The Palestinians' choice

Continuing the war or building a state... electorally, the war party seems to be winning.

hamas rally hebron 298.8 (photo credit: AP)
hamas rally hebron 298.8
(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinians have a basic choice before them: continuing the war or building a state. Electorally, the war party seems to be winning. In Thursday's municipal elections, Hamas candidates won a remarkable 13 out of 15 seats in the traditional Fatah stronghold of Nablus. In Jenin, Hamas won eight seats and Fatah won seven. In al-Bireh, a town adjacent to Ramallah, Hamas won nine seats, while Fatah won only four. Though the strength of Hamas is often attributed to the public's rejection of the corruption of Fatah's old guard, at the Hamas victory rally in Nablus the crowd was not chanting for clean government but "To Jerusalem we march, martyrs by the millions!" Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives has resoundingly passed a resolution stating that allowing Hamas terrorists to participate in the legislative elections scheduled next month would "potentially undermine the ability of the United States to have a constructive relationship with or provide further assistance to the Palestinian Authority." This is a welcome statement, but it also should be considered a restatement of the obvious. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently noted at Princeton, terrorist groups such as Hamas "cannot simultaneously keep an option on politics and an option on violence. There simply isn't a case that I can think of internationally where that's been permitted to happen." Actually, not only is such a combination of politics and terror conceivable, but this is an accurate description of the Oslo period and why that experiment failed. When Israel balked at exactly this combination, we were told that we were obstructing the peace process. Now, attitudes have changed somewhat, and indeed there is much less international patience for the Palestinian penchant for keeping the terror option always open. To be more precise, the possibilities of pressuring Israel to make more concessions to a nascent Palestinian terror state have diminished. Regardless of how well Hamas does in elections, the salient question for Israel and the international community is whether the Palestinian Authority prevents terrorist organizations - elected or not - from operating in its midst. If the PA does not do this, not only should Israel have nothing to do with it, but the international community should, as the US Congress suggests, stop sustaining the PA diplomatically and financially. No one can force the Palestinians to choose peace and the state that is being offered to them in exchange. What Israel and the rest of the world can do is force the Palestinians to choose between peace and a state on the one hand and continuing war and terror on the other. The international failure to make this choice stark enough for the Palestinians - by allowing them to receive aid and negotiate without abandoning terror - has ensured the failure of any peace process and has prolonged the suffering of both parties. Even now, we would hazard a guess that most Palestinians do not believe that voting for Hamas, at least in local elections, will jeopardize international financial support. Indeed, many Palestinians seem to believe that, not only do they not have to choose between terror and a state, but that terrorism remains the best way to obtain their national goals. The fact that such a belief is evidently alive and well after all the declarations that terror must stop is damning evidence that the international community has failed to convince Palestinians that it is serious about forcing such a choice. The international community has done the Palestinians no favor in this respect. Nor can anyone expect the situation to change as international aid to the PA continues to pour in despite the corruption, lack of transparency, anarchy, and refusal to end incitement and crack down on terrorism. To date, the refusal of donors to turn off their financial spigots has been out of fear that the alternative is Hamas rule. Now we see the exact opposite: the more the corrupt PA is artificially propped up, the more the people want to replace it with Hamas. The solution, rather than continuing to finance the PA at all costs, is to more seriously link funding to what the donors have demanded for years: ending terror, corruption and incitement and introducing the rule of law.