Isolating Hamas

Will the wall of international pressure against Hamas hold, crumble, or cause Hamas to crack instead?

hamas rally 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
hamas rally 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The wall of pressure the international community has built against Hamas has opened a crack. The question is whether this wall be allowed to crumble, or whether it will not only hold, but will over time cause Hamas to crack instead. Initial reports indicating that the Quartet would start paying the salaries of Palestinian Authority employees on a general basis were incorrect. It is unclear whether some mechanism will be created to pay PA health workers, but even in this case, a European Commission spokesman told The Jerusalem Post, the Quartet "would not transfer any money to or through Hamas-controlled ministries." Hamas is not trying to escape its isolation by meeting the demands of the international community. It has made no move toward recognizing Israel's right to exist, accepting previous agreements made with Israel, or committing to, let alone abiding by, the Quartet's road map. Far from combatting terrorism, Hamas openly endorsed and justified the suicide bombing on April 17 in Tel Aviv, with took nine Israeli lives. What Hamas is doing is hoping that it can use the suffering of the Palestinian people - the same people who presumably chose Hamas because they were so tired of PA corruption and anarchy - to pry open Western coffers without compromising one wit. That Palestinians will suffer from such a Hamas strategy is not in dispute. The question is whether Hamas will succeed in shifting the blame for its own actions onto Israel and the international community. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice clearly understands this. Hamas "has a responsibility to prevent the descent of ... the Palestinian territories into a situation of deprivation," she said on May 8. "The one thing that we cannot do," Rice continued, "is to let ... Hamas continue to pretend that it's the international community's fault that there's a healthcare problem in the Palestinian territories. Those resources were being made available to Abu Mazen because Abu Mazen was committed to peace. So Hamas needs to take responsibility for its own people." So far, the US, Europe, and Israel are together on making a clear distinction between direct, strictly defined, humanitarian assistance to Palestinians and helping Hamas out of its box. This means providing medicines through international organizations, as Israel has announced it is willing to do with some of suspended Palestinian tax transfers. For the Quartet it may mean paying PA health workers salaries, but not through the PA itself. What it clearly should not mean is taking over, either directly or indirectly, the PA's vast patronage payroll, including tens of thousands of "security forces" and other employees. The sooner Hamas understands that the international community will not bail out a terrorist PA, the sooner it will have to compromise or dismally fail to deliver on its promises of a better Palestinian life. It is encouraging, on this score, that a bill that would put the Quartet's funding conditions into law and deny visas to Hamas members is making its way through the Congress with strong bipartisan backing. What is disturbing is that two Jewish groups, Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum, have chosen, along with known anti-Israel groups, to openly lobby for this bill's defeat. They claim, in IPF's words, that the bill is "bad for America and bad for Israel" because it "obstructs the delivery of essential aid to the Palestinian people." This is not true, as the bill is riddled with exceptions for humanitarian assistance, but the groups' quibbles are not the point. The details become lost behind the central message such actions deliver to the Congress and beyond: isolating Hamas is a "controversial" strategy because "even the Jews" are divided over it. Indeed, on Wednesday two House members who opposed the bill circulated a letter alerting their colleagues that "key pro-Israel groups" oppose the legislation. These groups claim they want to isolate Hamas and promote Palestinian moderates, just like Israel, the US and proponents of the bill. Their effort to defeat or gut the bill, rather than quietly seek minor amendments, therefore, smacks of Jewish organizational politics at its worst, and at Israel's expense. If they truly want to help Israelis and Palestinians, they should be urging Europe not to save Hamas from its own intransigence, and join the US Congress, the White House and the Israeli government in keeping the heat on.