Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Paths of Hamas and Kadima

Back in January, following Hamas' big win Emanuele Ottolenghi wrote for the National Review that by achieving a bigger win than expected and ending up with a solid hand on the reigns of power, Hamas had put itself in a hole. First, because it would have to articulate its position before the whole world. Second, because of the responsibility it would have to take for terrorist acts against Israel:
There will be no excuses or ambiguities when Hamas fires rockets on Israel and launches suicide attacks against civilian targets. Until Tuesday, the PA could hide behind the excuse that they were not directly responsible and they could not rein in the "militants." Now the "militants" are the militia of the ruling party. They are one and the same with the Palestinian Authority. If they bomb Israel from Gaza — not under occupation anymore, and is therefore, technically, part of the Palestinian state the PLO proclaimed in Algiers in 1988, but never bothered to take responsibility for — that is an act of war, which can be responded to in kind, under the full cover of the internationally recognized right of self-defense.
But in the months following the election, Hamas has been consistent in rejecting the efforts of the West that it abide by previous agreements, recognize Israel, and cease its terrorist attacks. Hamas representatives have been paying visits to various governments to gather support, and while the US and Canada have openly declared that they will withhold financial support from Hamas--and the US will not deal with Hamas ministers--the attempt to isolate Hamas has not been universal.

Now, in his article following the Israeli elections, Ottolenghi is harsh. He writes that while there are winners and losers, the results of the Israeli election leave a hodgepodge of parties and untried leaders resulting in one big loser:
The real losers are the Israelis and judging by their apathy, they probably deserve it: By not voting, they brought it upon themselves. Like their fallen hero, Ariel Sharon, who is in a deep coma in a hospital, they sleepwalked through an election where they had a chance to shape their destiny but instead gave their new and untested leaders an inconclusive verdict.

Still, a clear message emerged from this vote. Israelis are ready to partition the land, though they cannot trust the Palestinian give-and-take.
While both Hamas and Kadima won their respective elections--only the former won from strength. News commentators can go on claiming that Hamas won because of its integrity as opposed to Fatah, but the implied mandate is for Hamas to do what it does best. Kadima won too--but with no mandate, having gone down steadily in the polls from 36 to 29 seats.

Another thing that Hamas and Kadima have in common, apparently, is the threat of civil war. There have been outbreaks of violence between Fatah and Hamas, with the former indicating they will not give up the reigns of power, nor their jobs, quietly. Meanwhile, Kadima--in the face of its platform to push for a second Disengagement from the West Bank--faces a possibility of civil war.

In a further parallel, Olmert has been treated by the US as if he were the Israeli Abbas. Back in January, Arutz Sheva reported that the US was requesting that the PA and the Arab countries take measures that would increase Olmert's stature.

There was a time when Israel operated from a position of strength, and when the US would step in, it would be to hold Israel back. After the US and the Quartet succeeded in weakening Israel, the US went around asking the Arab world to make Olmert look better in Israeli's eyes.

On the other hand, Hamas and Israel are, as expected, held to different standards. So far, no one has suggested that Israel needs to take measures to improve Hamas' stature in the eyes of the Palestinians, but that may be because other countries are taking the lead in giving Hamas political support. According to the Russian News and Information Agency, while the Russian Foreign Ministry has said that "the recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence, and respect for signed agreements are what the international community wants" from Palestine--
Russian diplomats said they would not demand anything from Hamas, who has the right to respect or reject the opinion of Moscow and the Quartet as a whole.

This approach seems to be justified, as Hamas's stand will not change overnight, especially in the absence of Israel's response steps.

How Hamas can be expected to keep signed agreements--like the Road Map--when it supposedly has the right to ignore the Quartet is unclear. But the willingness to give Hamas a free ride while expecting Israel to heed the Quartet shows how difficult the US plan to isolate Hamas is.

With the Palestinian and Israeli elections behind us, the cards have been dealt. Now let's see what Israel will be able to do with them.

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