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Hamas' failed leadership

Published October 29, 2006


Unlike many of my fellow Americans, I have high regard for the Palestinians. I am partial to bona fide underdogs. And while I admire Israeli resilience, I admire Palestinian resilience even more.

Palestinians are one of the world's true survivor populations. They are a people without an official country - an occupied Diaspora. They are pretty much alone, with hundreds of thousands forced to live in modern-day refugee camps, while most of the world looks away.

That said, I believe, however, that the Hamas-led Palestinian government is a lunatic outfit that is waging a suicidal war against the state of Israel. When Hamas was democratically elected in January, many observers believed that the new reality of having to actually govern would transform Hamas into a moderate ruling body with a new perspective on governance.

The hope was that Hamas leaders would stop being free agents and realize that they are responsible for the welfare of millions of people who crave economic advancement.

Thus far, nothing good has come from the Hamas government. When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last year, evacuated all settlers and left nurseries and other facilities intact, many Gazans believed that they could begin to build a viable economy.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a member of the moderate Fatah party, wants to put Gaza and the West Bank on a fast track to becoming an independent state alongside Israel. First, Hamas would have to fully recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and honor old treaties. Hamas has refused.

By not normalizing relations with Israel, Hamas has put its own people at odds not only with Israel and the United States but with the European Union and sympathetic Asian nations.

The result is that major donors worldwide have halted hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinian government. The economy is in ruins, leaving the government unable to pay its tens of thousands of employees. Ordinary citizens are dispirited. Malnutrition and other health problems are rising, especially among young children.

And now, Fatah and Hamas gunmen seem to be doing their level best to sink Gaza and the West Bank into all-out civil strife. Each day during the last month, rivals have shot at one another on city streets. Two weeks ago, the motorcade of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas was ambushed. Haniyeh was not harmed. Last Sunday, Mohammed Shahadeh, a leading member of Fatah, was found shot to death in the Bureij refugee camp. A second member was kidnapped.

Over the years, I have been critical of Israel and its occupation and its militaristic treatment of Gazans. Last year's pullout from Gaza, although intended for Israel's benefit, could have helped Gazans, too.

But they are not being helped, and the leaders they elected are to blame for this unnecessary crisis.

Although Israel continues to control the region's airspace, borders and waters, Hamas has enough freedom to work with the Israelis in improving conditions if they choose to. Even the normally diplomatic Shimon Peres, Israel's former prime minister, who encouraged the Gaza pullout, is said to be ready to take a harder line against Hamas as increasing numbers of weapons-smuggling tunnels are discovered.

Many Israeli officials are talking seriously about retaking the stretch along the Egypt-Gaza border. Such an action would be a huge setback for Gaza but a necessary security move for Israel.

Abbas has tried just about everything to persuade Hamas to join a unity government that would make improving relations with Israel a priority. Haniyeh cannot possibly think that Hamas can bring down the state of Israel militarily. It will not happen.

Hamas officials hold the fate of Gaza in their hands. They pride themselves in their commitment to never recognize Israel, but such a commitment is a suicide pact.

Hamas needs to realize that it is the elected government, that it is responsible for the lives of millions of desperate people who want a better way of life. Israel is not responsible for the mess that Haniyeh and his staff have made of matters.

As long as Hamas is in power, Palestinians will have to draw upon their extraordinary resilience to survive.

[Last modified October 28, 2006, 10:06:19]

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