First Hamas won at the ballot box, now it has won again, with bullets. Massive Western financial, diplomatic and even military support for Fatah has been for naught. Though Fatah has more men under arms in Gaza than Hamas, its corrupt leadership has not even been able to rally its own forces, let alone popular support. Instead of reacting to its electoral loss by bringing in new leadership and weaning itself away from thuggery and palaces, Fatah has spent its time trying to overthrow Hamas. For its part, Hamas has completely ignored the "Change and Reform" platform it sold to Palestinians, and has done nothing but fight to consolidate its control and continue its attacks on Israel. The Palestinian people have little to do now but hide as rival mafias fight it out. As the Associated Press reported from Gaza City yesterday, "Fatah officials said seven of their fighters were shot to death in the street outside Preventive Security [headquarters]. A witness, Jihad Abu Ayad, said the men were being killed before their wives and children." The international community bears considerable responsibility for this turn of events. We are now seeing the results of two failed policies: turning a blind eye toward massive arms smuggling across the Egypt-Gaza border for almost two years; and propping up an utterly corrupt and unreformed Fatah as an alternative to Hamas, rather than linking international support to real steps toward peace, democratization and state-building. The transformation of Gaza into Hamastan could, ironically, give the international community a second chance to change its ways. Fatah is despised and discredited in the West Bank as much as it is in Gaza, but Hamas does not yet have sufficient power in the West Bank to challenge Hamas. The Quartet now has the opportunity to hold Hamas fully accountable in Gaza, Fatah fully accountable in the West Bank, and Egypt fully accountable for policing its border. Accordingly, the Quartet should:
Announce that evacuated international workers will not return and all assistance to Gaza except for food and medicine will be suspended until order is restored, including an end to roving gangs and missile attacks against Israel. No amount of humanitarian assistance can compensate for the hardships Hamas is imposing by perpetuating lawlessness and war.
Demand that Egypt, either with existing forces or with the assistance of international forces, stop the flow of weapons into Gaza. Plans to build a large tunnel-blocking moat along the border, presented by Israel and reportedly received positively by Egypt, should be funded and put into high gear.
Link future assistance to Fatah in the West Bank to changes in leadership, demonstrable progress in creating functioning democratic institutions, ending all government-backed media incitement toward jihad, and concrete steps toward dismantling "refugee camps" - all according to a new Palestinian-centered road map toward building a Palestinian state. The old road map, composed of Israeli and Palestinian steps toward each other, is moot until Palestinians start taking steps of their own toward real state building in territory that they already effectively control.
The overall goal would be to display sharply contrasting policies toward Gaza and the West Bank. Both policies, however, would link aid or sanctions to results, rather than backing one "horse" against another.
Some observers have noted that in the context of the current fighting, the US State Department is blaming Hamas's "military wing," thereby for the first time implicitly distinguishing between "good" and "bad" parts of Hamas. It may be that even the US is poised to treat the "good" Hamas as a legitimate Palestinian address, following the collapse of the "good" Mahmoud Abbas, and before him, the "good" Yasser Arafat.
If so, it would mean that the US has learned nothing from the serial failures born of backing particular people rather than policies. In each case, the international community failed to hold its favorite Palestinian leaders accountable for fear that worse ones would take over.
This approach has led precisely to the outcome it sought to avoid. The alternative is a policy that does not support the search for a Palestinian ally to support at all costs, but holds all factions, on behalf of Palestinians and Israelis alike, to basic standards of legitimacy, governance and movement toward peace.