Hamas Shows Its Potency

. 3/25/08

Israel and the United States seem to have finally woken up to the reality of the situation in the Palestinian territories. According to a New York Times report, Egypt’s civil intelligence services are trying to broker a ceasefire between Hamas and the Zionist state. Washington has not issued a public endorsement but its non-intervention can be taken as a sign that it sees some value in the initiative. Israel cannot admit that it is involved in negotiations, even indirectly, with what it calls a terrorist outfit; and it chokes on the phrase ceasefire. However, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has gone on record that his country’s defence forces would refrain from carrying out air and ground attacks on the Gaza Strip once Hamas stopped launching rockets into Israeli territory. While the Hamas is not likely to acknowledge that it is dealing with the Zionist state, it will gain some legitimacy if a negotiated conclusion to the violent conflict of the past few months can be reached. Hamas has already shown that a ‘West Bank first’ strategy would not work. Israel and the U.S. thought that it would be possible to work out an overall settlement of the Palestinian issues through talks with the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah.

Their further calculation was that Hamas would have no choice but to fall in line since the Arab states would overwhelmingly support an agreement endorsed by the group that governs the greater share of the Palestinian population and controls the larger share of territory. The Hamas have been able to demonstrate that deal-making cannot succeed without their participation since they have the potency to disrupt talks. There is no guarantee that Israel and the U.S. will adhere to the new course since their abhorrence for Hamas could kick in at any time. The divide-and-negotiate policy they followed until recently has had disastrous effects. According to a recent and reliable survey of public opinion, Hamas has greater popular support than Fatah in the West Bank as well. The opinion polls also showed other worrying trends. Perhaps for the first time since the Oslo agreements were signed, a majority of Palestinians expressed pessimism about the possibility of a negotiated settlement to the conflict with Israel. Further, a majority favoured a return to armed struggle. With the collapse of the effort to sideline Hamas, Israel and its main backer would be well advised to give up the step-by-step approach. The Arab initiative, which offers Israel peace and recognition in exchange for a withdrawal from occupied territories, looks more attractive by the day.

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