Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ismail Haniyeh

Hamas’s Losses Are Islamic Jihad’s Gain

One of the more farcical claims popularized about the Palestinians and their war has been the notion of “moderate Hamas.” These claims have ranged from presenting Hamas as unpleasant but essentially pragmatic to Hamas as the good-willed would-be partners for peace. All of that, however, may soon become irrelevant. For as much as Hamas is very clearly anything but moderate, for many living in Gaza it appears that Hamas just isn’t extreme enough. From among a number of tiny Salafi and Islamist splinter groups that have engaged in periodic freelance rocket fire into Israeli civilian areas, Islamic Jihad is now emerging as a potential rival to Hamas’s authority in the Gaza strip. And with the backing of Iran, this small militant faction could begin to challenge Gaza’s current Islamist rulers and their hold on power.

In the past the alliance between Hamas and Iran appeared unbreakable, despite the fact that Hamas is a Sunni group and the Iranians are of course Shia. The uprisings in the Arab world destabilized this arrangement. Hamas had long had its headquarters in Damascus, but when Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime began butchering its mostly Sunni population, and with the backing of Shia Iran at that, suddenly this relationship was called into doubt. Yet, much to Hamas’s good fortune, these events coincided with the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascent to power in Egypt. With Hamas itself essentially existing as the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, this must have come as welcome news for Ismail Haniyeh and his government in Gaza. However, with the subsequent removal of their Egyptian allies and benefactors from power in July of last year, Hamas in Gaza has been left underfunded and isolated.

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One of the more farcical claims popularized about the Palestinians and their war has been the notion of “moderate Hamas.” These claims have ranged from presenting Hamas as unpleasant but essentially pragmatic to Hamas as the good-willed would-be partners for peace. All of that, however, may soon become irrelevant. For as much as Hamas is very clearly anything but moderate, for many living in Gaza it appears that Hamas just isn’t extreme enough. From among a number of tiny Salafi and Islamist splinter groups that have engaged in periodic freelance rocket fire into Israeli civilian areas, Islamic Jihad is now emerging as a potential rival to Hamas’s authority in the Gaza strip. And with the backing of Iran, this small militant faction could begin to challenge Gaza’s current Islamist rulers and their hold on power.

In the past the alliance between Hamas and Iran appeared unbreakable, despite the fact that Hamas is a Sunni group and the Iranians are of course Shia. The uprisings in the Arab world destabilized this arrangement. Hamas had long had its headquarters in Damascus, but when Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime began butchering its mostly Sunni population, and with the backing of Shia Iran at that, suddenly this relationship was called into doubt. Yet, much to Hamas’s good fortune, these events coincided with the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascent to power in Egypt. With Hamas itself essentially existing as the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, this must have come as welcome news for Ismail Haniyeh and his government in Gaza. However, with the subsequent removal of their Egyptian allies and benefactors from power in July of last year, Hamas in Gaza has been left underfunded and isolated.

While the prospect of Hamas’s decline might in itself be something to be welcomed, it is impossible to ignore that Hamas’s loss increasingly appears to be Islamic Jihad’s gain; which is after all a faction arguably even more potent that Hamas. With Iran stepping up its support for Islamic Jihad the group is now reported to have access to far more advanced weapons than was previously the case and in addition it is claimed that this faction can muster a militia some 5,000 men strong. An indication of the possible shift in the balance of power was evident in the recent barrage of rockets that struck communities in southern Israel last month. This attack was not launched by Hamas but rather by Islamic Jihad fighters, and whereas previously in such instances the Egyptian government mediated between Hamas and Israel, this time Egypt was mediating on behalf of Islamic jihad, with Hamas being consigned to the sidelines.  

This is a reminder that the improvement in Islamic Jihad’s fortunes has not simply been a matter of Iranian patronage, but rather this has also hinged on growing public support. Far more hardline than even Hamas, Islamic Jihad has shown a willingness to step up attacks on Israel while Hamas appears to be mostly observing the ceasefire—although Hamas’s grip on the strip is still such that it would not be possible for these smaller Islamist factions to keep up their rocket fire without at least the tacit consent of Haniyeh’s government. This shift in allegiances among Gaza’s residents should serve as a reminder that what wins hearts and minds among the Palestinians are clear demonstrations of aggression against Israel. This of course flies in the face of the claim that Palestinians simply voted for Hamas as a rejection of Fatah corruption, as if they were otherwise innocently unaware of Hamas’s genocidal position on extinguishing the Jewish state.   

As has often been observed, Islamism and statecraft hardly go hand in hand. Presumably Hamas is discovering that the practical day-to-day matters of governing do not exactly lend themselves to keeping up a level of purist militancy that plays out well on the Gazan street. While Hamas still managed to bring out large numbers for a recent “loyalty” rally, attendance was significantly down from what had been expected, and that is taking into account that many of those present were there under obligation, with Hamas still serving as one of the primary employers in Gaza. As such, Hamas maintains a fighting force some 20,000 men strong. 

No one should imagine that Hamas has gone soft. The unconvincing suggestion that Hamas somehow deserves rehabilitating on account of its offer of a ten-year truce in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines really fails to stand. Not only should no one trust Hamas to even keep to such a truce, but what kind of “peace” agreement sees one side pledge to pause its war on the other in return for the territory from which to ultimately continue that war more successfully? Nevertheless, the all-consuming task of holding onto power in Gaza has periodically distracted Hamas from its war on Israel. That has weakened the group’s standing in the eyes of many Gazans and Islamic Jihad, with its Iranian backers, has only been too pleased to welcome in Hamas’s disaffected supporters. 

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Israel, the Palestinians, and Decency

Blaming Israel appears to be in fashion these days. During his most recent trip to the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear that he blamed Israel for the continuation of the conflict with the Palestinians without so much as a mention about the latter’s ongoing refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. That trend extends even to the discussion about negotiations with Iran as the administration is making it clear that it is more worried about Israel’s position on the nuclear threat than it is about Tehran’s deceptive diplomacy, a position that many of Kerry’s cheerleaders in the media (like Fareed Zakaria of Time Magazine and CNN) is picking up. But three stories that managed not to make it into the New York Times and other major international media outlets give you a better sense of the nature of the conflict than any of those involving Kerry or the back and forth between Washington and Jerusalem.

First, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, the blameless side of the peace talks according to Kerry, did not just welcome the terrorists freed by Israel as part of the price paid to get the PA to come back to the peace table as heroes. It now turns out that every one of these murderers was given at least $50,000 as well as a government salary and jobs.

As the Times of Israel reports:

Issa Abd Rabbo, the most veteran of the prisoners released, received a $60,000 bonus, with the PA reportedly also offering to foot the bill for a wedding should he choose to marry. He was convicted of murdering two Israeli hikers south of Jerusalem in 1984, after tying them up at gunpoint and placing bags over their heads.

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Blaming Israel appears to be in fashion these days. During his most recent trip to the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear that he blamed Israel for the continuation of the conflict with the Palestinians without so much as a mention about the latter’s ongoing refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. That trend extends even to the discussion about negotiations with Iran as the administration is making it clear that it is more worried about Israel’s position on the nuclear threat than it is about Tehran’s deceptive diplomacy, a position that many of Kerry’s cheerleaders in the media (like Fareed Zakaria of Time Magazine and CNN) is picking up. But three stories that managed not to make it into the New York Times and other major international media outlets give you a better sense of the nature of the conflict than any of those involving Kerry or the back and forth between Washington and Jerusalem.

First, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, the blameless side of the peace talks according to Kerry, did not just welcome the terrorists freed by Israel as part of the price paid to get the PA to come back to the peace table as heroes. It now turns out that every one of these murderers was given at least $50,000 as well as a government salary and jobs.

As the Times of Israel reports:

Issa Abd Rabbo, the most veteran of the prisoners released, received a $60,000 bonus, with the PA reportedly also offering to foot the bill for a wedding should he choose to marry. He was convicted of murdering two Israeli hikers south of Jerusalem in 1984, after tying them up at gunpoint and placing bags over their heads.

Elsewhere, Palestine Media Watch reports that the Palestinian who murdered an Israeli soldier in September had used PA TV to send a cryptic message to a brother, jailed by Israel for terrorist activities, informing him that a plan to kidnap a soldier and ransom the body for his release would soon be launched. Though the plot to use the dead body of the Israeli was foiled, the killer had used a popular official PA TV program devoted to honoring imprisoned terrorists to alert the brother to the plot.

These two stories tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the nature of the Palestinian Authority. Though Kerry continues to act as if the PA is a non-violent and well-intentioned peace partner for Israel, it remains committed to perpetuating the conflict and fomenting hatred against Israel and the Jews.

But the same week that the Palestinians were celebrating terror, Israel was once again proving its humane values:

The granddaughter of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was evacuated to an Israeli hospital in critical condition Sunday afternoon, but was returned to her family in Gaza Monday after her condition was deemed incurable, an Israeli military spokesman said Monday. Aamal Haniyeh, 1, was suffering from severe inflammation of the gastrointestinal system affecting her nervous system, doctors in Gaza said, according to the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram.

In case you were wondering, this was the same Ismail Haniyeh who used the anniversary of the Gilad Shalit ransom deal last month to call for more “armed struggle against Israel” and has repeatedly vowed never to recognize Israel and to continue to work to destroy it. It comes as no surprise that no mention of the younger Haniyeh’s hospitalization was reported by Hamas media sources in Gaza.

That Israel would offer medical aid to the relative of a man who is actively working to kill Jews and destroy their state doesn’t make it perfect or above scrutiny. But it shows that despite the drumbeat of incitement against it throughout the world, Israel’s government and its institutions remain committed to decency in its interactions even with its most bitter foes. These are just three items amid hundreds that happen every year that tell much the same story. The so-called moderates of the Palestinian Authority are honoring terrorists and using their media to promote terror. But somehow it is only Israel that is singled out for pressure by the United States. Irrespective of what you may think about settlements or where Israel’s borders should be, these stories illustrate the vast cultural gulf that exists between the Jewish state and those who lead their Palestinian neighbors. Anyone who ignores this element of the Middle East conflict knows nothing about what the real obstacles to peace are.

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Hamas as Violent as Ever, EU and Left as Clueless as Ever

In February, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh reiterated that Hamas would never give up trying to militarily destroy Israel, declaring while in Tehran that the “gun is our only response to the Zionist regime.” A month later, senior Gaza-based Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar, also visiting Tehran, made functionally the same statement. He also announced that the “principles and strategy of the Palestinian Islamic resistance will not change.”

Soon afterward, the two war advocates squared off in a secret election for placement on, and leadership of, Hamas’s 15-member Gaza politburo. Haniyeh rose above Zahar and is now the institution’s head.

Meanwhile, elections for Hamas’s overall central committee – as opposed to its Gaza politburo – are in the process of wrapping up. Official results should be up in the next 10 days, and in the meantime, somewhat conflicting rumors have emerged. Those reports are about the margins however, and it’s probably safe to assume that paid Iranian stooges Khaled Meshaal and Mussa Abu Marzuk are more or less leading the pack. Meshaal enjoys what counts as an incumbency advantage in that world, and Marzuk just declared unending war against Israel.

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In February, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh reiterated that Hamas would never give up trying to militarily destroy Israel, declaring while in Tehran that the “gun is our only response to the Zionist regime.” A month later, senior Gaza-based Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar, also visiting Tehran, made functionally the same statement. He also announced that the “principles and strategy of the Palestinian Islamic resistance will not change.”

Soon afterward, the two war advocates squared off in a secret election for placement on, and leadership of, Hamas’s 15-member Gaza politburo. Haniyeh rose above Zahar and is now the institution’s head.

Meanwhile, elections for Hamas’s overall central committee – as opposed to its Gaza politburo – are in the process of wrapping up. Official results should be up in the next 10 days, and in the meantime, somewhat conflicting rumors have emerged. Those reports are about the margins however, and it’s probably safe to assume that paid Iranian stooges Khaled Meshaal and Mussa Abu Marzuk are more or less leading the pack. Meshaal enjoys what counts as an incumbency advantage in that world, and Marzuk just declared unending war against Israel.

No one in charge of Hamas at any level, in other words, is pushing anything but a permanent campaign of violence against the Jewish State. Just this morning Hamas spokesman Hammad al-Ruqab called on Palestinians to kidnap Israeli soldiers, which is a call for Palestinians to start another war.

Naturally, EU countries are rumored to have chosen now to launch talks with Hamas:

Hamas has been holding secret political talks with five EU member states in recent months, a senior official in the Islamic terrorist group told the Associated Press on Wednesday. If confirmed, such talks would be a sign that the isolation of the Gaza-based movement is easing in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings that have brought Islamists to power in parts of the Middle East… the West is reassessing its Middle East policy following the uprisings of the past year that toppled several pro-Western regimes in the region and have enabled the rise of the Hamas parent movement, the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood. It seems possible that some EU member states are now softening their approach toward Hamas.

Israeli peace activists – citing a slack-jawed report on how Hamas is taking a temporary break from firing rockets at Israeli schoolchildren – are also contrasting the group positively with the Israeli government. Because that’s the direction toward which the evidence converges: Hamas’s peaceful intentions.

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Ramsey Clark Embraces Hamas: Whose Reputation Is Damaged?

Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general who went on to a career of far-left anti-American activism, is in Gaza this week to express his solidarity with the Hamas terrorists who rule the strip and opposition to any Israeli measure of self-defense against them. Normally when a Western pilgrim goes to Gaza to be manipulated by the Islamist regime there, we tend to think that it is the visitor who is discredited by his willingness to associate with an organization of ruthless killers. But perhaps in this case, it is Hamas that should be worried about being tainted by Clark’s friendship.

After all, though Clark was a civil-rights-enforcement lawyer in the Justice Department in the 1960s, his legal work since then has specialized not just in the defense of mass murderers but also in the support of them. While anyone, even killers, is entitled to a lawyer, Clark’s bizarre animus toward his own country has led him to be the mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a leader of the Rwanda genocide. In these cases, Clark didn’t just seek to undermine the prosecution of the killers; he tried to rationalize their homicidal actions. Among the notably unsavory beneficiaries of Clark’s good offices were Nazi war criminals Karl Linnas, the commandant of the Tartu concentration camp in Estonia, and Jack Riemer, a Nazi concentration-camp guard. He also defended the Palestinian Liberation Organization against a lawsuit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the crippled American Jew who was murdered by terrorists on the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

While Hamas is always glad to welcome any Western fool who will pose for pictures with its leaders, perhaps in this case it is the Islamist group, which actively seeks to convey the false image that it is composed of victims rather than the killers they truly are, that ought to be worried by Clark’s embrace. Does Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader who welcomed Clark to Gaza, really want the world to associate him with the likes of Saddam, Milosevic, or Taylor, even if such comparisons are entirely appropriate? Then again, though the prospect that Hamas’s chiefs will be brought to the bar of justice for their numerous crimes seems remote at the moment, perhaps it is never too early for them to make sure that Clark is on call for the moment when he can add them to his roster of murderous clients.

Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general who went on to a career of far-left anti-American activism, is in Gaza this week to express his solidarity with the Hamas terrorists who rule the strip and opposition to any Israeli measure of self-defense against them. Normally when a Western pilgrim goes to Gaza to be manipulated by the Islamist regime there, we tend to think that it is the visitor who is discredited by his willingness to associate with an organization of ruthless killers. But perhaps in this case, it is Hamas that should be worried about being tainted by Clark’s friendship.

After all, though Clark was a civil-rights-enforcement lawyer in the Justice Department in the 1960s, his legal work since then has specialized not just in the defense of mass murderers but also in the support of them. While anyone, even killers, is entitled to a lawyer, Clark’s bizarre animus toward his own country has led him to be the mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a leader of the Rwanda genocide. In these cases, Clark didn’t just seek to undermine the prosecution of the killers; he tried to rationalize their homicidal actions. Among the notably unsavory beneficiaries of Clark’s good offices were Nazi war criminals Karl Linnas, the commandant of the Tartu concentration camp in Estonia, and Jack Riemer, a Nazi concentration-camp guard. He also defended the Palestinian Liberation Organization against a lawsuit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the crippled American Jew who was murdered by terrorists on the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

While Hamas is always glad to welcome any Western fool who will pose for pictures with its leaders, perhaps in this case it is the Islamist group, which actively seeks to convey the false image that it is composed of victims rather than the killers they truly are, that ought to be worried by Clark’s embrace. Does Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader who welcomed Clark to Gaza, really want the world to associate him with the likes of Saddam, Milosevic, or Taylor, even if such comparisons are entirely appropriate? Then again, though the prospect that Hamas’s chiefs will be brought to the bar of justice for their numerous crimes seems remote at the moment, perhaps it is never too early for them to make sure that Clark is on call for the moment when he can add them to his roster of murderous clients.

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New Poll Shatters Myths on Gaza Blockade and Settlement Freeze

A new poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shatters several myths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first is that Israel’s blockade of Gaza in general, and its botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in particular, has only strengthened Hamas.

The poll, conducted between June 10 and 13, found that “despite the events associated with the Free Gaza flotilla and the Israeli attack on it,” there was “a significant improvement in the status of Salam Fayyad and his government.” If elections were held today, 45% of Palestinians would vote for Fatah and 26% for Hamas, compared with 42% and 28%, respectively, in March. Most interestingly, Fatah trounces Hamas among Gazans: 49% to 32%. Fayyad, who had zero political support when he took office three years ago, would now edge out Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a presidential matchup, 36% to 32%. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would rout Haniyeh, 54% to 39%; that is up from 50% to 40% in March.

Why the upsurge? Because the blockade is working: “Only 9% say conditions in the Gaza Strip today are good or very good while 35% say conditions in the West Bank are good or very good.” Moreover, while 62% of Gazans and 60% of West Bankers “feel that their personal safety and security and that of their family are assured,” the Gaza figure is down from 70% in March, while the West Bank figure is up from 55%. Strong majorities in the West Bank say the economy, health care, education, and law enforcement have improved since Fayyad became prime minister.

Myth No. 2: Palestinians’ prime concern is ending Israeli settlement construction. In fact, the poll found a huge majority, 60% to 38%, opposing a ban on Palestinians working in the settlements; in the West Bank, where the settlements actually are, support dropped to 34% percent. And since Palestinians work in the settlements almost exclusively in construction, the obvious implication is that they prefer construction to continue, so that they can have jobs.

Why? Because most Palestinians’ actual prime concern is supporting their families (something that really shouldn’t surprise those liberals who believe all people want the same things), and the settlements are a major employer. It will be years before the Palestinian economy is capable of providing an alternative. Thus by demanding a freeze on settlement construction now, Barack Obama and his European counterparts are merely generating massive Palestinian unemployment. It turns out that Palestinians would rather they didn’t.

Myth No. 3: Israel’s war on Gaza last year was counterproductive. Actually, 57% of Palestinians now support efforts by Hamas to prevent rocket launches at Israeli towns, while only 38% oppose them. In June 2008, six months before the war began, the opposite was true: 57% of Palestinians favored rocket attacks on Israel. In short, the war achieved exactly what it was meant to achieve: discouraging rocket fire.

But here’s one thing that really is counterproductive: Western governments making policy based on what they want to believe rather than on the facts. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

A new poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shatters several myths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first is that Israel’s blockade of Gaza in general, and its botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in particular, has only strengthened Hamas.

The poll, conducted between June 10 and 13, found that “despite the events associated with the Free Gaza flotilla and the Israeli attack on it,” there was “a significant improvement in the status of Salam Fayyad and his government.” If elections were held today, 45% of Palestinians would vote for Fatah and 26% for Hamas, compared with 42% and 28%, respectively, in March. Most interestingly, Fatah trounces Hamas among Gazans: 49% to 32%. Fayyad, who had zero political support when he took office three years ago, would now edge out Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a presidential matchup, 36% to 32%. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would rout Haniyeh, 54% to 39%; that is up from 50% to 40% in March.

Why the upsurge? Because the blockade is working: “Only 9% say conditions in the Gaza Strip today are good or very good while 35% say conditions in the West Bank are good or very good.” Moreover, while 62% of Gazans and 60% of West Bankers “feel that their personal safety and security and that of their family are assured,” the Gaza figure is down from 70% in March, while the West Bank figure is up from 55%. Strong majorities in the West Bank say the economy, health care, education, and law enforcement have improved since Fayyad became prime minister.

Myth No. 2: Palestinians’ prime concern is ending Israeli settlement construction. In fact, the poll found a huge majority, 60% to 38%, opposing a ban on Palestinians working in the settlements; in the West Bank, where the settlements actually are, support dropped to 34% percent. And since Palestinians work in the settlements almost exclusively in construction, the obvious implication is that they prefer construction to continue, so that they can have jobs.

Why? Because most Palestinians’ actual prime concern is supporting their families (something that really shouldn’t surprise those liberals who believe all people want the same things), and the settlements are a major employer. It will be years before the Palestinian economy is capable of providing an alternative. Thus by demanding a freeze on settlement construction now, Barack Obama and his European counterparts are merely generating massive Palestinian unemployment. It turns out that Palestinians would rather they didn’t.

Myth No. 3: Israel’s war on Gaza last year was counterproductive. Actually, 57% of Palestinians now support efforts by Hamas to prevent rocket launches at Israeli towns, while only 38% oppose them. In June 2008, six months before the war began, the opposite was true: 57% of Palestinians favored rocket attacks on Israel. In short, the war achieved exactly what it was meant to achieve: discouraging rocket fire.

But here’s one thing that really is counterproductive: Western governments making policy based on what they want to believe rather than on the facts. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

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A New Abbas?

Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority and presumptive world representative of the Palestinian cause, has been making life difficult for those who make attacking Israel an axiom for their activism. The Jerusalem Post reported that, at a luncheon at Washington’s Brookings Institution last week, Abbas crossed a number of rhetorical red lines that have become the foundations of the anti-Israel narrative.

One: “Nobody denies the Jewish history in the Middle East. A third of our holy Koran talks about the Jews in the Middle East, in this area. Nobody from our side at least denies that the Jews were in Palestine.” Nobody, of course, except for Helen Thomas, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and countless activists who speak of the entire state of Israel, not just the post-1967 territories, as an “occupation.”

Two: he recognizes “West Jerusalem” as the “capital of Israel.” This is rather bold, considering that even the U.S. State Department doesn’t recognize Western Jerusalem as a part of Israel at all, much less its capital.

Three: Abbas stated that the goal of negotiations would be an absolute end to the conflict, so that there would be “no more demands” — something that sounds obvious but has forever eluded the public Palestinian discourse, keeping Israeli suspicions high that the Palestinians are not remotely interested in ending the conflict.

Four: he conceded that there is anti-Israel incitement on the Palestinian side and that such could be resolved through an agreed-upon monitoring committee.

Five: he allowed for the possibility of an agreed solution that included an international force, even NATO, occupying the Palestinian territories, at least for a few years — opening the door, perhaps, for meeting Israel’s demand that the Palestinian state be demilitarized.

Yet the biggest zinger from Abbas appears in today’s Haaretz. According to the report, he told President Barack Obama that he opposes lifting Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — a position shared with the Egyptian government, as well. This, of course, not only justifies Israel’s enforcement of the blockade during the flotilla mess (regardless of whether the tactics were prudent) but it also implies that the blockade itself is precisely right. This is truly remarkable, for it drastically undermines the justification for the entire flotilla and puts Turkey and other supporters in the awkward position of having to explain why, exactly, they have been so excited about it in the first place. (It would have been nice if Abbas had said so before the boats launched, but I suppose you can’t have everything.)

Certainly many people will dismiss his comments as the sudden spin of a politician worried about losing his place in the international arena. And obviously his concessions here, assuming he holds on to them, do not mean an immediate breakthrough to peace: you still have the massive problem of dismantling the Hamas government in Gaza (without which there cannot be peace) and coming to agreements on the refugees and Jerusalem. Yet one wonders why these statements have largely been ignored by the major Western media. Is it because, perhaps, that it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state and its right to defend itself?

Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority and presumptive world representative of the Palestinian cause, has been making life difficult for those who make attacking Israel an axiom for their activism. The Jerusalem Post reported that, at a luncheon at Washington’s Brookings Institution last week, Abbas crossed a number of rhetorical red lines that have become the foundations of the anti-Israel narrative.

One: “Nobody denies the Jewish history in the Middle East. A third of our holy Koran talks about the Jews in the Middle East, in this area. Nobody from our side at least denies that the Jews were in Palestine.” Nobody, of course, except for Helen Thomas, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and countless activists who speak of the entire state of Israel, not just the post-1967 territories, as an “occupation.”

Two: he recognizes “West Jerusalem” as the “capital of Israel.” This is rather bold, considering that even the U.S. State Department doesn’t recognize Western Jerusalem as a part of Israel at all, much less its capital.

Three: Abbas stated that the goal of negotiations would be an absolute end to the conflict, so that there would be “no more demands” — something that sounds obvious but has forever eluded the public Palestinian discourse, keeping Israeli suspicions high that the Palestinians are not remotely interested in ending the conflict.

Four: he conceded that there is anti-Israel incitement on the Palestinian side and that such could be resolved through an agreed-upon monitoring committee.

Five: he allowed for the possibility of an agreed solution that included an international force, even NATO, occupying the Palestinian territories, at least for a few years — opening the door, perhaps, for meeting Israel’s demand that the Palestinian state be demilitarized.

Yet the biggest zinger from Abbas appears in today’s Haaretz. According to the report, he told President Barack Obama that he opposes lifting Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — a position shared with the Egyptian government, as well. This, of course, not only justifies Israel’s enforcement of the blockade during the flotilla mess (regardless of whether the tactics were prudent) but it also implies that the blockade itself is precisely right. This is truly remarkable, for it drastically undermines the justification for the entire flotilla and puts Turkey and other supporters in the awkward position of having to explain why, exactly, they have been so excited about it in the first place. (It would have been nice if Abbas had said so before the boats launched, but I suppose you can’t have everything.)

Certainly many people will dismiss his comments as the sudden spin of a politician worried about losing his place in the international arena. And obviously his concessions here, assuming he holds on to them, do not mean an immediate breakthrough to peace: you still have the massive problem of dismantling the Hamas government in Gaza (without which there cannot be peace) and coming to agreements on the refugees and Jerusalem. Yet one wonders why these statements have largely been ignored by the major Western media. Is it because, perhaps, that it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state and its right to defend itself?

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Useful Idiots at Sea

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air has a very good summary of points about the Hamas-backed attempt to break the maritime blockade of Gaza on May 31. The summary includes links on the Turkish “aid” group, Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), and its associations with the Muslim Brotherhood and all the usual suspects of Islamist terror (including the Millennium bombing plot in 1999). There is convincing video footage of the fight mounted by the peace activists – using knives, metal pipe, handguns, stun grenades, and incendiary devices – against the Israeli commandos boarding M/V Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ferry used as the flotilla’s flagship. Probably the best compliment I can give Ed’s post is that it doesn’t adopt the credulous, pro-activist editorial perspective of virtually all the mainstream media outlets.

There is good reason not to. For one thing, the fingerprints of Hamas are all over this blockade-running attempt. IHH, a key organizer of the flotilla, has longstanding ties to Hamas that include establishing an IHH office in Gaza and setting up celebrated meetings between its leader, Bulent Yildirim, and Hamas leaders Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh. Moreover, British participation in the flotilla was organized by British Hamas leader Mohammed Sawalha, among other Hamas links to the European flotilla participants (laid out here).

Flotilla spokesmen told Islamic media repeatedly in the weeks before the attempt that their purpose was to break the blockade. Israel, of course, regularly allows aid convoys into Gaza; the Israelis offered to accept the humanitarian cargo in Ashdod and have it convoyed into Gaza over land. But IHH leaders stated that they hoped to widen the rift between Israel and Turkey by inciting Israel to take military action against the flotilla.

The Israelis advised Turkish and European envoys beforehand of their intention to use naval forces to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza. The outrage now being shown by European politicians certainly isn’t based on surprise at the course of events; the Israelis did exactly what they said they would do. In fact, some reports suggest that European governments joined Israel last week in pressuring Greek Cyprus to prevent the departure of flotilla participants who were using Cyprus as a staging area. In the days since Mavi Marmara’s departure from Istanbul on May 22, Europeans have been watching the flotilla’s dilatory progress much more closely than Americans have. The truth about the dramatic climax off Gaza on Monday is that the whole event has unfolded in slow motion – and with the full cognizance of all the relevant governments.

From a military operational perspective, it seems to have been a tactical error that the Israeli commandos didn’t go in with sufficient force. I doubt they’ll make that mistake again. If they had conducted the boarding on the premise that it would be “non-compliant” (the U.S. military term), they would have been prepared to stabilize the situation at the outset with the threat of deadly force. In conditions like the ones the commandos faced today, that usually means actual force is less likely to be necessary.

But in the end, what matters to Israeli national security is that the flotilla participants were armed and determined to break the blockade. As long as Hamas rules Gaza, the territory’s sea access is a major vulnerability for Israel and has to be controlled. Repeated attempts have been made in the last few years to deliver weapons from Iran to Hamas by sea (see here, here, here, here, and here); Israel can’t permit the coastline of Gaza to become the path of least resistance for weapons deliveries.

It will be up to the U.S. and Europe whether the waters off the Gaza coast, short miles from the Suez Canal, become a source of maritime instability due to incitement by Hamas. The EU leadership, tacitly accepting the Hamas narrative cloaked in Europe’s trademark parlor activism, is behaving with a fecklessness for which it deserves strong rebuke. It is not to the advantage of any respectable nation to carry Hamas’s water. Only Hamas and its fellow jihadists stand to benefit from Israel losing control of its maritime borders. The sooner Europe’s leaders confront that fact and take a responsible view of their own interests, the better.

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air has a very good summary of points about the Hamas-backed attempt to break the maritime blockade of Gaza on May 31. The summary includes links on the Turkish “aid” group, Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), and its associations with the Muslim Brotherhood and all the usual suspects of Islamist terror (including the Millennium bombing plot in 1999). There is convincing video footage of the fight mounted by the peace activists – using knives, metal pipe, handguns, stun grenades, and incendiary devices – against the Israeli commandos boarding M/V Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ferry used as the flotilla’s flagship. Probably the best compliment I can give Ed’s post is that it doesn’t adopt the credulous, pro-activist editorial perspective of virtually all the mainstream media outlets.

There is good reason not to. For one thing, the fingerprints of Hamas are all over this blockade-running attempt. IHH, a key organizer of the flotilla, has longstanding ties to Hamas that include establishing an IHH office in Gaza and setting up celebrated meetings between its leader, Bulent Yildirim, and Hamas leaders Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh. Moreover, British participation in the flotilla was organized by British Hamas leader Mohammed Sawalha, among other Hamas links to the European flotilla participants (laid out here).

Flotilla spokesmen told Islamic media repeatedly in the weeks before the attempt that their purpose was to break the blockade. Israel, of course, regularly allows aid convoys into Gaza; the Israelis offered to accept the humanitarian cargo in Ashdod and have it convoyed into Gaza over land. But IHH leaders stated that they hoped to widen the rift between Israel and Turkey by inciting Israel to take military action against the flotilla.

The Israelis advised Turkish and European envoys beforehand of their intention to use naval forces to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza. The outrage now being shown by European politicians certainly isn’t based on surprise at the course of events; the Israelis did exactly what they said they would do. In fact, some reports suggest that European governments joined Israel last week in pressuring Greek Cyprus to prevent the departure of flotilla participants who were using Cyprus as a staging area. In the days since Mavi Marmara’s departure from Istanbul on May 22, Europeans have been watching the flotilla’s dilatory progress much more closely than Americans have. The truth about the dramatic climax off Gaza on Monday is that the whole event has unfolded in slow motion – and with the full cognizance of all the relevant governments.

From a military operational perspective, it seems to have been a tactical error that the Israeli commandos didn’t go in with sufficient force. I doubt they’ll make that mistake again. If they had conducted the boarding on the premise that it would be “non-compliant” (the U.S. military term), they would have been prepared to stabilize the situation at the outset with the threat of deadly force. In conditions like the ones the commandos faced today, that usually means actual force is less likely to be necessary.

But in the end, what matters to Israeli national security is that the flotilla participants were armed and determined to break the blockade. As long as Hamas rules Gaza, the territory’s sea access is a major vulnerability for Israel and has to be controlled. Repeated attempts have been made in the last few years to deliver weapons from Iran to Hamas by sea (see here, here, here, here, and here); Israel can’t permit the coastline of Gaza to become the path of least resistance for weapons deliveries.

It will be up to the U.S. and Europe whether the waters off the Gaza coast, short miles from the Suez Canal, become a source of maritime instability due to incitement by Hamas. The EU leadership, tacitly accepting the Hamas narrative cloaked in Europe’s trademark parlor activism, is behaving with a fecklessness for which it deserves strong rebuke. It is not to the advantage of any respectable nation to carry Hamas’s water. Only Hamas and its fellow jihadists stand to benefit from Israel losing control of its maritime borders. The sooner Europe’s leaders confront that fact and take a responsible view of their own interests, the better.

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And Now for Some News from Realityland

One of the more annoying tendencies of Western commentators on the Middle East is their desperate insistence that the Palestinians have long since accepted the “two-state solution,” and the only obstacle to the success of the peace process is smoothing over minor differences on Jerusalem, borders, settlements, and so on.

Of course, in reality, there is no Palestinian consensus on peaceful coexistence with Israel — not even close. But that doesn’t stop, say, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg (to take one of many examples) from saying this:

But decades of harsh occupation have made dispossessed Palestinians, the majority of whom have long favored a two-state solution, the sympathetic victims in the conflict. [emphasis added]

Where does Weisberg get this information? He of course doesn’t say. There’s no need to be coy — lots of opinion polling is done in the Palestinian territories. Indeed, a new survey, conducted by An-Najah University in Nablus, has just been released.

Do you accept the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with some land exchange as a final solution for the Palestinian problem?

Yes 28.3
No 66.7
No opinion/I do not know 5.0

Do you support or reject making Jerusalem a capital for two states: Palestine and Israel?

I support 20.8
I reject 77.4
No opinion/I do not know 1.8

Et tu, Weisberg?

There is some good news, however, that also punctures an unfounded liberal conviction — that Israeli military action against Hamas only galvanizes Palestinian opinion in favor of the “resistance.” In reality, Hamas is more unpopular than ever:

As you know, there is a government in the West Bank led by Salam Fayyad and another government in the Gaza Strip led by Ismail Haniyeh. In your opinion which government is more capable of managing the internal Palestinian affairs?

The government of Salam Fayyad 63.6
The Government of Ismail Haniyeh 20.1
No opinion/I do not know 16.3

How do you assess the performance of the government of Salam Fayyad?

Good 65.4
Bad 26.3
No opinion/I do not know 8.3

How do you assess the performance of the government of Ismail Haniyeh?

Good 31.2
Bad 45.3
No opinion/I do not know 23.4

The good news is that the Palestinians have seen what Islamist governance entails, and like most Arabs who have had the experience, they don’t particularly like it. The bad news is that the Palestinians, unfortunately, remain utterly divided on the question of the peace process and coexistence with Israel.

One of the more annoying tendencies of Western commentators on the Middle East is their desperate insistence that the Palestinians have long since accepted the “two-state solution,” and the only obstacle to the success of the peace process is smoothing over minor differences on Jerusalem, borders, settlements, and so on.

Of course, in reality, there is no Palestinian consensus on peaceful coexistence with Israel — not even close. But that doesn’t stop, say, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg (to take one of many examples) from saying this:

But decades of harsh occupation have made dispossessed Palestinians, the majority of whom have long favored a two-state solution, the sympathetic victims in the conflict. [emphasis added]

Where does Weisberg get this information? He of course doesn’t say. There’s no need to be coy — lots of opinion polling is done in the Palestinian territories. Indeed, a new survey, conducted by An-Najah University in Nablus, has just been released.

Do you accept the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with some land exchange as a final solution for the Palestinian problem?

Yes 28.3
No 66.7
No opinion/I do not know 5.0

Do you support or reject making Jerusalem a capital for two states: Palestine and Israel?

I support 20.8
I reject 77.4
No opinion/I do not know 1.8

Et tu, Weisberg?

There is some good news, however, that also punctures an unfounded liberal conviction — that Israeli military action against Hamas only galvanizes Palestinian opinion in favor of the “resistance.” In reality, Hamas is more unpopular than ever:

As you know, there is a government in the West Bank led by Salam Fayyad and another government in the Gaza Strip led by Ismail Haniyeh. In your opinion which government is more capable of managing the internal Palestinian affairs?

The government of Salam Fayyad 63.6
The Government of Ismail Haniyeh 20.1
No opinion/I do not know 16.3

How do you assess the performance of the government of Salam Fayyad?

Good 65.4
Bad 26.3
No opinion/I do not know 8.3

How do you assess the performance of the government of Ismail Haniyeh?

Good 31.2
Bad 45.3
No opinion/I do not know 23.4

The good news is that the Palestinians have seen what Islamist governance entails, and like most Arabs who have had the experience, they don’t particularly like it. The bad news is that the Palestinians, unfortunately, remain utterly divided on the question of the peace process and coexistence with Israel.

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Der Spiegel: “An Israeli Affront Against Germany”

The headline is breathless, and the article is stupid. The German paper claims that both the failure of the Shalit talks and the Dubai assassination were grave Israeli insults to Germany.

This marks the second time that the Germans have been snubbed. [The first time, Der Spiegel says, was when the Mossad did not tell the German mediator in the Shalit talks that the Dubai assassination was about to take place. No, that doesn't make sense to me either -- NP] In late December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected at the last moment a detailed agreement that his negotiator Hagai Hadas had hammered out with Hamas via the German intelligence agency. …

Zahar said it had been difficult to convince Khalid Mashaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas in Damascus, Syria, to approve the deal. Netanyahu’s subsequent rejection seriously damaged his reputation within Hamas, says Zahar. “I have suffered a lot internally,” he adds. “I am not ready to negotiate anymore.”

So Israel rejected a prisoner swap and hung Mahmoud Zahar out to dry? This is pure Hamas spin — and therefore very attractive to Western journalists. The reality of the negotiations is that Israel has been waiting on a Hamas answer on the prisoner swap since December, an answer that has not been forthcoming because of a rift between Hamas’s Gaza and Damascus leadership. The Gazans want to do the swap; the Syrian leadership does not:

Last December, at the conclusion of a round of mediated negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the deal to the inner cabinet on security matters, which gave a conditional approval to the German offer.

Since then, Hamas has avoided providing its own response to the offer. It may be that this was part of an effort to avoid having the blame for failure directed at the organization. However, the absence of a response also reflected genuine disagreement between al-Zahar and others in the organization.

Intelligence sources in the West and Israel have said that al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, are aware of the severity of the crisis that the organization is experiencing as a result of more than three years of siege on the Gaza Strip, and are eager to reach a compromise that would permit them to also show some gain in the form of a large prisoner release.

It is not unusual in the least for leaders of Palestinian terrorist groups to baldly lie about any number of things; holy warriors grant themselves many indulgences. What should be unusual is the willingness of Western reporters to reprint these lies as journalistic fact. One would think that a German paper should be especially careful about breathlessly repeating false allegations against the Jewish state.

The headline is breathless, and the article is stupid. The German paper claims that both the failure of the Shalit talks and the Dubai assassination were grave Israeli insults to Germany.

This marks the second time that the Germans have been snubbed. [The first time, Der Spiegel says, was when the Mossad did not tell the German mediator in the Shalit talks that the Dubai assassination was about to take place. No, that doesn't make sense to me either -- NP] In late December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected at the last moment a detailed agreement that his negotiator Hagai Hadas had hammered out with Hamas via the German intelligence agency. …

Zahar said it had been difficult to convince Khalid Mashaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas in Damascus, Syria, to approve the deal. Netanyahu’s subsequent rejection seriously damaged his reputation within Hamas, says Zahar. “I have suffered a lot internally,” he adds. “I am not ready to negotiate anymore.”

So Israel rejected a prisoner swap and hung Mahmoud Zahar out to dry? This is pure Hamas spin — and therefore very attractive to Western journalists. The reality of the negotiations is that Israel has been waiting on a Hamas answer on the prisoner swap since December, an answer that has not been forthcoming because of a rift between Hamas’s Gaza and Damascus leadership. The Gazans want to do the swap; the Syrian leadership does not:

Last December, at the conclusion of a round of mediated negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the deal to the inner cabinet on security matters, which gave a conditional approval to the German offer.

Since then, Hamas has avoided providing its own response to the offer. It may be that this was part of an effort to avoid having the blame for failure directed at the organization. However, the absence of a response also reflected genuine disagreement between al-Zahar and others in the organization.

Intelligence sources in the West and Israel have said that al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, are aware of the severity of the crisis that the organization is experiencing as a result of more than three years of siege on the Gaza Strip, and are eager to reach a compromise that would permit them to also show some gain in the form of a large prisoner release.

It is not unusual in the least for leaders of Palestinian terrorist groups to baldly lie about any number of things; holy warriors grant themselves many indulgences. What should be unusual is the willingness of Western reporters to reprint these lies as journalistic fact. One would think that a German paper should be especially careful about breathlessly repeating false allegations against the Jewish state.

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Is Israel’s Safety No Longer a Western Interest?

A senior Hamas leader reportedly told a British emissary yesterday that Hamas is ready to amend its charter calling for Israel’s destruction and recognize Israel’s right to exist. A breakthrough? Unfortunately, no. But the real bad news is the emissary’s response.

What Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dwaik told major Labour Party donor David Martin Abrahams is clearly eyebrow-raising. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told a rally in Gaza that “our goal is Palestine, all of Palestine” — which, in Palestinian parlance, includes all of Israel. So was Dwaik speaking without authorization, or has Hamas’s stance really shifted radically since December?

Actually, neither, as the Jerusalem Post’s report makes clear: Dwaik said he was merely reiterating Hamas’s well-known support for a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines. What he neglected to mention is that this support has always come with two caveats: first, Israel must agree to absorb millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, thereby eradicating the Jewish state demographically; and second, in exchange, Israel would get not a peace agreement, but a long-term truce — meaning that if death by demography failed to materialize, Hamas reserved the right to resume trying to finish Israel off militarily.

Needless to say, none of this bothered Abrahams, who is scheduled to brief British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on his meeting this weekend. He said he would urge Miliband to “consider the implications of Hamas’s positive overtures” and was “very excited” about facilitating dialogue between Hamas and the international community. “I’m prepared to give them [Hamas] a chance because I’ve got faith and confidence in Dwaik and Haniyeh,” he gushed. “We can’t allow 1.5 million to be festering in the Gaza Strip while the majority of them are good and well-educated.”

Dialogue with the European Union is, as Dwaik acknowledged, precisely what Hamas wants. As long, of course, as it can be achieved by mouthing slogans that useful idiots like Abrahams willfully misconstrue as moderate, without actually having to stop launching rockets at Israel or otherwise working toward Israel’s destruction. Certainly, it’s hard to find any explanation other than willful idiocy for why, if Abrahams has “confidence” in Haniyeh, he so readily assumes Haniyeh is lying when he publicly proclaims his goal as “all of Palestine.” Or why he views “well-educated” as apparently synonymous with “good,” given that most leaders of terrorist organizations are extremely well-educated: think physicians Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas or Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda.

But the truly chilling part was his conclusion. “Hamas is different from Al-Qaida,” Abrahams asserted. “Hamas is no threat to Western interests.”

Yet even Abrahams would presumably admit that, currently, Hamas is still a threat to Israel. So if Hamas is no threat to Western interests, then Israel’s safety is evidently not a Western interest.

Many Europeans may think this, but public statements to this effect have so far been confined to the fringes. That a mainstream, highly influential (and, of course, Jewish) member of Britain’s ruling party is now willing to say it openly is a development that should keep Israel supporters awake at night.

A senior Hamas leader reportedly told a British emissary yesterday that Hamas is ready to amend its charter calling for Israel’s destruction and recognize Israel’s right to exist. A breakthrough? Unfortunately, no. But the real bad news is the emissary’s response.

What Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dwaik told major Labour Party donor David Martin Abrahams is clearly eyebrow-raising. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told a rally in Gaza that “our goal is Palestine, all of Palestine” — which, in Palestinian parlance, includes all of Israel. So was Dwaik speaking without authorization, or has Hamas’s stance really shifted radically since December?

Actually, neither, as the Jerusalem Post’s report makes clear: Dwaik said he was merely reiterating Hamas’s well-known support for a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines. What he neglected to mention is that this support has always come with two caveats: first, Israel must agree to absorb millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, thereby eradicating the Jewish state demographically; and second, in exchange, Israel would get not a peace agreement, but a long-term truce — meaning that if death by demography failed to materialize, Hamas reserved the right to resume trying to finish Israel off militarily.

Needless to say, none of this bothered Abrahams, who is scheduled to brief British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on his meeting this weekend. He said he would urge Miliband to “consider the implications of Hamas’s positive overtures” and was “very excited” about facilitating dialogue between Hamas and the international community. “I’m prepared to give them [Hamas] a chance because I’ve got faith and confidence in Dwaik and Haniyeh,” he gushed. “We can’t allow 1.5 million to be festering in the Gaza Strip while the majority of them are good and well-educated.”

Dialogue with the European Union is, as Dwaik acknowledged, precisely what Hamas wants. As long, of course, as it can be achieved by mouthing slogans that useful idiots like Abrahams willfully misconstrue as moderate, without actually having to stop launching rockets at Israel or otherwise working toward Israel’s destruction. Certainly, it’s hard to find any explanation other than willful idiocy for why, if Abrahams has “confidence” in Haniyeh, he so readily assumes Haniyeh is lying when he publicly proclaims his goal as “all of Palestine.” Or why he views “well-educated” as apparently synonymous with “good,” given that most leaders of terrorist organizations are extremely well-educated: think physicians Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas or Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda.

But the truly chilling part was his conclusion. “Hamas is different from Al-Qaida,” Abrahams asserted. “Hamas is no threat to Western interests.”

Yet even Abrahams would presumably admit that, currently, Hamas is still a threat to Israel. So if Hamas is no threat to Western interests, then Israel’s safety is evidently not a Western interest.

Many Europeans may think this, but public statements to this effect have so far been confined to the fringes. That a mainstream, highly influential (and, of course, Jewish) member of Britain’s ruling party is now willing to say it openly is a development that should keep Israel supporters awake at night.

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Daniel Levy, Making Stuff up Again

Ah, Daniel Levy. He is the far left’s favorite analyst of the Israeli-Arab dispute, and he is possessed of some very strange ideas. Several months ago I wrote a long piece laying out a few of his mendacities for NRO.

I happened upon his big-think Middle East piece in the current Prospect, and couldn’t help but take a quick look. It’s more or less a long tour of foreign policy fantasy-land. But this item in particular jumped off the page:

Recalibrating policy toward Hamas has become central to progress on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Contrary to popular misperception, Hamas and al-Qaeda are adversaries, not allies. Hamas is about ending the occupation and reforming Palestinian society; al-Qaeda, about opposing the West per se and spreading chaos in the Muslim world and beyond. One is reformist, the other revolutionary; one nationalist, the other post-nationalist; one grievance-based, the other fundamentalist.

Amazing! The leaders of Hamas have, in Levy’s telling, been lying for decades about what they want. You thought Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyeh wish to destroy Israel, because that’s what they’ve promised to do over and over again? Well, you must be a simpleton. Or maybe you read the Hamas charter: “The Islamic Resistance Movement . . . strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Is it possible that Levy doesn’t understand that when Hamas leaders talk about “the occupation,” they mean Tel Aviv, not the West Bank? No — he certainly knows this. Maybe he received a secret communiqué in which Hamas rescinded its most basic principles?

And Hamas as a nationalist movement? Also a figment Levy’s imagination. Here’s the Charter again:

As for the objectives: They are the fighting against the false, defeating it and vanquishing it so that justice could prevail, homelands be retrieved and from its mosques would the voice of the mu’azen emerge declaring the establishment of the state of Islam, so that people and things would return each to their right places and Allah is our helper.

“The state of Islam.” Note to Levy: this is different than the state of Palestine.

All of this reminded me of Michael Young’s most recent column in the Beirut Daily Star, which perfectly anticipated Levy’s essay. Young’s topic is the foolishness of western apologists for Islamist groups:

Why is the topic important? Because over the years academics, analysts, journalists, and others, particularly the Westerners among them, who write about militant Islamist groups, have tended to project their own liberal attitudes and desires onto such groups, misinterpreting their intentions and largely ignoring what these groups say about themselves. Inasmuch as most such observers cannot really fathom the totalitarian strain in the aims and language of armed Islamists, totalitarian in the sense of pursuing a total idea, total in its purity, they cannot accept that the total idea can also be apocalyptic. Where Nasrallah and the leaders of Hamas will repeat that Israel’s elimination is a quasi-religious duty, the sympathetic Westernized observer, for whom the concept of elimination is intolerable, will think much more benignly in terms of well-intentioned “bargaining.” Hamas and Hizbullah are pragmatic, they will argue, so that their statements and deeds are only leverage to achieve specific political ends that, once attained, will allow a return to harmonious equilibrium.

This argument, so tirelessly made, is tiresomely irrelevant.

Young concludes: “For outside observers to ignore or reinterpret their words in order to justify a personal weakness for these groups’ revolutionary seductions is both self-centered and analytically useless.”

I don’t know how self-centered Levy is. But analytically useless? Most definitely.

Ah, Daniel Levy. He is the far left’s favorite analyst of the Israeli-Arab dispute, and he is possessed of some very strange ideas. Several months ago I wrote a long piece laying out a few of his mendacities for NRO.

I happened upon his big-think Middle East piece in the current Prospect, and couldn’t help but take a quick look. It’s more or less a long tour of foreign policy fantasy-land. But this item in particular jumped off the page:

Recalibrating policy toward Hamas has become central to progress on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Contrary to popular misperception, Hamas and al-Qaeda are adversaries, not allies. Hamas is about ending the occupation and reforming Palestinian society; al-Qaeda, about opposing the West per se and spreading chaos in the Muslim world and beyond. One is reformist, the other revolutionary; one nationalist, the other post-nationalist; one grievance-based, the other fundamentalist.

Amazing! The leaders of Hamas have, in Levy’s telling, been lying for decades about what they want. You thought Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyeh wish to destroy Israel, because that’s what they’ve promised to do over and over again? Well, you must be a simpleton. Or maybe you read the Hamas charter: “The Islamic Resistance Movement . . . strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Is it possible that Levy doesn’t understand that when Hamas leaders talk about “the occupation,” they mean Tel Aviv, not the West Bank? No — he certainly knows this. Maybe he received a secret communiqué in which Hamas rescinded its most basic principles?

And Hamas as a nationalist movement? Also a figment Levy’s imagination. Here’s the Charter again:

As for the objectives: They are the fighting against the false, defeating it and vanquishing it so that justice could prevail, homelands be retrieved and from its mosques would the voice of the mu’azen emerge declaring the establishment of the state of Islam, so that people and things would return each to their right places and Allah is our helper.

“The state of Islam.” Note to Levy: this is different than the state of Palestine.

All of this reminded me of Michael Young’s most recent column in the Beirut Daily Star, which perfectly anticipated Levy’s essay. Young’s topic is the foolishness of western apologists for Islamist groups:

Why is the topic important? Because over the years academics, analysts, journalists, and others, particularly the Westerners among them, who write about militant Islamist groups, have tended to project their own liberal attitudes and desires onto such groups, misinterpreting their intentions and largely ignoring what these groups say about themselves. Inasmuch as most such observers cannot really fathom the totalitarian strain in the aims and language of armed Islamists, totalitarian in the sense of pursuing a total idea, total in its purity, they cannot accept that the total idea can also be apocalyptic. Where Nasrallah and the leaders of Hamas will repeat that Israel’s elimination is a quasi-religious duty, the sympathetic Westernized observer, for whom the concept of elimination is intolerable, will think much more benignly in terms of well-intentioned “bargaining.” Hamas and Hizbullah are pragmatic, they will argue, so that their statements and deeds are only leverage to achieve specific political ends that, once attained, will allow a return to harmonious equilibrium.

This argument, so tirelessly made, is tiresomely irrelevant.

Young concludes: “For outside observers to ignore or reinterpret their words in order to justify a personal weakness for these groups’ revolutionary seductions is both self-centered and analytically useless.”

I don’t know how self-centered Levy is. But analytically useless? Most definitely.

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Speaking of Palestinian Society

A new poll is out, according to which support for Hamas among West-Bank Palestinians has risen dramatically since December. In the previous poll, when asked who should be president, the current Fatah leader Mohammed Abbas or Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, West Bankers picked Abbas, 56 percent to 37. In the new poll, Haniyeh edges Abbas, 46 percent to 45.

I am sure that some people will want to read this as an indictment of Israeli incursions against Hamas in Gaza, which are said to encourage sympathetic fanaticism in the West Bank. But this does not square well with the fact that it was Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza that triggered Hamas’ electoral victory and subsequent Gaza takeover to begin with.

What the poll does suggest, rather, is that the Palestinians do not seem to have very sound instincts when choosing their leaders. What, exactly, has Haniyeh given his people in Gaza? War, poverty, humiliation, bloodshed, international isolation. The misery of Gazans is the direct result of Haniyeh’s bloodthirsty compulsions (what in American politicics would be called “policies.”) Why do people in the West Bank want that?

Or is it honor? Ah yes. We know about their honor issues.

A new poll is out, according to which support for Hamas among West-Bank Palestinians has risen dramatically since December. In the previous poll, when asked who should be president, the current Fatah leader Mohammed Abbas or Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, West Bankers picked Abbas, 56 percent to 37. In the new poll, Haniyeh edges Abbas, 46 percent to 45.

I am sure that some people will want to read this as an indictment of Israeli incursions against Hamas in Gaza, which are said to encourage sympathetic fanaticism in the West Bank. But this does not square well with the fact that it was Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza that triggered Hamas’ electoral victory and subsequent Gaza takeover to begin with.

What the poll does suggest, rather, is that the Palestinians do not seem to have very sound instincts when choosing their leaders. What, exactly, has Haniyeh given his people in Gaza? War, poverty, humiliation, bloodshed, international isolation. The misery of Gazans is the direct result of Haniyeh’s bloodthirsty compulsions (what in American politicics would be called “policies.”) Why do people in the West Bank want that?

Or is it honor? Ah yes. We know about their honor issues.

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Polling the Palestinians

Any debate about Israel and the Palestinians invariably arrives at a basic question: What do the Palestinians want? A lot gets said in response. Most of it, as far as I can tell, confuses western hopes about the Palestinians with the actual beliefs of the Palestinians.

One can say such things with some confidence: the West Bank and Gaza are two of the more frequently polled places in the world. And the latest poll finds that Hamas’s popularity has increased substantially in recent months, across a range of issues. The report, from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, is available here. Among the highlights:

If new presidential elections were to take place today, [PA President] Mahmud Abbas and [Hamas leader] Ismail Haniyeh would receive almost equal number of votes, 46% for Abbas and 47% for Haniyeh. Abbas’s popularity stood at 56% and Haniyeh’s at 37% last December. . . .

Findings show depreciation in the legitimacy of [PA Prime Minister] Fayyad’s government and a significant rise in public perception of the legitimacy of Haniyeh’s government. 49% say Haniyeh should stay in office as Prime Minister while 45% say he should not. Last September only 40% said Haniyeh should stay as prime minister. By contrast, today only 38% say Fayyad’s government should stay in office and 55% say it should not. Support for Fayyad’s government stood at 49% last September. Similarly, 34% say Haniyeh’s government is the legitimate Palestinian government and only 29% say Fayyad’s government is the legitimate one. [Emphasis mine]

Over the past year, many people (including yours truly) imagined that Hamas’s treatment of Gaza was so brutal, and its rocket war against Israel so misguided, that ordinary Palestinians would discover the limits of their tolerance for thuggery masquerading as “resistance.” I was wrong. The depressing truth remains: as has been demonstrated in so many previous polls, Palestinian public opinion rewards those who most conspicuously demonstrate their dedication to violence against Israel, not those who desire peace.

Any debate about Israel and the Palestinians invariably arrives at a basic question: What do the Palestinians want? A lot gets said in response. Most of it, as far as I can tell, confuses western hopes about the Palestinians with the actual beliefs of the Palestinians.

One can say such things with some confidence: the West Bank and Gaza are two of the more frequently polled places in the world. And the latest poll finds that Hamas’s popularity has increased substantially in recent months, across a range of issues. The report, from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, is available here. Among the highlights:

If new presidential elections were to take place today, [PA President] Mahmud Abbas and [Hamas leader] Ismail Haniyeh would receive almost equal number of votes, 46% for Abbas and 47% for Haniyeh. Abbas’s popularity stood at 56% and Haniyeh’s at 37% last December. . . .

Findings show depreciation in the legitimacy of [PA Prime Minister] Fayyad’s government and a significant rise in public perception of the legitimacy of Haniyeh’s government. 49% say Haniyeh should stay in office as Prime Minister while 45% say he should not. Last September only 40% said Haniyeh should stay as prime minister. By contrast, today only 38% say Fayyad’s government should stay in office and 55% say it should not. Support for Fayyad’s government stood at 49% last September. Similarly, 34% say Haniyeh’s government is the legitimate Palestinian government and only 29% say Fayyad’s government is the legitimate one. [Emphasis mine]

Over the past year, many people (including yours truly) imagined that Hamas’s treatment of Gaza was so brutal, and its rocket war against Israel so misguided, that ordinary Palestinians would discover the limits of their tolerance for thuggery masquerading as “resistance.” I was wrong. The depressing truth remains: as has been demonstrated in so many previous polls, Palestinian public opinion rewards those who most conspicuously demonstrate their dedication to violence against Israel, not those who desire peace.

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Abbas’s Failed Strategy Returns

In the Palestinian political arena, “national unity” is a critical catchphrase, evoking the illusion of collective strength against Israeli occupation. Of course, the reality—which Monty Python beautifully satirized—is that Palestinian politics have been historically fragmented, with the current Hamas-Fatah standoff the most dangerous, deeply divided incarnation yet.

But don’t tell that to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who apparently believes that “national unity” remains within reach. Speaking at an Arab League conference yesterday in Cairo, Abbas called for a new round of elections, declaring, “We are ready to immediately take this step to restore national cohesion.” According to his strategy, elections will provide the “democratic solution” for restoring political legitimacy in the Palestinian territories, and thus provide an opportunity for pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace along the lines of the “Arab Initiative.”

Yet this strategy has been tried before—and has created immense peril for the Palestinians, as well as Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects. When Abbas won the January 2005 presidential elections with 62.5% of the vote, Hamas—which had boycotted the elections—was at the nadir of its power, with two of its top leaders recently assassinated and Israeli counterterrorism effectively curtailing its capabilities. But rather than using Hamas’ weakness as a pretext for disarmament, Abbas insisted on Hamas’ incorporation through their participation in the January 2006 parliamentary elections, arguing, “by engaging them to solve problems politically, there will be no need to resolve to military conflict.” Naturally, Abbas believed that Hamas would lose, and that the popular repudiation of Hamas’ extremism would force it to moderate. Of course, this didn’t quite pan out: Hamas won, and later used the popular affirmation of its extremism to seize control of Gaza.

Given these realities, it is hard to fathom why Abbas believes that this strategy will work now. Perhaps the pro-Fatah love-fest that greeted Abbas in Cairo—including the Arab League’s announcement that it would establish the Yasser Arafat Foundation in Ramallah—skewed Abbas’ perceptions. Indeed, Fatah will be working at a significant disadvantage if Palestinians return to the polls anytime soon—particularly in Gaza, where the PA-funded al-Ayyam has been banned for the past sixteen days after it published a cartoon mocking Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Moreover, the prospect of early presidential elections seems particularly inviting of increasing Hamas’ power. After all, Abbas cannot point to any concrete successes in his three-plus years as PA president, while failures abound.

In turn, the likely consequence of early Palestinian elections would be the ultimate achievement of “national unity,” with Hamas likely reclaiming the parliament and winning the presidency. The Bush administration—which has long supported Abbas after judiciously boycotting Arafat—should ask Abbas whether this is the unity he has in mind, warning him that a PA unambiguously dominated by Hamas would jeopardize U.S. support for Palestinian statehood for years to come.

In the Palestinian political arena, “national unity” is a critical catchphrase, evoking the illusion of collective strength against Israeli occupation. Of course, the reality—which Monty Python beautifully satirized—is that Palestinian politics have been historically fragmented, with the current Hamas-Fatah standoff the most dangerous, deeply divided incarnation yet.

But don’t tell that to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who apparently believes that “national unity” remains within reach. Speaking at an Arab League conference yesterday in Cairo, Abbas called for a new round of elections, declaring, “We are ready to immediately take this step to restore national cohesion.” According to his strategy, elections will provide the “democratic solution” for restoring political legitimacy in the Palestinian territories, and thus provide an opportunity for pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace along the lines of the “Arab Initiative.”

Yet this strategy has been tried before—and has created immense peril for the Palestinians, as well as Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects. When Abbas won the January 2005 presidential elections with 62.5% of the vote, Hamas—which had boycotted the elections—was at the nadir of its power, with two of its top leaders recently assassinated and Israeli counterterrorism effectively curtailing its capabilities. But rather than using Hamas’ weakness as a pretext for disarmament, Abbas insisted on Hamas’ incorporation through their participation in the January 2006 parliamentary elections, arguing, “by engaging them to solve problems politically, there will be no need to resolve to military conflict.” Naturally, Abbas believed that Hamas would lose, and that the popular repudiation of Hamas’ extremism would force it to moderate. Of course, this didn’t quite pan out: Hamas won, and later used the popular affirmation of its extremism to seize control of Gaza.

Given these realities, it is hard to fathom why Abbas believes that this strategy will work now. Perhaps the pro-Fatah love-fest that greeted Abbas in Cairo—including the Arab League’s announcement that it would establish the Yasser Arafat Foundation in Ramallah—skewed Abbas’ perceptions. Indeed, Fatah will be working at a significant disadvantage if Palestinians return to the polls anytime soon—particularly in Gaza, where the PA-funded al-Ayyam has been banned for the past sixteen days after it published a cartoon mocking Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Moreover, the prospect of early presidential elections seems particularly inviting of increasing Hamas’ power. After all, Abbas cannot point to any concrete successes in his three-plus years as PA president, while failures abound.

In turn, the likely consequence of early Palestinian elections would be the ultimate achievement of “national unity,” with Hamas likely reclaiming the parliament and winning the presidency. The Bush administration—which has long supported Abbas after judiciously boycotting Arafat—should ask Abbas whether this is the unity he has in mind, warning him that a PA unambiguously dominated by Hamas would jeopardize U.S. support for Palestinian statehood for years to come.

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Oops!

Today was supposed to be Ismail Haniyeh’s big day. A huge demonstration of Gazans was slated to protest the Israeli blockade. The “longest human chain in the world,” we were told, was going to link arms from Gaza City to Rafiah. Maybe they would storm the border, like they did with Egypt. Hundreds of thousands, maybe even more. Israelis warned that they would respond in force, and sent reinforcements pouring towards the border. Hamas, we were told, was in a “win-win” situation; either they would succeed in breaking the blockade, or they would get such great coverage of Israeli brutality that no one would care if they failed.

But only 5,000 people showed up.

We have no idea exactly what went wrong. But we are left with two possibilities, and two alone: (1) Gazans don’t really care so much about the blockade, or (2) Israel outmaneuvered Hamas in its diplomatic and military preparations, and Haniyeh understood he had little to gain–in which case, we should never again believe that Gaza protests are spontaneous displays of genuine outrage, but rather programmed rallies dictated from above, as we always thought.

Looks like it’s lose-lose for Hamas.

Today was supposed to be Ismail Haniyeh’s big day. A huge demonstration of Gazans was slated to protest the Israeli blockade. The “longest human chain in the world,” we were told, was going to link arms from Gaza City to Rafiah. Maybe they would storm the border, like they did with Egypt. Hundreds of thousands, maybe even more. Israelis warned that they would respond in force, and sent reinforcements pouring towards the border. Hamas, we were told, was in a “win-win” situation; either they would succeed in breaking the blockade, or they would get such great coverage of Israeli brutality that no one would care if they failed.

But only 5,000 people showed up.

We have no idea exactly what went wrong. But we are left with two possibilities, and two alone: (1) Gazans don’t really care so much about the blockade, or (2) Israel outmaneuvered Hamas in its diplomatic and military preparations, and Haniyeh understood he had little to gain–in which case, we should never again believe that Gaza protests are spontaneous displays of genuine outrage, but rather programmed rallies dictated from above, as we always thought.

Looks like it’s lose-lose for Hamas.

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Is Israel Collectively Punishing Gaza?

Yes — and it is one of the stupidest of Israel’s many ill-conceived tactics for managing its conflict with Hamas. In weeks past, Israel reduced fuel shipments to Gaza, closed down crossing points, and over the weekend it reduced (by only one percent) the electricity it supplies. Are the people of Gaza themselves deeply implicated in the rocket war? Of course they are–huge numbers of them have nurtured, supported, voted, and cheered for Hamas. In large part, they are getting what they deserve. But making them suffer is still a counterproductive strategy. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Collective punishment has done nothing to stop the rocket fire, which in fact has significantly worsened in recent months.

2. The Hamas leadership is immune to the suffering of its people, and will not change its policies because of Israeli manipulation of that suffering. Ismail Haniyeh and his gangsters have repeatedly demonstrated that they couldn’t care less whether the people of Gaza are forced to wade through raw sewage because of the rocket war.

3. Squeezing the residents of Gaza does not administer the intended political lesson, which is to demonstrate to Palestinians that violence causes suffering, while diplomacy creates opportunity. Unfortunately Gaza and the West Bank are not home to a political culture that is receptive to this kind of message; large numbers of Palestinians continue to rally around those leaders who they see taking the fight to Israel.

4. It absolves Palestinians from having to consider the idea that their own leaders are the cause of their misery. Israel has once again given Palestinians ample evidence for continuing to believe in the sanctity of their own victimhood.

5. It creates not just condemnatory press coverage of Israel, but coverage that helpfully crowds out stories that might focus on Hamas’ belligerence and malfeasance.

6. It causes foreign governments, including even the United States, to warn and criticize Israel — statements that occupy the headlines, in place of stories about Hamas’ aggression or Israel’s more legitimate acts of retaliation.

7. Collective punishment shifts the narrative of the conflict — journalists are only too eager to help — from one in which Israel has been forced to respond to Hamas’ implacable terrorism to one in which Israel is punishing the imprisoned residents of Gaza, starving and humiliating them over something they cannot control. Narratives are vitally important in this conflict, and just as in Lebanon two summers ago, Israel is losing the battle over the narrative.

8. It inverts culpability for the conflict, allowing the political leaders who prosecute the rocket war to remain in power (and remain alive), while the people suffering under that leadership bear the brunt of Israel’s retribution.

Not a bad job, even by Israel’s typically high standards of ineptitude.

None of this is to say that Israel should not get out of the business of supplying utilities, food, and water to Gaza as quickly as humanly possible. It just means that Israel should develop a more productive and morally pure means of doing so.

That would involve the announcement of a date on which Israel will cease non-military contact with the Gaza Strip: no more humanitarian shipments, electricity, water, etc. Give fair warning, whether it’s six months or a year away, so that Hamas and its international saviors cannot claim that Israel has sprung a cruel surprise on them. Give the UN, EU, and Iran time to collaborate on power and desalination plants for Hamas if they like–but nothing should prevent Israel from sticking to its deadline, the day when the disengagement will be completed and the mismanagement of Gaza will fall entirely to Hamas.

In the meantime, the entire Hamas political leadership should go to the top of Israel’s targeted killings list. It’s long past time that the war was taken to the people who are most directly responsible for prosecuting it.

Yes — and it is one of the stupidest of Israel’s many ill-conceived tactics for managing its conflict with Hamas. In weeks past, Israel reduced fuel shipments to Gaza, closed down crossing points, and over the weekend it reduced (by only one percent) the electricity it supplies. Are the people of Gaza themselves deeply implicated in the rocket war? Of course they are–huge numbers of them have nurtured, supported, voted, and cheered for Hamas. In large part, they are getting what they deserve. But making them suffer is still a counterproductive strategy. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Collective punishment has done nothing to stop the rocket fire, which in fact has significantly worsened in recent months.

2. The Hamas leadership is immune to the suffering of its people, and will not change its policies because of Israeli manipulation of that suffering. Ismail Haniyeh and his gangsters have repeatedly demonstrated that they couldn’t care less whether the people of Gaza are forced to wade through raw sewage because of the rocket war.

3. Squeezing the residents of Gaza does not administer the intended political lesson, which is to demonstrate to Palestinians that violence causes suffering, while diplomacy creates opportunity. Unfortunately Gaza and the West Bank are not home to a political culture that is receptive to this kind of message; large numbers of Palestinians continue to rally around those leaders who they see taking the fight to Israel.

4. It absolves Palestinians from having to consider the idea that their own leaders are the cause of their misery. Israel has once again given Palestinians ample evidence for continuing to believe in the sanctity of their own victimhood.

5. It creates not just condemnatory press coverage of Israel, but coverage that helpfully crowds out stories that might focus on Hamas’ belligerence and malfeasance.

6. It causes foreign governments, including even the United States, to warn and criticize Israel — statements that occupy the headlines, in place of stories about Hamas’ aggression or Israel’s more legitimate acts of retaliation.

7. Collective punishment shifts the narrative of the conflict — journalists are only too eager to help — from one in which Israel has been forced to respond to Hamas’ implacable terrorism to one in which Israel is punishing the imprisoned residents of Gaza, starving and humiliating them over something they cannot control. Narratives are vitally important in this conflict, and just as in Lebanon two summers ago, Israel is losing the battle over the narrative.

8. It inverts culpability for the conflict, allowing the political leaders who prosecute the rocket war to remain in power (and remain alive), while the people suffering under that leadership bear the brunt of Israel’s retribution.

Not a bad job, even by Israel’s typically high standards of ineptitude.

None of this is to say that Israel should not get out of the business of supplying utilities, food, and water to Gaza as quickly as humanly possible. It just means that Israel should develop a more productive and morally pure means of doing so.

That would involve the announcement of a date on which Israel will cease non-military contact with the Gaza Strip: no more humanitarian shipments, electricity, water, etc. Give fair warning, whether it’s six months or a year away, so that Hamas and its international saviors cannot claim that Israel has sprung a cruel surprise on them. Give the UN, EU, and Iran time to collaborate on power and desalination plants for Hamas if they like–but nothing should prevent Israel from sticking to its deadline, the day when the disengagement will be completed and the mismanagement of Gaza will fall entirely to Hamas.

In the meantime, the entire Hamas political leadership should go to the top of Israel’s targeted killings list. It’s long past time that the war was taken to the people who are most directly responsible for prosecuting it.

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Israel Gets It Right

When Israel sealed Gaza in response to continued Qassam rocket assaults last month, I argued that Ehud Olmert’s government had run out of ideas. After all, the move represented a sharp break from Israel’s historic policy of narrowly focusing its counterterrorism operations on the terrorists, subjecting Gaza’s entire population to shortages while raising international ire. Indeed, it was hardly surprising when Israel reversed its policy within twenty-four hours, with supplies-filled trucks entering Gaza as international pressure mounted.

But today, Israel announced a new and improved strategy for countering the rockets—one that will directly pressure Hamas in two key ways. First, by declaring a campaign of targeted assassinations against Hamas leaders, Israel demonstrated its willingness to take politically severe—yet militarily surgical—measures to stop the attacks. Second, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak announcing preparations for a major ground offensive in Gaza if the rockets continue, Israel threatened a devastating escalation should Hamas fail to act. The ball is now in Hamas’ court: it can draw back its rocket launchers to end the standoff, or continue its aggression and suffer the mounting consequences.

There are a number of reasons to be optimistic regarding this approach. For starters, Hamas’ leadership appears to be taking the threat of assassination quite seriously, with Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud al-Zahar, and Said Siam going into hiding. This significantly hampers Hamas’ decision-making, forcing its leaders to focus on personal safety rather than building a response strategy. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s skittishness regarding a ground offensive in Gaza might give Hamas realistic hope that it can avoid an escalation by scaling back its rocket attacks.

Still, for this strategy to hold, Hamas’ Gaza leadership must see itself with few strategic alternatives to ending its attacks. Egypt will be essential to creating this environment, and Israel should accept the U.S. proposal for Egypt to add an additional 750 soldiers to its border force. Since the border was first breached two weeks ago, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit has threatened to “break the legs” of future infiltrators. Israel could benefit by testing Egyptian sincerity, agreeing to the force escalation while holding Egypt accountable for future failures.

Moreover, for this strategy to succeed, Israel must remain focused on its short-term goal: ending the rocket attacks, which claimed the leg of an 8-year-old boy yesterday. In this vein, Tzachi Hanegbi’s call to topple Hamas sets the bar for success impossibly high, and threatens to undermine any strategic objectives that Israel may achieve through this new course. As Israel should have learned in Lebanon, matching strategy to reasonable expectations is critical to asserting a political victory in the aftermath of military operations. Indeed, if Israel hopes to rally Palestinians against Hamas, a political victory presents greater long-term implications than any realistic military achievement.

When Israel sealed Gaza in response to continued Qassam rocket assaults last month, I argued that Ehud Olmert’s government had run out of ideas. After all, the move represented a sharp break from Israel’s historic policy of narrowly focusing its counterterrorism operations on the terrorists, subjecting Gaza’s entire population to shortages while raising international ire. Indeed, it was hardly surprising when Israel reversed its policy within twenty-four hours, with supplies-filled trucks entering Gaza as international pressure mounted.

But today, Israel announced a new and improved strategy for countering the rockets—one that will directly pressure Hamas in two key ways. First, by declaring a campaign of targeted assassinations against Hamas leaders, Israel demonstrated its willingness to take politically severe—yet militarily surgical—measures to stop the attacks. Second, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak announcing preparations for a major ground offensive in Gaza if the rockets continue, Israel threatened a devastating escalation should Hamas fail to act. The ball is now in Hamas’ court: it can draw back its rocket launchers to end the standoff, or continue its aggression and suffer the mounting consequences.

There are a number of reasons to be optimistic regarding this approach. For starters, Hamas’ leadership appears to be taking the threat of assassination quite seriously, with Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud al-Zahar, and Said Siam going into hiding. This significantly hampers Hamas’ decision-making, forcing its leaders to focus on personal safety rather than building a response strategy. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s skittishness regarding a ground offensive in Gaza might give Hamas realistic hope that it can avoid an escalation by scaling back its rocket attacks.

Still, for this strategy to hold, Hamas’ Gaza leadership must see itself with few strategic alternatives to ending its attacks. Egypt will be essential to creating this environment, and Israel should accept the U.S. proposal for Egypt to add an additional 750 soldiers to its border force. Since the border was first breached two weeks ago, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit has threatened to “break the legs” of future infiltrators. Israel could benefit by testing Egyptian sincerity, agreeing to the force escalation while holding Egypt accountable for future failures.

Moreover, for this strategy to succeed, Israel must remain focused on its short-term goal: ending the rocket attacks, which claimed the leg of an 8-year-old boy yesterday. In this vein, Tzachi Hanegbi’s call to topple Hamas sets the bar for success impossibly high, and threatens to undermine any strategic objectives that Israel may achieve through this new course. As Israel should have learned in Lebanon, matching strategy to reasonable expectations is critical to asserting a political victory in the aftermath of military operations. Indeed, if Israel hopes to rally Palestinians against Hamas, a political victory presents greater long-term implications than any realistic military achievement.

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Goodbye, Gaza

Last week Noah Pollak and I suggested that the Gaza blockade, coupled with the breaching of the Gaza-Egypt border, was good news, since it signalled a major shift of responsibility for Gaza, from Israel to Egypt. Although Eric Trager didn’t much agree, things are looking increasingly like Noah and I are right. Although the Egyptians have been trying to avoid taking responsibility for Gaza, it turns out that Hamas has plans of its own. According to reports, too see Gaza severing all economic ties with Israel as a high priority — a rare point of accord between Israel and Hamas. “Since the day we were elected,” said Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s de facto ruler, “we have said that we want to progress toward breaking our economic ties with Israel.” He added that “Egypt is in a much better position [than Israel] to meet the needs of the Gaza Strip.”

Not surprisingly, folks in Ramallah are furious at the prospect of Israel conducting a separete foreign policy with Hamas, thereby creating two separate Palestinian non-states. And Egyptians are anything but thrilled at deepened ties between Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood types in Egypt. But after so many years of telling their own people that the plight of the Palestinians is the root of all evil, the Egyptian government will be hard-pressed to reject the Palestinians’ own plea for salvation.

This is complicated, and may not work, but it’s worth taking the experiment to its conclusion. The benefits of an internationally recognized separation between Israel and Gaza are as follows: (1) Israel is wrenched free of an intolerable situation in which it is forced to provide food, fuel, and electricity to a terror organization currently involved in killing Israeli citizens; (2) Israelis will no longer be an “occupier” in Gaza, and will have a r elative free hand militarily; (3) Egypt will have to answer, to some degree or another, for Hamas’ iniquities. Not a bad deal overall.

Yet we should not be popping corks. Perhaps this is the best way that Israel’s disengagement from Gaza could have ended. But in the big picture, what has happened over the last three years is that the Gaza Strip has shifted from being under Western rule to a full-fledged Iranian satellite. (Last week, Iran sent officials to Egypt to discuss their “help” with Gaza. Why is an American ally receiving delegations from Ahmedinajad?) To use Soviet-era language, this is the opposite of “containment.” There is nothing good, not for Israel and not for the US, about the rise of an Iranian client state in the thick of the Western middle East.

Hamas built its popularity not only on by fanning the flames of revolution, but also on the promise of more caring, less corrupt governance than what Arafat had offered. Let us hope that at some point, some kind of accountability kicks in, and that perhaps with the ameliorating influence of pro-Western Egypt, Hamas will one day find a way to drop all this terror stuff and try to build their Gaza on a positive Islamic vision. Not too likely–but we can dream, can’t we? All right, never mind.

Last week Noah Pollak and I suggested that the Gaza blockade, coupled with the breaching of the Gaza-Egypt border, was good news, since it signalled a major shift of responsibility for Gaza, from Israel to Egypt. Although Eric Trager didn’t much agree, things are looking increasingly like Noah and I are right. Although the Egyptians have been trying to avoid taking responsibility for Gaza, it turns out that Hamas has plans of its own. According to reports, too see Gaza severing all economic ties with Israel as a high priority — a rare point of accord between Israel and Hamas. “Since the day we were elected,” said Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s de facto ruler, “we have said that we want to progress toward breaking our economic ties with Israel.” He added that “Egypt is in a much better position [than Israel] to meet the needs of the Gaza Strip.”

Not surprisingly, folks in Ramallah are furious at the prospect of Israel conducting a separete foreign policy with Hamas, thereby creating two separate Palestinian non-states. And Egyptians are anything but thrilled at deepened ties between Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood types in Egypt. But after so many years of telling their own people that the plight of the Palestinians is the root of all evil, the Egyptian government will be hard-pressed to reject the Palestinians’ own plea for salvation.

This is complicated, and may not work, but it’s worth taking the experiment to its conclusion. The benefits of an internationally recognized separation between Israel and Gaza are as follows: (1) Israel is wrenched free of an intolerable situation in which it is forced to provide food, fuel, and electricity to a terror organization currently involved in killing Israeli citizens; (2) Israelis will no longer be an “occupier” in Gaza, and will have a r elative free hand militarily; (3) Egypt will have to answer, to some degree or another, for Hamas’ iniquities. Not a bad deal overall.

Yet we should not be popping corks. Perhaps this is the best way that Israel’s disengagement from Gaza could have ended. But in the big picture, what has happened over the last three years is that the Gaza Strip has shifted from being under Western rule to a full-fledged Iranian satellite. (Last week, Iran sent officials to Egypt to discuss their “help” with Gaza. Why is an American ally receiving delegations from Ahmedinajad?) To use Soviet-era language, this is the opposite of “containment.” There is nothing good, not for Israel and not for the US, about the rise of an Iranian client state in the thick of the Western middle East.

Hamas built its popularity not only on by fanning the flames of revolution, but also on the promise of more caring, less corrupt governance than what Arafat had offered. Let us hope that at some point, some kind of accountability kicks in, and that perhaps with the ameliorating influence of pro-Western Egypt, Hamas will one day find a way to drop all this terror stuff and try to build their Gaza on a positive Islamic vision. Not too likely–but we can dream, can’t we? All right, never mind.

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Candlelight by Daylight

Illustrating the old adage that a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on, the story of Israel cutting off power to Gaza continues to circulate. What really happened? Something very typical, alas: a collaboration between journalists and Palestinians in manufacturing anti-Israel propaganda. As Khaled Abu Toameh (among others) reports:

On at least two occasions this week, Hamas staged scenes of darkness as part of its campaign to end the political and economic sanctions against the Gaza Strip, Palestinian journalists said Wednesday.

In the first case, journalists who were invited to cover the Hamas government meeting were surprised to see Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his ministers sitting around a table with burning candles.

In the second case on Tuesday, journalists noticed that Hamas legislators who were meeting in Gaza City also sat in front of burning candles.

But some of the journalists noticed that there was actually no need for the candles because both meetings were being held in daylight.

A bit under a third of Gaza’s electricity is supplied by a power station inside of Gaza; a tiny bit is supplied by Egypt, and the rest is supplied by Israel. It was the power station inside of Gaza that was shut down, and not shut down by Israel, but by Hamas, in order to lend credibility to its effort to generate international pressure against Israel’s blockade of the Strip. For the media, it staged candle-lit scenes and trumpeted the fiction that Israel had plunged Gaza into darkness.

Read More

Illustrating the old adage that a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on, the story of Israel cutting off power to Gaza continues to circulate. What really happened? Something very typical, alas: a collaboration between journalists and Palestinians in manufacturing anti-Israel propaganda. As Khaled Abu Toameh (among others) reports:

On at least two occasions this week, Hamas staged scenes of darkness as part of its campaign to end the political and economic sanctions against the Gaza Strip, Palestinian journalists said Wednesday.

In the first case, journalists who were invited to cover the Hamas government meeting were surprised to see Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his ministers sitting around a table with burning candles.

In the second case on Tuesday, journalists noticed that Hamas legislators who were meeting in Gaza City also sat in front of burning candles.

But some of the journalists noticed that there was actually no need for the candles because both meetings were being held in daylight.

A bit under a third of Gaza’s electricity is supplied by a power station inside of Gaza; a tiny bit is supplied by Egypt, and the rest is supplied by Israel. It was the power station inside of Gaza that was shut down, and not shut down by Israel, but by Hamas, in order to lend credibility to its effort to generate international pressure against Israel’s blockade of the Strip. For the media, it staged candle-lit scenes and trumpeted the fiction that Israel had plunged Gaza into darkness.

The terrorists of Hamas may be brutal, but they understand how to wage war in the media far better than the Israelis do. They knew the fact that Israel had never cut the electricity to Gaza or even reduced it was entirely beside the point, and would probably not be investigated by reporters–and they understand that images of people sitting in darkness with their faces illuminated by candlelight are visually compelling and can do more to convince the world of Palestinian victimization than a hundred press releases could ever accomplish.

Yet the fact remains that the speciousness of this story is readily available to anyone with an internet connection and a basic sense of skepticism and curiosity. But that hasn’t stopped the rigorously fact-checked exemplars of the MSM from repeating it. Here is yesterday’s New York Times editorial:

We are deeply concerned about the many innocent Israelis who live along the border with Gaza and must suffer through the constant bombardment. But Israel’s response—shutting off power and other essential supplies—is a collective punishment that will only feed anger and extremism.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Times editorialists could become deeply concerned with getting their facts straight?

Here is the Washington Post‘s editorial:

Israel closed its border with the territory and disrupted power supplies over the weekend in response to a massive escalation of Palestinian rocket launches from Gaza at nearby Israeli towns.

And for the greatest hilarity, check out this photograph in TIME magazine, which is captioned: “The Palestinian Parliament was forced to meet by candlelight on Tuesday night.” Now look at the window in the upper left corner of the picture: The curtain blocking it has a rather curiously bright, luminous border around it, doesn’t it? Tuesday night? Do TIME’s editors know how gullible they look?

The New York Times, the Washington Post, TIME magazine: When it comes to Israel, the lies often find themselves traveling first class. I doubt corrections will be forthcoming.

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The End of Mashaal, Haniyeh, and Zahar?

Khaled Abu Toameh reports in the Jerusalem Post today that

Israel is planning to assassinate exiled Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal, deposed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and former PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, but is waiting to give the green light on the operation until after US President George W. Bush leaves the region, the London-based newspaper, Al-Hayat reported on Sunday.

Color me skeptical. Israel has had good cause to take such action for years, but has not done so, save for a terribly botched attempt on Mashaal in 1997 in Jordan. If the story is true, however, I suspect that the assassinations would be a component of a larger operation in Gaza that would seek to substantially weaken Hamas’ power there, preparing the territory for the return of Fatah, which is an American objective–and which would give the Israelis, I would imagine, explicit American approval for the assassinations.

The above speculation should not be construed, though, as anything other than tea-leaf reading.

Khaled Abu Toameh reports in the Jerusalem Post today that

Israel is planning to assassinate exiled Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal, deposed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and former PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, but is waiting to give the green light on the operation until after US President George W. Bush leaves the region, the London-based newspaper, Al-Hayat reported on Sunday.

Color me skeptical. Israel has had good cause to take such action for years, but has not done so, save for a terribly botched attempt on Mashaal in 1997 in Jordan. If the story is true, however, I suspect that the assassinations would be a component of a larger operation in Gaza that would seek to substantially weaken Hamas’ power there, preparing the territory for the return of Fatah, which is an American objective–and which would give the Israelis, I would imagine, explicit American approval for the assassinations.

The above speculation should not be construed, though, as anything other than tea-leaf reading.

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