Unabashed, unrepentant terrorist Hamas, still bent on destroying Israel, vs. corrupt, ineffectual ostensibly repentant terrorism-enabling Fatah, which allowed this state of affairs to develop. The Palestinians, having divided, were in the process of conquering themselves. Not surprisingly, utter murderousness trumped weaseling deception, and Hamas emerged the victor. But like everything else in the Middle East, it’s never that simple. Hamas’ victory almost immediately was revealed to be a disaster, Fatah’s rout an opportunity.
That was not immediately apparent to some observers. There were fears expressed of a terrorist state emerging on Israel’s flank in Gaza, an inroad for Iran. Those who hold these fears must not have been paying attention. Israel has been surrounded by terrorist states for its entire modern existence, and the presence of Iran-backed terrorists in Gaza is nothing new. Hamas had suspended its suicide bombing campaign, but maintained a steady barrage of deadly rocket attacks, along with abductions, as much as Hamas figured it could get away with, while Iran was both providing support and egging Hamas on. Having already brought war and economic ruin on the Palestinians, any fig leaf of legitimacy the terrorist organization might have had from its election was blown away by merciless internecine slaughter.
Already isolated before its henchmen started tossing Fatah members off the roofs of Gaza, Hamas is now pleading for Arab “neutrality.” Egypt, already active against smugglers, is moving to contain Hamas. Israel has promised to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. But what Hamas did was turn Gaza into a free-fire zone for the Israeli Army. There is no reason whatsoever for Israeli restraint in crossing the border to excise the cancer, and no one who can credibly raise an outcry against Israel when it does.
Fatah, having lost, immediately won Israeli and western financial and political support. But the defeat that brought victory is a defeat that Fatah immediately had to address. Already seen as a tool of the west, Fatah has confirmed it, becoming completely and overtly beholden to western interests. To make up for that, Fatah is now promising to ship money into Gaza, and to pay civil servants regardless of their political affiliation. Fatah needs to buy broad Palestinian support, and doesn’t mind humiliating Hamas with its newfound largesse.
Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas also called for the United States to host new peace talks with Israel. Hamas, recognizing it is in danger of throwing itself off the roof and suddenly eager to appear reasonable, now wants a dialogue with Fatah and is talking about the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston. Fatah has indicated it is interested in talks with Hamas, eager to enhance what it hopes will be a new image as the ascendant and magnanimous Palestinian power. There is talk of concessions, a “West Bank first” initiative to reward Fatah, somewhat prematurely, before it has shown any maturity as a political entity itself. It is up to those who hold the pursestrings — Israel and the west — to quietly ensure that Fatah behaves responsibly. Palestinian peace and reconciliation may well be possible, if the criminal organization that is Hamas agrees to disarm, disband and disavow the destruction of Israel. Anything less will require a measured and reasonable response: the withholding of all cash, and the destruction of Hamas in Gaza by Israel.
The terrorist masters of Hamas, with their exuberant outburst of murder last week, have taken themselves hostage. This is no time to give in to terrorist demands. As we’ve learned, that only encourages them. If they will not release themselves, there is nothing we can do for them. If Hamas is bent on destroying itself, we shouldn’t try to stop them. If Fatah wants to lead the Palestinians, it will need to show it is capable of doing so.
Jules Crittenden is an editor and columnist for the Boston Herald. Crittenden’s web page is at Forward Movement.