Showdown with Hamas

Hamas' downfall would not negate PA democracy unless Palestinians favor terrorism over independence.

hamas kids 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
hamas kids 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
As Israelis agonize over endangering innocent Palestinians while killing terrorists, the murder of Eliahu Asheri reminds us that, to Palestinian terrorists, there is no such thing as an innocent Israeli. An 18-year-old Israeli boy, hitchhiking by the side of the road, can be summarily kidnapped and executed, and this is dubbed a legitimate act of "resistance." It is in this context that Israel's long-avoided decision to send the IDF into Gaza, and the arrest of dozens of high-level Hamas officials, should be understood. Hamas leaders, even if - and, in fact, because - they bear such titles as minister or legislator, are not innocent. They are party, either directly or through organizational responsibility, for the deaths of Israeli soldiers Hanan Barak and Pavel Slutzker, for the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, and for the murder of Eliahu Asheri. Israel, obviously, cannot tolerate an ongoing terror campaign against its citizens. With the current IDF operation in Gaza, including attacks against infrastructure targets such as bridges and electricity generators, Israel is trying to maximize the pressure on the Palestinian regime while minimizing casualties among our soldiers and Palestinian civilians. The Hamas offensive against Israel and its refusal to adhere to any of the Quartet's conditions for renewed assistance to the PA seem to have been predicated on an assumption that the international community would back down and Israel would fail to hold the PA accountable for its aggression. Before the Hamas attack and kidnapping at Kerem Shalom, that assumption had neither been proven or disproven. Even though direct financial aid to the PA continues to be cut off, Hamas could well have believed that it could wait out its isolation, and that escalation might even play out in its favor. By "bombarding" Syrian president Bashar Assad's palace with sonic booms and arresting Hamas officials, Israel is showing that it will not just hold the terrorists themselves accountable, but those who send them. This is a critical message for Israel to send and for the international community to back. Indeed, there is some speculation that Israel is trying to topple the Hamas regime, once and for all. If this is true, it is the inevitable result - as even a Fatah official stated in regard to the Israeli military operation - of choices Hamas has made and can still reverse. Hamas must be made to choose between power and terror. After Hamas was elected, many observers explained that the support the group received should not be interpreted as popular support for continuing the terror war against Israel, but a desire to be rid of Fatah's corruption. If this is true, then Hamas is going directly against the mandate of the Palestinian electorate. The fall of Hamas, then, would not be a negation of Palestinian democracy, unless Palestinians favor continuing terrorism against Israel over establishing their own state. And if the majority of Palestinians favor terrorism, then Israel is within its rights to demonstrate the consequences of that choice as well. The Hamas fiasco is demonstrating that there is more to democracy than elections, and that elections can produce a criminal regime. Natan Sharansky, a key source of inspiration for US President George Bush's democracy-based foreign policy, has consistently warned against the dangers of blindly promoting elections in societies that do not meet the "town square test" - whether one can freely say what they want in the town square without fear for their lives or freedom. Would a Palestinian be free to publicly denounce Hamas and call for peace with Israel? As this newspaper reported regarding the dire state of press freedom in the PA, the answer is clearly not. Israel's action, then, has focused the spotlight where it belongs: on the Hamas regime. The coming days and weeks will tell whether this focus is successful at forcing Hamas to release Gilad Shalit and drastically change its spots or be hounded out of office, one way or another. Israelis and Palestinians alike have a great stake in the outcome, which will be determined by the will of Israel and the international community to stand by its principles.