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The Hamas Victory - A Moment of Clarity

  

You could not dream up the Palestinians. Embracing openly a psychotic cult of death and child sacrifice, they are arguably the most radical, violent, and fanatical society in the world. Yet, for the last four decades, they have received the slavish affections of a doltish media incapable of distinguishing cold-blooded murder when they see it. Wrapped in the mantle of self-pity, the perpetually aggrieved Palestinians have consistently made decisions that have done nothing but bring death and destruction upon themselves and others. There are many peoples far more oppressed than they, many nationalist movements far more deserving of their own state than they, yet it is they who receive the solicitude of a morally confused world while democratic Israel endures a steady diet of scorn and condemnation. True to form and quite predictably, they have now voted in an organization whose stock in trade is suicide bombing and that openly professes its ambition to annihilate the Jewish State. The only surprise in the Hamas victory is the shock of pundits and political leaders at the outcome.

Notwithstanding the doomsayers, the new dispensation in the Middle East offers distinct advantages for Israel, chiefly because it exposes the true character of Palestinian society and its leadership. Arafat's (and now Abbas') ruling Fatah faction embraced the same terror tactics as Hamas (with the endorsement of the Palestinian people), only they presented a prettier face. Before the cameras and in English, they recited the familiar mantra about Israel's right to exist, but to their own people in Arabic, they spoke of martyrs, killing Jews, and the destruction of the Jewish State. It is they more than any group that is responsible for turning Palestinian society into a toxic swamp of anti-Semitism. They moved away from suicide terror, not for any moral qualms, but because it failed to produce political dividends. When Sharon quarantined Arafat in his compound in Ramallah, began building the security fence, and took effective military action, Arafat and his Fatah thugs simply faded into the woodwork. Hamas is a religious version of Fatah without the corruption and pretense to civility. Its objectives are the same, only it is honest about it. The advantages of such clarity again accrue to Israel. No longer, can the Palestinian leadership get away with double-dealing, self-expiating whining about being unable to control bloodthirsty vigilantes - since they are one and the same. No longer, can the international community pressure Israel to make concessions to a group that openly states its desire to wipe it off the map. No longer will Europe and the US provide aid to the Palestinians when it is governed by a group that both list as a terrorist organization. No longer can the world regard the Palestinians as misguided poodles when their leadership openly pursues mass murder. Furthermore, with Hamas in power, when attacks are launched against Israel, particularly from a disengaged Gaza, it takes on the status of an act of war - against which Israel will have the right to defend itself.

Pundits have already cleverly commented that this latest episode in Arab electioneering appears as a major failure in Bush's campaign to democratize the Middle East with the law of unintended consequences very much at play. But this smug analysis from a derisive media is superficial at best. Democracy has never been so much about elections but about the democratic institutions that support it. Such essential institutions include a constitution with checks and balances, the rule of law, freedom of the press, the right to dissent, an atmosphere of security, a loyal opposition, an emerging middle class, fair trials with an independent judiciary. It has little to do with armed militias roaming the streets, a climate of fear and intimidation, and the threat of retaliation if the wrong thing is said or printed. The most fundamental requisite would have to be security and it is doubtful that average Palestinians have felt secure enough to speak their minds freely in a long time. An election, therefore, should be seen as the culminating event of a long process in which an oppressed, fear society governed by a dictatorial regime gradually develops over decades the rudiments of civil governance that allows for true freedom, discourse, and democracy.

Perhaps the most important point to consider is the role Israel and the West played in bringing about the Hamas victory. For decades, Palestinians have been given a blank check on their behavior. Arafat and his kleptocrats salted away billions while Palestinians went hungry. They imported arms and built weapons factories while roads went unrepaired. They actively funded and supported terrorist activities while feigning innocence. They fed their people a daily stream of extremist propaganda while posing as partners for peace. They were engaged not just in the killing of innocent Israeli civilians but of their own people - anyone thought even remotely sympathetic to Israel. Their governance was corrupt, inept, and brutal. But none of this seemed to matter. The money spigots flowed while Israel and the West cast a fatalistic blind eye, overlooking their transgressions, and foolishly lending them legitimacy. When a leadership and people are separated from the consequences of their behavior by a policy of appeasement, the dereliction only worsens, the pathology and murderous tendencies only deepen until a costly and often bloody effort is required to reestablish norms of decency. Such a people will also think nothing of electing butchers like Hamas.

Will the reality of governing have a sobering effect on Hamas? I doubt it. Hamas, especially when egged on by its benefactors in Tehran, will not stop being Hamas. If it continues to pursue war, the Palestinian people may decide for them when they realize that peaceful coexistence with Israel is their only choice if they want to improve their lives. Perhaps, with time, a new generation of Palestinian leaders will emerge that will not only "coexist" with Israel but actually embrace the Jewish state, seeing in its dynamic economy, human rights, and democratic governance, a model for their own failed state. Until then, Israel should resist any pressure to negotiate with the Palestinians until it is determined that they offer something beyond terror and deception.

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