Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 16, 2007

Addressitis

The fall of Gaza to Hamas should not have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the realities of Palestinian politics. As Khaled Abu Toemeh writes in the Jerusalem Post, “Fatah lost the battle for the Gaza Strip not because it had fewer soldiers and weapons, but because it lost the confidence and support of many Palestinians a long time ago.”

When will the U.S. and Israel learn that they cannot prop up their favorite Palestinian horse in the race regardless of how lame it is in the eyes of the Palestinian people? The West’s folly in betting on Fatah is yet another result of its acute, long-standing case of what I call “addressitis”: the belief that there must always be some Palestinian “address” to which Western negotiators can send their latest overtures.

Fatah and Hamas have long understood this syndrome. They built their political strategies on the knowledge that Western demands would always give way to the Western need to have a Palestinian “interlocutor.” Just as Yasser Arafat, by attacking Israel, avoided any real repercussions of his rejection of the Palestinian state offered to him in 2000, Hamas is now trying to escape its current financial and political isolation by attacking Fatah and Israel. The group’s leadership is clearly betting that the West, once more, will fail to resist accommodating a fait accompli—a Hamas-led government.

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The fall of Gaza to Hamas should not have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the realities of Palestinian politics. As Khaled Abu Toemeh writes in the Jerusalem Post, “Fatah lost the battle for the Gaza Strip not because it had fewer soldiers and weapons, but because it lost the confidence and support of many Palestinians a long time ago.”

When will the U.S. and Israel learn that they cannot prop up their favorite Palestinian horse in the race regardless of how lame it is in the eyes of the Palestinian people? The West’s folly in betting on Fatah is yet another result of its acute, long-standing case of what I call “addressitis”: the belief that there must always be some Palestinian “address” to which Western negotiators can send their latest overtures.

Fatah and Hamas have long understood this syndrome. They built their political strategies on the knowledge that Western demands would always give way to the Western need to have a Palestinian “interlocutor.” Just as Yasser Arafat, by attacking Israel, avoided any real repercussions of his rejection of the Palestinian state offered to him in 2000, Hamas is now trying to escape its current financial and political isolation by attacking Fatah and Israel. The group’s leadership is clearly betting that the West, once more, will fail to resist accommodating a fait accompli—a Hamas-led government.

Once it finishes slaughtering Fatah in Gaza, Hamas will mostly likely approach Western leaders with a cease-fire-for-recognition deal, attempting an end run around the three conditions stipulated by the Quartet for aid to resume. The only way to avoid this is to cut back drastically on indirect aid to Gaza now and to restore it only when both the internal fighting and Kassam rocket attacks against Israel have ended.

Until the U.S. and Europe learn to cure themselves of “addressitis,” Hamas will continue escalating in an effort to escape compliance with the Quartet’s conditions. Teheran’s mullahs, who are themselves masters at this game, are doubtlessly taking note.

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The Good News From Gaza

History has a way of repeating itself, I wrote yesterday in Let’s Welcome Hamas—and so do our illusions about history.

One such illusion, I wrote, can be found in the “voices explaining that if Hamas is to satisfy the aspirations of the long-suffering residents of Gaza, it will inevitably be compelled to abandon its terroristic tactics and to embrace a more pragmatic and realistic approach to Israel and to the world around it.”

I wish, in writing those words, that I had not missed Martin Indyk’s op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post. Indyk spun out a scenario in which the Hamas takeover will redound to the good of Israel and the Middle East. As chaos and immiseration descend on Gaza, Palestinians living there, predicted Indyk, will “compare their fate under Hamas’s rule with the fate of their West Bank cousins under [Mahmoud] Abbas.” As the denizens of the strip then come to recognize that they are significantly worse off, they “might then force Hamas to come to terms with Israel, making it eventually possible to reunite Gaza and the West Bank as one political entity living in peace with the Jewish state.”

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History has a way of repeating itself, I wrote yesterday in Let’s Welcome Hamas—and so do our illusions about history.

One such illusion, I wrote, can be found in the “voices explaining that if Hamas is to satisfy the aspirations of the long-suffering residents of Gaza, it will inevitably be compelled to abandon its terroristic tactics and to embrace a more pragmatic and realistic approach to Israel and to the world around it.”

I wish, in writing those words, that I had not missed Martin Indyk’s op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post. Indyk spun out a scenario in which the Hamas takeover will redound to the good of Israel and the Middle East. As chaos and immiseration descend on Gaza, Palestinians living there, predicted Indyk, will “compare their fate under Hamas’s rule with the fate of their West Bank cousins under [Mahmoud] Abbas.” As the denizens of the strip then come to recognize that they are significantly worse off, they “might then force Hamas to come to terms with Israel, making it eventually possible to reunite Gaza and the West Bank as one political entity living in peace with the Jewish state.”

Of course, it is not as simple as all that. Indeed, concedes Indyk, “[i]t’s hard to believe that such a benign outcome could emerge from the growing Palestinian civil war.” But steering things in this direction is the best option for the Palestinian Authority, for Israel, and for the United States.

Some will even argue, writes Indyk, that it is time for Condoleezza Rice, after having invested so much effort in reaching a settlement of the conflict, to talk to Hamas. But this, he says, would be premature: Hamas’s “commitment to the destruction of Israel make it an unlikely partner, at least until governing Gaza forces it to act more responsibly.”

But do the imperatives of governing always “force” radicals to “to act more responsibly”? What are the lessons of the past? Martin Indyk knows a great deal about the Middle East, having served as ambassador to Israel under President Clinton. But does he also understand a great deal? Or, having been intimately involved in a “peace process” that led not to peace but to terrible cycles of bloodshed, is he a prisoner of illusions that compel him to move inexorably in an inalterable direction, beholding the outbreak of peace in any and every piece of news, no matter how unpromising and grim?

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