Six years after Hamas swept the first and only Palestinian parliamentary
elections, the terror organization’s Gaza leader is on a victory tour of the
region. Feted in Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia, with stops planned for Qatar, Saudi
Arabia and Iran, Ismail Haniyeh has stepped out through the international
blockade of Gaza, unscathed.
At the time, Hamas’ electoral victory in
January 2006 seemed a political anomaly, but it was, in retrospect, the first
blossom of the “Arab Spring” that would eventually bring Islamist forces to the
fore in Egypt and Tunisia. Hamas’ perseverance in resisting any alterations to
its ideology or long-term strategy has paid off, and Haniyeh is eager to spread
the radical Islamist nectar. No wonder the Muslim Brotherhood called Hamas a
model during his Cairo visit.
Elections, of course, do not alone make a
democratic society, nor do they guarantee moderation on the part of the victor.
Hamas violently ousted Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas, from Gaza only 18 months after the election, and then imposed
Islamic strictures, even banning Christmas celebrations. Similar
hostility toward minorities has led hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee
Egypt and Iraq.
Hamas remains steadfastly committed to destroying Israel.
It rejects the Quartet’s offer to become a partner in the peace talks with
Israel by recognizing the Jewish state, ending terror and accepting previous
That Hamas obstinacy, combined with the
thousands of rockets fired from Gaza, led Israel – backed by the US and Europe –
to impose a sea blockade, which remains in effect so long as these countries
deem Hamas a terrorist organization.
The UN’s Palmer report endorsed
Israel’s naval blockade legally, finding it necessary to defend against
TODAY, THOSE who subscribe to the myth of Hamas moderation want to
weaken the blockade. Hamas will likely seek the Palestinian presidency if
the long-delayed elections take place this year. Hamas has also indicated
interest in joining the PLO. Since Abbas serves as both PA president and PLO
chairman, Hamas sees an opportunity to expand its power and
influence. The PLO oversees the more than 100 Palestinian embassies and
missions around the world.
Imagine, for a moment, Haniyeh, or Khaled
Mashaal, the Hamas leader based until recently in Damascus, coming to New York
to address the UN General Assembly as Palestine’s official representative. With
Haniyeh’s current trip Abbas is no longer the exclusive Palestinian leader
traversing the globe. The fight for the Palestinian leadership helm is
Abbas has helped strengthen Hamas. The PA president signed
a unity agreement last May that contravenes his own commitments to the US, EU
and, of course, Israel, to pursue a negotiated peace. Hamas signed without
reforming, and both Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, remain unwelcome
Coincidentally, January 26, the day after the Palestinian
elections anniversary date is the deadline Abbas set for Israel to meet his
unchanged terms for resuming peace talks. With King Abdullah hosting in Amman,
Quartet members and representatives of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and
Abbas are making yet another effort to break the logjam.
Abbas has played
this game repeatedly, displaying some respect for the Quartet, but always
ignoring Israel. In his notorious New York Times op-ed last May, Abbas rewrote
the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, dismissing the Israeli
narrative, and at the UN General Assembly in September he omitted any reference
to the Jewish connection to Jerusalem or the land of Israel.
Abbas’s representative in the United States, Maen Rashid Areikat, repeated last
month in a Chicago Sun-Times interview that no Jews will be allowed to live in a
future Palestinian state. Hamas, of course, shares those views of Abbas and his
Whoever wins the US presidential contest in November will face an
even more complicated Middle East region when he takes the oath of office a year
from now. Hamas will continue to capitalize on the turmoil engulfing Arab
countries, especially where ascendant Islamist allies can bolster their
positioning against Israel and the West.
But Hamas also finds support in
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries that could press, even quietly, for
recognition of a Palestinian regime that not only includes, but is led by,
Hamas. Will European opposition to Hamas wither, either for ideological reasons
or fear of losing access to Middle Eastern oil and gas?
The US administration,
for sure, cannot take a hiatus regarding the Middle East during this election
season. Regional challenges are many and growing. But Washington must stick to
its fundamental principles of peacemaking, supporting those Arab partners
genuinely willing to negotiate directly with Israel, and opposing those who
would legitimize terror organizations and their allies.
The Hamas model
is a recipe for extended conflict. For the sake of peace, it must be
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media