Digesting Hamas IV -
Forcibly Renew The Insurgency
By Terrell E. Arnold
Today, less than a month after the insurgent group Hamas decisively won a fair and free election in Palestine, the Israelis, the White House and the State Department, and the US Congress are avidly dedicated to cancelling that victory. But Americans in general are not interested in disenfranchising Hamas. The anti-Hamas gambit is driven by Israeli hardliners in Israel, by Israeli lobbies in Washington, and by avid Israel supporters in the US Government. Why? And what are the probable consequences?
The answer to the first question is Israeli leadership does not want to negotiate. All the fuzzy Israeli play on the so-called Road Map--the peace plan sponsored by the Quartet consisting of the US, Russia, the UN, and the European Community--is matched by a not so covert determination to never reach the negotiating table. Before he was felled by a stroke, Ariel Sharon was transparent on this matter. He never publicly committed to negotiating the Road Map; he merely avoided actively opposing it. Supporters of the plan simply took his lack of negative comments as a positive state of mind.
Meanwhile, he and the Likud party have proceeded with their own plans: (1) continue building the wall on a course that redefines boundaries, especially around Jerusalem, but elsewhere as well; (2) get free kudos in the west by removing settlements in Gaza because they are difficult and costly to defend, but add settlements that deepen Israeli occupation of the regions around the holy places; (3) harass and make life generally intolerable for Palestinians who live in or near the Jordan Valley; (4) in short, continue elaborating a plan that surrounds and shrinks the spaces that could become a Palestinian state to less than 10% of pre-World War II Palestine. This program is likely to be continued by the new party, Kadima (means forward in Hebrew), founded by Sharon before his stroke, and now run by his deputy Ehud Olmert.
The Israeli game plan as espoused by those presently leading the country, does not call for negotiations with the Palestinians, but a Hamas victory, if it cannot be overturned, discredited or ignored, means the Israelis will be faced for the first time with a serious need to negotiate. Moreover, the Palestinian side of the table would be occupied by players who have (a) the support of the people, (b) a reputation for integrity of political action, and (c) carry the stick of possible return to violence if negotiations yield no results.
How to derail Hamas? Enough canny outsiders observed the election so that the results cannot be disputed. It has been argued that the results were not so decisive as a show of support for Hamas, because Fatah was so inept in running its campaign. That makes little practical difference because Hamas still has the majority of seats in the Parliament. Perhaps, as Hamas opponents have suggested, Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah could be persuaded to keep Hamas out of the cabinet--an undemocratic device for keeping the majority party out of leadership positions. Or, as the outgoing Fatah-dominated parliament decided, a new court could be used to keep Hamas under control. Maybe Abbas could conjure up an excuse to call for early elections. So far no adroit scheme to undo the Hamas victory has been proposed that would be anything but illegal interference with the Palestinian electoral process.
So why not starve the Palestinian people into recognizing they made a mistake? This would be a kind of collective punishment that has been common to Israeli treatment of the Palestinians for more than half a century. What is new is the apparent insistence of the US, the Europeans and the United Nations to deny ongoing assistance to any Hamas government. If Hamas had a track record of mismanaging funds, that might pass muster, but Hamas does not; their reputation for conducting humanitarian programs and managing funds is clean.
Now what? Of course, badger the US Congress into passing a law forbidding assistance to Palestine in the event Hamas comes to power. According to the New York Times, the United States (read the White House and its neo-con supporters) and the Israelis want to create real hardships for the Palestinian people if Hamas forms a new government at the end of February, as is now expected.
The centerpiece of this effort is H.R. 4681, "The Palestine Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006". That bill, if passed, would cut off all US aid to Palestine if Hamas comes to power. The sole sources of support for this legislation are Israeli supporters in the US Congress, the White House, the State Department, and the Department of Defense who are being hounded by Israeli lobbying groups. This bill now has more than 45 supporters, and you can bet your next paycheck confidently that every one of the sponsors, as well as virtually every other member of the Congress, have actually received Zionist/Israeli campaign contributions and/or have been promised them for the upcoming congressional elections later this year.
The tragedy of this bill is that it is not in the interest of the United States. Nor would the resulting depression and repression of the Palestinian people be in the interest of Israel or Israelis in general. It is surely not in the interests of the UN membership or the European Community to support it. Why is that so?
HR 4681 is being pushed by the Israeli hardliners to keep any serious negotiation of the Israeli-Palestinian issues from occurring. Israel would be forced to abandon its unilateral actions that now chip away at the future Palestinian state. The hardline and confiscatory takeover of more and more of Palestine so openly sponsored under Sharon and Likud would have to stop. Israel would have to settle for something like the territory mapped by the 1967 green line. While it is reported that the majority of Israelis would settle for this, if it came with real peace, the hardliners want all of Palestine they can get.
To continue its present course, Israel must have the political cover of continuing conflict. HR 4681 is tailor made, because it is more likely to cause terrorism than to stop it. Israel needs the insurgency in order to continue its repressive moves against the Palestinian people. If Hamas reforms and succeeds in controlling other groups such as the al Aksa Brigades and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the insurgency is quelled. Israel has no excuse for continuing occupation and repression. Israel then has to face its obligations under peace agreements that Hamas is politically better equipped to negotiate than any previous Palestinian government. The pretense is over.
If the United States, the UN, the European Community, Russia, and Israel collectively frustrate the political will of the Palestinians, they will commit a crime against democracy. The hardships imposed will be a crime against the Palestinian people. The message to the Palestinians is that they are not allowed to choose their own leaders unless the Israelis and the Americans like the choices. This action will hand the gavel to the Hamas hardliners who were brought under significant control to permit Hamas to enter the political process. The hardliners will be convinced, as they indeed already believed, that nothing good can come of negotiations, and that the only answer is persistent armed struggle.
Just what is the US interest in frustrating any Hamas government? If Hamas is suppressed, democracy will be dead in the Middle East as purveyed by the United States. The US, in fact, can expect nothing from this process but trouble: Increasing hostility in the Arab world, new sources of terrorism, less cooperation from regional governments, an increasingly fragile position in the region, a weakened set of relations with all third parties, because no other government profits by the US/Israeli stance. All face enhanced terrorism as a result.
The final tragedy will be the missed opportunity. Long term success in dealing with global terrorism can come only from finding ways to bring many out groups into their societies. The War on Terrorism so far has failed because it does not consider that task important. Insurgents simply must be shown that they can obtain their goals without resorting to violence. The appeal of the Hamas victory is that it represents a breakthrough with an insurgent group. After decades of frustration with all so-called peace processes, the Palestinian people chose their most effective insurgent arm to rule them. Moving successfully on from here will take time and patience at best. But any future home for the Palestinians, and any future peace for the Israelis will depend on making this startling new political gambit work in Palestine.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, _A World Less Safe_, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counterterrorism, and as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College. He will welcome comment at



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