JERUSALEM -- It will take time before we know the real implications of the Iraqi elections and how things will work out in that troubled country. At least we know, though, that the elections weren't won by a radical, anti-Semitic, anti-American movement.
Unfortunately, one can't say the same about the recent elections in Gaza, which were swept by Hamas -- an organization whose charter states:
Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.… There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.… Jihad is [our] path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of [our] wishes.
And last April at a memorial service in Syria for Gazan Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, assassinated by Israel the previous month, Hamas political chief Khaled Mashal said: "[Hamas's] battle is with two sides. One of them is the strongest power in the world, the United States, and the second is the strongest power in the region [Israel]."
Rantisi himself, in a 2003 article published on a Hamas website called "Why Shouldn't We Attack the United States?," wrote that for Hamas, attacking America was not only "a moral and national duty-but above all, a religious one."
Hamas already seems to be acting on that "duty." As Erick Stakelbeck noted last September 24 in the New York Sun, "On August 20, Hamas money man Ismail Elbarasse was arrested after authorities witnessed his wife videotaping Maryland's Chesapeake Bay Bridge from their SUV as Mr. Elbarasse drove. The images captured by Mr. Elbarasse's wife included close-ups of cables and other features 'integral to the structural integrity of the bridge,' according to court papers.… in an FBI affidavit filed in Mr. Elbarrasse's case, agent Shawn Devroude stated that Al Qaeda has been enlisting Hamas members to conduct surveillance of American targets."
Last week in Gaza, Hamas won 77 out of 118 seats in municipal elections for ten towns. Hamas, when not engaging in suicide bombings and other terrorist activity, doubles as a social agency in Gaza and the West Bank that runs schools, kindergartens, and clinics. Indeed, last month Hamas scored a big win in West Bank municipal elections as well.
These results are seen by some as a blow to PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas's comparatively secular-nationalist Fatah movement. As loudspeakers blared in Gaza while thousands of Hamas supporters celebrated in the streets, "The Hamas victory proves that Islam is the only solution."
Under Yasser Arafat's corrupt oligarchy, Hamas gained popularity for its "clean" image as a strictly Islamic movement dedicated to the people's welfare. But its terror activities endeared it to the public as well. Indeed, in Beit Hanoun, a town in northern Gaza that Hamas members had been using to fire Kassam rockets into Israel, Hamas won 11 of the 13 seats. As Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said of the elections, "This means that the people believe in the armed resistance as the only option."
These developments cast a shadow over both Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan and President Bush's road map. According to the disengagement plan, Israel is supposed to withdraw completely from Gaza (and part of the northern West Bank) this summer, under the assumption that removal of the Israeli presence will turn people's minds to everyday affairs of building their society and improving their lives. But a neighbor seething in anti-Israeli hatred is more likely to be a source of intensified missile attacks and terror incursions that will make life in the nearby Israeli towns and communities unbearable.
EVEN MORE OMINOUSLY, Hamas in Gaza could take a leaf from the book of its sister terror organization, Hezbollah in Lebanon. Since Israel's withdrawal from that border in 2000, Hezbollah has kept things relatively quiet while building an arsenal of 13,000 Iranian-supplied missiles that now hold all of northern Israel and part of central Israel in their sights. Similarly, superficial "progress toward peace" on the road map could lead eager Israeli and American leaders to ignore or downplay a comparable buildup in Gaza; the result would be an Israel so hemmed in by enemy weaponry that it could best be described as "ripe for the kill."
If such a scenario seems speculative, a January 30 AP story called "Hamas, Hezbollah Agree to Uphold Resistance against Israel" gives it teeth. After a meeting between the above-mentioned Hamas leader, Khaled Mashal, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in the latter's office in Beirut, a Hezbollah announcement said the two organizations had "agreed to uphold the resistance option against Israel despite U.S. pressure." And as Mashal told reporters after the meeting, "We are partners in this march of confronting a common enemy. In the same way south Lebanon was liberated, we have hope that all of Palestine will be liberated."
Mashal added, "The resistance program is making progress in various fields … winning the support and confidence of our Palestinian people inside [the Palestinian areas]."
The Palestinian Authority is, of course, nominally under the control of Abbas, whom people try hard to view as a moderate despite his Holocaust denial, record as Arafat's right-hand man in planning and funding terror attacks for four decades, and vows never to give up the "right of return" that would destroy Israel demographically. But Abbas's ongoing efforts to work out a modus vivendi with Hamas and the other terror organizations -- instead of confronting them and confiscating their weapons as mandated by the road map -- suggest his aim is, like Arafat before him, to find ways to work with them as part of a grand strategy.
Whether or not pro-Western moderacy will prevail in Iraq, it has not yet even dawned in the Palestinian Authority. If Israeli and American leaders overlook the strength and key role there of Hamas and Islamic radicalism, they do so to both their countries' peril.
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