OP-EDS

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February 2, 2006

Don’t overreact about Hamas’s success

The results of the recent Palestinian elections have sent Israel, the United States, and Europe into a state of grave concern if not near panic. Hamas’s victory is a naturally unnerving event; no democracy likes to see its most sacred ritual—an election—used as a means for violent extremists to ascend to power. It is unlikely, however, that this outcome is as disastrous as many claim it to be. In fact, this new situation could hardly be any worse than the state of affairs that preceded the elections and indeed presents many opportunities for progress in both the Palestinian and global political arenas.

Historically, Hamas has always been an important player in Palestinian politics and has consistently presented a challenge to the authority of Fatah. The recent election changed none of this. If anything, the election has made it more difficult for Hamas to insist that violence is the only reasonable response to the occupation. By that logic, Hamas must have the Palestinian Authority declare open war against Israel, which they would never do. It is of course possible that Hamas will resort to doubletalk, claiming to renounce violence while continuing to support terrorism against Israel. But again, this strategy is one that was expertly employed by Fatah for many years; it is not as if such a situation would make things worse than they have so far been.

Just as importantly, this situation may catalyze significant and overdue reflection by Europe concerning its role in the Middle East conflict and the larger efforts to combat terrorism. For decades Europeans have supported Arafat’s Fatah both politically and financially in spite of the party’s double dealing and implicit and explicit support for terrorism. Now that Arafat’s legacy is the elevation of Hamas, an Islamist terrorist group, to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, Europeans must make a decisive stand against terrorism. Already, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised to freeze German aid to the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas renounces violence and recognizes the state of Israel. Hopefully, other European nations will soon follow suit and work toward establishing a united front against Islamist terrorism.

The same is also true of the Muslim world. So far, reactions to the elections from Muslim leaders, with the exclusion of radical Islamist parties and regimes who themselves advocate Israel’s destruction, have been few and feeble, hinting at the possibility of the terrorist group’s moderation without actually calling for it. Hopefully the region will follow Egypt’s bold lead and confront Hamas. Hamas’s recent electoral success may even force Arab and Muslim nations to finally state explicitly their position on terrorism.

It does not really matter whether Palestinians voted for Hamas because they sought an alternative to Fatah’s corruption and incompetence, or because they truly wish to drive the Jews into the sea. The reality is that a Palestinian Authority run by Hamas presents no worse an adversary to Israel and the United States than did the one run by Fatah. It is in no position to increase the level of violence directed against Israel, nor can it garner any more support in the Arab world beyond that which it already enjoys from governments and groups sympathetic to terrorism. If anything, Hamas’s new position would only serve to temper its extremism. If this does not happen as a natural corollary to Hamas assuming the responsibilities of governance, as many hope, then it would happen simply because the Palestinians will be forced to confront the fact that the murderous ideology presently espoused by Hamas and other terrorist groups is completely incompatible with hopes for Palestinian statehood.