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(photo credit: AP)
Toward the end of 2005, after Israel unilaterally pulled its citizens and soldiers out of Gaza, Jerusalem consented to the presence of European Union "monitors" at the Rafah Crossing connecting the Strip to Egyptian Sinai. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the arrangement as giving "the Palestinian people the freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives."
Rafah was opened on November 26, 2005 in a ceremony attended by Mahmoud Abbas. Just two months later, Palestinians voting in the West Bank and Gaza gave Hamas a majority in the Palestinian parliament. But because Hamas was an international outlaw, forces loyal to Abbas continued to oversee Rafah's terminal, providing security for some 70 EU monitors. They had the authority to "reexamine" and "reassess" anyone or anything which struck them as suspicious.
Little, however, struck the monitors as suspicious. When Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar's brother strolled past them on his way into Gaza, the Europeans answered Israeli complaints by arguing that Jerusalem never gave the monitors a list naming those it wanted barred.
When Zahar himself and another Hamas official crossed over with some dozen suitcases containing $20 million, EU monitors did not look the other way. They protested to Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which promised to investigate.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told this newspaper in October 2006 that Israelis were over-obsessing about security at Rafah. He didn't think Hamas wanted to destroy Israel; it simply wanted to liberate Palestinians.
After Gilad Schalit was captured by Hamas in a June 2006 cross-border raid, the EU monitors complained that Israel was keeping the Rafah crossing closed more days than it was open, and threatened to walk off the job. The threat became moot in June 2007: Hamas expelled Fatah, and the monitors fled.
THIS slice of history is pertinent in the wake of an offer by EU foreign ministers, meeting Tuesday night in Paris, to send monitors to Rafah and other crossings to ensure their smooth operation. The proposal came in the context of the EU's demand for an "unconditional halt to rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel and an end to Israeli military action." The ministers concluded with what is, for them, a truism: "There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in Gaza or elsewhere."
Hamas, for its part, appears somewhat less certain about this point. Its founding charter asserts: "Israel... will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it."
Tuesday a Hamas spokesman said on television: "The children of Gaza will be collecting the body parts of [Israeli] soldiers and the ruins of tanks" if IDF ground forces moved in to halt Hamas rocket launchings.
As a Grad slammed into a Beersheba kindergarten, empty at the time, European and US press reports lamented that hopes for an early end to the fighting had "faded" - as if they had existed in the first place - because "Israel rejected international calls for a 48-hour cease-fire to allow the supply of humanitarian aid." Never mind that 179 shipments of international supplies including food and medicines, donations from various governments, blood and 10 ambulances were being conveyed to Gaza.
Other media carried the boilerplate: "Hamas says it will keep up its attacks if Israel does not stop its assault" - which begs the question of why Hamas had been attacking us before the IDF went into action Saturday.
Europe's press is wont to dub the Kassams "rudimentary" because these explosive- and shrapnel-filled rockets lack any guidance system. Hamas-developed Kassams were first launched against Gaza's Jewish settlements in October 2001. By March 5, 2002 they had been sufficiently perfected to hit Sderot. Further refined over the years, more than 10,000 Kassams have smashed into Israeli targets, killing scores, wounding hundreds and terrorizing tens of thousands. After Israel's disengagement from Gaza, Hamas smuggled in tons of advanced weaponry, including the Grad. It too is "primitive" - early versions were fielded by the Soviets in 1963. The model now being fired at Beersheba, 40 km. from Gaza, is Chinese-made.
HAMAS was established in 1987 because the local Muslim Brotherhood doubted the PLO's continued commitment to the destruction of Israel.
Brussels may have the luxury of deluding itself about Hamas's intentions and capabilities. Jerusalem does not.