- In late 2005, the Bush administration, along with the
Israeli government of Ariel Sharon, promoted parliamentary elections in
Palestine. The goal, obvious if unstated, was to provide a popular credential
for the government that would be run by the expected to be victorious candidates,
members of the Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas. Since Abbas had won with a
decisive 62% of the votes in a January 2005 election to succeed the late
Yasser Arafat, the parliamentary election of January 2006 looked like a
slam dunk. Hamas, participating for the first time in a national election,
along with five or six small parties stood against Fatah. The results,
however, surprised most observers by giving the parliamentary majority
to Hamas. Fatah won only 45 seats in the new parliament, while Hamas won
an absolute majority of 74 in the 132 seat assembly.
- Various pundits agonized over why this occurred. The
conventional wisdom was that, after all, Hamas was nothing but a terrorist
group. It had no political experience and ran no candidates of known political
caliber on the Palestinian scene. As often happens with conventional wisdom,
however, this batch was false.
- Since its formation in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion
of Lebanon in 1982-some say as an Israeli-designed counter to Fatah-Hamas
had been busy in the countryside. In both the West Bank and Gaza it had
developed effective networks for community support. In a manner of speaking,
Hamas emulated the performance of Hezbollah in Lebanon, effectively embedding
itself in the towns and villages it served. By the election of 2006, Hamas
had more than two decades of community support experience under its belt.
The people of those communities knew it well. They knew who unceasingly
helped them, who had a well-deserved reputation for integrity, and who
shared their thoughts on the future of Palestine. Rudely put, it was not
- At this point, outside forces designed the future evolution
of Palestinian politics.
- Palestine's government became a triumvirate. While Hamas
was legally empowered to form a new government and did so, the United States
and Israel refused to do business with it. Rather they encouraged other
governments to ignore Hamas and they set about helping Abbas and Fatah
to arrange a takeover, essentially a palace coup. Being better organized
in its home base territory of Gaza, Hamas frustrated the 2007 Fatah takeover,
retained power in a few pitched battles, while Abbas decided-with US and
Israeli help-to take his remaining chips to the West Bank. Thus, the freely
elected and street fight winner of an effort to rule Gaza was left to its
- In the West Bank, Abbas and Fatah were pretty well imprisoned
by Israel and the United States. Abbas had a security force that was being
enhanced-and effectively controlled-by a US general whose job ostensibly
was training. The West Bank was surrounded, infiltrated and controlled
by Israel Defense Forces who kept dissidents (especially Hamas members)
in line, controlled all entry and exit points to and from the West Bank,
and did not hesitate to shoot or confine anyone who looked possibly threatening.
The name of this game was to keep the imprisoned dwellers in the open
air prison of the West Bank moderately comfortable, but unable or disinclined
to do anything about their circumstances.
- The game plan for Gaza was radically different. Refusing
to recognize the Hamas government, the US and Israel, with spotty help
from others, set out to harass and starve the Gaza Strip into submission.
In late 2008, it was clear that this plan was either working too slowly
or not working at all. Hamas had continued to govern and find ways to
avert starvation as the US/Israeli boycott of Gaza grew ever tighter. While
some Fatah members had filtered out of the region to the West Bank, the
people had not deserted Hamas.
- US and Israeli assistance policies were used mercilessly
to undermine Hamas and bring the people of Gaza to heel. All assisting
governments were more or less successfully encouraged to avoid passing
any assistance through Hamas. By late 2008 it was apparent that scarcity
and near starvation tactics were working but too slowly, and more brutish
measures were needed to get the already beleaguered Gaza Strip folk in
line. With the best and some of the latest US tools of military destruction
freely supplied to them, Israel Defense Forces set out to destroy both
Gaza and the will of its people. By the end of January 2009, Israel had
virtually demolished Gaza with the IDF "Operation Cast Lead"
invasion. More than 1,300 Palestinians had been killed and nearly 5,000
had been wounded. The rest of the world may have been appalled by Israeli
brutality, but it chose not to condemn a major war crime.
- The grim curtain that shields this atrocity is the charge
of anti-Semitism. Under the rule set for this curtain, no one can criticize
the murderous work of Israeli forces in Gaza without being called anti-Semitic.
A major effort of Israel support groups in the US is now under way to pass
so-called hate crime legislation that would make any criticism of Israel
a crime under US law. Any Jewish person in the United States who might
choose to oppose such a repressive law would be labeled a "self-hating
Jew." White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a respected American
Jew, has been labeled self-hating because he chooses to serve the interests
of his own country, not those of Israel.
- Plotting a clear path through this political, spiritual,
intellectual, and legal jungle is not easy for a Palestinian. It is excruciatingly
difficult for a Palestinian politician who stands up in defense of the
basic right of the Palestinian people to live and work freely in the country
of their ancestry. Hamas does that more precisely and indeed more forcefully
than any earlier Palestinian politicians. That is its political appeal.
- In Israeli and US views up to this point, that has been
the undoing of Hamas. The ostensible problem is that the charter of Hamas
calls for the destruction of Israel. While that might be acceptable in
any other case as a way to get rid of an invading army that is followed
by people who take without giving, Israel has worked hard at keeping itself
immune from such considerations.
- Israel uses the war crime of the Holocaust to justify
the war crime of the Naqba and sixty years of Palestinian repression.
Jews who were not killed were driven out of Germany. Palestinians who
were not killed or imprisoned in 1947-48 and following years have been
driven out of most of Palestine. The Israelis portray this process as restitution.
Clearer heads call this a war crime against Palestinians who had nothing
to do with the crimes of Hitler's Germany. The Israeli crimes continue
today as Israeli settlers grab more land in the West Bank and Israel Defense
Forces eject Palestinians from their ancestral homes in Jerusalem.
- The Palestinian problem is that people movements in historic
Palestine are too generally interpreted as one way. In the worst sense,
Bush codified this pattern when in his September 2005 meeting with Sharon
he referred to new Israeli settlements as "facts on the ground"
that needed to be taken into account. Sharon and his successors have seized
on this concept with every new settlement. Currently, Netanyahu is accelerating
new "facts on the ground" around East Jerusalem in order to foreclose
any prospect of East Jerusalem as a future capital of a Palestinian state.
- The Hamas flaw-as defined by Israel and the US-is that
it stands for halting and in some ways reversing the Israeli takeover of
Palestine. It has updated its agenda to the extent that it no longer expects
to drive Israel into the sea. However, Hamas seeks (a) stopping the continuing
takeover of Palestinian lands by settlers; (b) withdrawing Israelis back
to the Green Line established at the end of the 1967 war-with perhaps some
swaps to even out respective territories to Green Line equivalents, (c)
recognition of the right of Palestinians to return; (d) compensation for
those who are not allowed to return to their homes and farms; and (e) establishment
of the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. This is basically the Palestinian
aim as embodied in a 2002 Arab League proposal that is promoted currently
by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
- Recognizing that the Hamas position is close to the centerline
of Palestinian thinking, Fatah held a conference in early August in which
Mahmoud Abbas was confronted by an effort of Fatah members to recapture
the Palestinian lead from Hamas. That involved the conferees taking a
final position that moved close to the terms of the Arab League proposal.
The problem with this position for Fatah, frankly, is that the masters
of Mahmoud Abbas are not the Palestinians, but the Israelis and Americans
who reject the Hamas position. The US/Israeli position defines a Palestinian
moderate as someone unwilling to fight back against Israel's continuing
takeover of the country. Thus, anyone who would fight to keep significant
and clearly defined parts of Palestine for its historic peoples is viewed
as a "radical".
- Hamas learned some time ago that fighting to preserve
Palestine for the people of that historic territory was both bad for its
reputation and harmful to its health. However, that Hamas idea resonated
with most Palestinians. The US/Israeli goal ever since the 2006 parliamentary
elections has been to make the Palestinians pay for such bad political
- The punishment has not worked. Most Palestinians still
side with Hamas, as the Fatah conference demonstrated. What Fatah leadership
saw was that the position led by Abbas since the 2006 election invites
increasing political irrelevance. There is for the Palestinian people only
one choice: Stick to their guns or watch their homeland evaporate into
progressive Israeli settlements, while their much sought after capital
gets turned into Israeli parks and condos for wealthy Israel supporters.
Predicting the future is a risky undertaking, but the prospects are most
likely that Hamas will not budge. After sixty years of repression, neither
will the Palestinian people.
- 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 rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US
Department of State whose overseas service included tours in Egypt, India,
Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brazil. His immediate pre-retirement positions
were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National
War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism
and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at