Reactions to the lopsided Hamas victory over Fatah last week in the Palestinian Authority elections divided into three. Some, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, expressed dismay, worried about Hamas openly boasting of its goal to destroy the Jewish state, seeing this as the end of the peace process.
Others, like former president Jimmy Carter, gulped hard and defied common sense to hope that following Hamas winning 74 seats to Fatah's 45 in the 132-seat legislative council, it would be tamed and transformed into Israel's peace partner.
A third group, such as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, determined that the Hamas success was "by far the best result" because it offers an "unambiguous reality check into the nature of Palestinian society."
And me? The Hamas victory leaves me neutral with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Not much separates Hamas anti-Zionism from Fatah anti-Zionism except that Hamas terrorists speak forthrightly while Fatah terrorists obfuscate. Even their tactics overlap, as elements of Fatah deny the existence of Israel and Hamas functionaries negotiate with Israelis. Differing emphases and styles, more than substance, distinguishes their attitudes to Israel.
I ABOMINATE Hamas and have called for its destruction, but I also recognize that the elections might bring benefits, prompting Israelis finally to recognize the deep and pervasive anti-Zionism in the Palestinian body politic.
Hamas and Fatah together won all but 13 seats in the legislative council. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist terrorist group, got three seats; three leftist parties - Al-Badil (or The Alternative List), the Independent Palestine List, and the Third Way List - each won two seats; and four independents won seats.
With the possible exception of some marginal figures, then, the legislative council wall-to-wall rejects Israel's right to exist. Or, in the biting description of David Horowitz - editor of frontpagemag.com - Palestinians are "the first terrorist people."
The Palestinian election outcome resulted partly from more than a decade of misrule by Yasser Arafat and his cronies, who stole from, plotted, embezzled and ran roughshod over their subjects. Hamas, in contrast, built a record of community service, relative probity and modesty. Looked at positively, the success of Hamas implies that Palestinians do take other matters into consideration besides eliminating Israel. Looked at negatively, they merely prefer honest terrorists to dishonest ones.
THE STRONG Hamas victory, writes Steven Plaut of Haifa University, is "the only thing that stands a chance of forcing Israelis to open their eyes and wake up." Its ascent might conceivably wake others up, too: Will Spain's blinkered government note the recent call by a Hamas children's publication for the city of Seville to be returned to Muslim rule? Possibly. But I hold out meager hope that Hamas-in-power will provide a reality check.
The "peace process" community will not give up its cherished negotiations just because a murderous totalitarian organization has been elected.
As has inexorably been the case since 1993, it will ignore this setback and press ahead for more Israeli concessions.
I predict an approximate repeat performance of the pressure on Arafat in 1982-88 to renounce terrorism. But Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an acute observer of the Arab-Israeli conflict, doubts that Hamas will be compelled even to match Arafat's concessions back then.
I also expect that, despite bold statements on how it will not change, Hamas will play along with the verbal demands on it. Feeling a financial pinch and diplomatic pressure its leaders will adopt Arafat's habit of delivering opaque hints and saying one thing in English and another in Arabic. Like Arafat, they might even "renounce" terrorism, or pretend to change their Protocols-laced covenant.
Indeed, what Yossi Klein Halevi calls "the era of the wink and the hint" has already begun, with Hamas largely desisting from terrorism against Israel during its declared tahdiya (calming down) in 2005, then somewhat moderating its rhetoric in recent weeks; for example, it proposed a 15-year truce with Israel. The makeover shows signs of success: Former president Bill Clinton, often an opinion bellwether, has just urged the Bush administration to consider dealing with Hamas.
I predict Palestinian-Israeli negotiations will resume their glorious record of bringing good will, harmony and tranquility, with Israel this time facing a far more determined and clever foe than the blighted Arafat or the hapless Mahmoud Abbas.
The writer is director of the Middle East Forum. www.DanielPipes.org
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