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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Reconstructing Hamas

Front Page Mag:

Reconstructing Hamas

By P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Against the backdrop of even worse news about Iran’s inching toward nuclearization, the news about Iran’s vanguard on the southwestern border of Israel—Hamas—also isn’t good.

Despite Israel’s attempt, during and immediately after Operation Cast Lead, to focus U.S. and European attention on the problem of Hamas’s arms smuggling under Egypt’s none too watchful gaze, that problem continues unabated and the rocket attacks are steadily mounting again. And not only is it militarily recovering, the terror group is making diplomatic progress as well.

With Hamas and Fatah now meeting in Cairo for talks on establishing another unity government like the one they had briefly in 2007, there are indications that this time such a government would be accepted as a diplomatic player by the West.

The Bush administration, for its part, shunned Hamas, and continued to do so while it allied with Fatah. But George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s Middle East envoy, has signaled a different attitude and said Hamas-Fatah unity would be “a step forward.” Former British prime minister Tony Blair, now Middle East envoy of the Quartet, said more explicitly that he thought it was important to “find a way of bringing Hamas into the peace process”; and current British foreign secretary David Miliband says talking to Hamas is “the right thing to do.”

Earlier U.S. Senator John Kerry—while claiming U.S. policy toward Hamas had not changed—took a rare step for U.S. officials by visiting Gaza. While there he inspected damage caused by Israel’s military offensive—and appears to have accepted, or at least conveyed once he discovered it was in his possession, a letter to Obama from Hamas.

Seemingly Israel’s outgoing, compliant Olmert government, which played the Western game by showing enthusiasm for a Palestinian state and whitewashing Fatah—while insisting that, nevertheless, Hamas remained a bad guy and beyond the pale—must be seeing its worldview crumbling around it. But the situation is yet worse.

Haaretz has reported that U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton has been angrily warning Israel over delays in delivering humanitarian aid to Hamas-ruled Gaza. Senior EU officials have also been complaining to Israel about aid getting held up at the crossings into the Strip.

Israel is protesting that, with its kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit still being held in Gaza, its control of the crossings is the main thing giving it leverage; and also that since Cast Lead ended a good deal of aid—nearly 200 trucks a day—has been getting through in any case. The U.S. and EU, though, together with the UN, are demanding that it be upped to 500 trucks a day—with growing pressure on Israel to allow cement and steel to enter the Strip even though those are
used for Hamas weapons production.

Soon after the war Israeli professor Efraim Inbar, head of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, argued powerfully against reconstructing Gaza. He noted that it “signals to Hamas that it can continue shooting; for if Israel repeats its military action, merciful Westerners again will repair the damage…. The reconstruction of Hamastan in Gaza—an Iranian base that threatens Israel and many moderate Arab regimes—makes no strategic sense.”

He was, unfortunately, talking to the wind. At Monday’s conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Western and Arab donors pledged a total of $4.4 billion for rebuilding Gaza. The U.S. share—at a time of severe financial crisis—comes to $900 million of which $300 million is supposed to go to Gaza and the rest to the West Bank Palestinian Authority, which, for its part, regularly transfers large sums to Gaza.

The U.S. claims that Hamas, somehow, won’t benefit from any of these funds. But as Inbar pointed out, “There is no way to reconstruct Gaza without strengthening Hamas…. From what we know of the fortunes of the humanitarian aid transferred to the Gazans in recent years, it is clear that a large proportion of the benefits of the external aid will be siphoned off to the Hamas leadership….”

Inbar also questioned “the morality of pouring money” into Gaza: “Hamas was popular among the Gazans and continues to be so. Why should the international community and Israel help people that support an organization intent on destroying the Jewish state? Indeed, all polls show staggering support among Gazans for violence against Israelis.”

Compared to the wheels of international geopolitics—which demands unrelenting pressure on Israel to appease Arab and Muslim economic power and opinion—it’s a still, small voice. The Bush administration, in refusing to deal with Hamas, imposed an outer limit on the pressure. The Obama administration already seems to be lifting it. The incoming Netanyahu government, which represents a choice by the Israeli people to deal more realistically with enemies and threats, faces a harsh challenge.

As for Hamas and its patron Iran, busily building its nukes, they can take heart.


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