hamas.
Today, those who subscribe to the myth of Hamas moderation want to weaken the blockade. Hamas will likely seek the Palestinian presidency if the long-delayed elections take place this year. Hamas has also indicated interest in joining the PLO. Since Abbas serves as both PA president and PLO chairman, Hamas sees an opportunity to expand its power and influence. The PLO oversees the more than 100 Palestinian embassies and missions around the world.
Imagine, for a moment, Haniyeh, or Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader based until recently in Damascus, coming to New York to address the UN General Assembly as Palestine’s official representative. With Haniyeh’s current trip Abbas is no longer the exclusive Palestinian leader traversing the globe. The fight for the Palestinian leadership helm is intensifying.
Abbas has helped strengthen Hamas. The PA president signed a unity agreement last May that contravenes his own commitments to the US, EU and, of course, Israel, to pursue a negotiated peace. Hamas signed without reforming, and both Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, remain unwelcome in Gaza.
Coincidentally, January 26, the day after the Palestinian elections anniversary date is the deadline Abbas set for Israel to meet his unchanged terms for resuming peace talks. With King Abdullah hosting in Amman, Quartet members and representatives of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Abbas are making yet another effort to break the logjam.
Abbas has played this game repeatedly, displaying some respect for the Quartet, but always ignoring Israel. In his notorious New York Times op-ed last May, Abbas rewrote the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, dismissing the Israeli narrative, and at the UN General Assembly in September he omitted any reference to the Jewish connection to Jerusalem or the land of Israel.
Further, Abbas’s representative in the United States, Maen Rashid Areikat, repeated last month in a Chicago Sun-Times interview that no Jews will be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state. Hamas, of course, shares those views of Abbas and his envoy.
Whoever wins the US presidential contest in November will face an even more complicated Middle East region when he takes the oath of office a year from now. Hamas will continue to capitalize on the turmoil engulfing Arab countries, especially where ascendant Islamist allies can bolster their positioning against Israel and the West.
But Hamas also finds support in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries that could press, even quietly, for recognition of a Palestinian regime that not only includes, but is led by, Hamas. Will European opposition to Hamas wither, either for ideological reasons or fear of losing access to Middle Eastern oil and gas?
The US administration, for sure, cannot take a hiatus regarding the Middle East during this election season. Regional challenges are many and growing. But Washington must stick to its fundamental principles of peacemaking, supporting those Arab partners genuinely willing to negotiate directly with Israel, and opposing those who would legitimize terror organizations and their allies.
The Hamas model is a recipe for extended conflict. For the sake of peace, it must be spurned.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.