You heard it here first: a Hamas leader will win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Make no mistake, Hamas's landslide victory in last month's Palestinian elections was the first step of a process that will culminate with a leader of the terrorist group being celebrated by the international community.
Such a turn of events may sound unlikely right now, because even many Europeans recognize that Hamas is a terrorist group that is sworn to the destruction of Israel. But before Yasser Arafat was awarded the peace prize in 1994, he also had a decades-long record as a terrorist.
Even though Arafat remained a puppeteer of terror behind the scenes, he was elevated to the status of a statesman by Western leaders such as President Bill Clinton who were eager to go down in history as peacemakers.
There has been a sense of optimism in pro-Israel circles that the victory of Hamas will force the world to finally recognize that Israelis do not have a true peace partner. But these supporters of Israel are kidding themselves.
When violence reignites in the region, the Western media will once again portray Israel as the aggressor. Israel has been condemned in the past for its targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders. How will the world react if Israel were to take such action against Hamas leaders holding cabinet positions in a democratically elected government?
In the coming months, the Hamas propaganda machine will begin churning out stories about their day care centers and hospitals, which the Western media will gobble up like fine Swiss chocolate.
In fact, the spin has already begun.
The U.S. and European media were quick to frame the elections as a response to corruption by the ruling Fatah regime rather than a call by ordinary Palestinians for a more hostile stance toward Israel. But elections are rarely decided by one issue, and terrorism was clearly a huge part of the Hamas platform.
In a television interview Al-Jazeera conducted just before the elections, Hamas leader Khaled Mashal said, "Today we enter the Legislative Council with the platform of the resistance, which most of the forces in the Palestinian people agree on, Allah be praised."
To excuse Palestinians for voting for Hamas is akin to excusing Germans for supporting Hitler by saying they did so for economic reasons. And any Western leaders who applaud Hamas for improving social services will join the ranks of those who appeased the Nazis in the 1930s because they were making the trains run on time.
Meanwhile, Hamas leaders have already shown evidence that they could become as adept as Arafat at making overtures of peace to the world while maintaining terrorism as a tactic.
In the days leading up to the elections Hamas's Mahmoud Zahar said that "negotiation (with Israel) is not a taboo." But after the elections, he said that Hamas was "not going to change a single word" of its charter that calls for the destruction of Israel.
Hamas's Mashal, exiled in Damascus because he is one of Israel's most wanted terrorists, is now already being portrayed as open to negotiation because of statements such as, "When Israel says that it will recognize Palestinian rights, and will withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and grant the right of return, stop settlements and recognize the rights of the Palestinians to self-determination, then Hamas will be ready to take a serious step."
In the past, Hamas leaders have stated that the return to the 1967 borders may be an acceptable intermediate step before the eventual destruction of Israel and conquest of all of the land from "the river to the sea." The "right of return" for Palestinians has also been used as a ruse to undermine Israel. (Remember how giving away the Sudetenland was supposed to end Hitler's territorial ambitions in Europe?)
Mashal knows that Israel will not negotiate with Hamas for these and many other reasons, but by bluffing to the Western media that Hamas is open to peace, he hopes that Israelis will be portrayed as obstructionists. And if the past is any indication, the strategy will work.
The first indication of whether Hamas will eventually gain acceptance by the international community is what happens with aid to the Palestinians. And on that front, the signs are already troubling.
At first, even Europeans threatened to cut off aid to Hamas. But on Friday, France joined Russia's call for diplomatic talks with the terrorist group.
In a revealing interview with the Times of London last month, Hamas's Zahar made comments that suggest that any talk by European leaders about cutting off aid will disappear once the dust clears. "The European people came to me in the last month and they said within six months they are going to do their best to change the attitudes of their administration, because they do not accept Hamas is a terrorist organization," Zahar said.
So far, President Bush has said the right things about withholding aid, but his statements have been made carefully enough to allow for the possibility that U.S. funding would eventually make it into the Palestinian territories, perhaps through other channels.
Now is a rare moment of moral clarity for the Western world. The Palestinian people have created a terror state. Anything short of a universal rejection of the new government and immediate suspension of all aid is a capitulation to terrorism, pure and simple.
Making even the tiniest of compromises while the Hamas government is in its infancy will only set the stage for greater concessions down the road. Then one day a leader of Hamas will join the ranks of Teddy Roosevelt, Mother Teresa and Yasser Arafat by winning a Nobel Peace Prize.
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