The Mother Of All Sins
Committing an act of terror against Israel at this particular juncture, or even condoning it, is the worst mistake Hamas can make. It is a mistake that will severely undermine its authority and shatter the ardent hope of the Palestinian majority to live in peace. Hamas must quickly rein in other militant groups if it does not want to become a pariah government subjected to Israeli military wrath and unable to govern in any way.
If Hamas, as a government, is adhering to the one-year-old ceasefire, then by what logic does it allow, even encourage, other militant organizations to violently resist the occupation? The most recent suicide bombing that killed four Israelis, for which the Aqsa Brigade took responsibility, has presented a dilemma for Hamas. Although Hamas, in its role as governmental authority, would rather prevent such an attack, Hamas, as an organization, seems to have preserved an “instinct” for continued violent resistance against the occupation, and this almost involuntary response is depriving it from following a decidedly more rational strategy, one that will likely sustain its ability to govern. Hamas’ leadership surely realizes that while Israel will punish the perpetrators, the Israeli government will also hold the Hamas-led Palestinian government responsible, as it previously did the Palestinian Authority led by the PLO. Hamas cannot simply put on a moderate face for the Western powers and seek their economic assistance and political support while publicly and explicitly endorsing acts of terror. In short, continuing violent resistance is the mother of all sins, especially now as the new Israeli and Palestinian governments assume, or prepare to assume, responsibility, offering a real opportunity to start a new page.
I am entirely against any act of violence from any side and will always support a negotiated agreement over a unilateral action, in which one party attains greater benefits than the other. Sadly, however, its propensity for continuing violent resistance is also already negatively affecting Hamas’ dealings with Kadima’s leader Ehud Olmert, most likely Israel’s next Prime Minister, a man committed to establishing Israel’s future borders through unilateral withdrawal if necessary. Given that Israeli withdrawal offers the Palestinians at least a part of what they want, how then can unilateral withdrawal be, “a recipe for conflict,” as Prime Minister Haniyeh argues in a recent article in The Guardian on March 31. Unfortunately, in public, Hamas’ leadership would like to perpetuate the baseless perception that Israel withdraws from territories only under fire, even though the withdrawal, regardless of motive, is designed to reduce and eventually end the occupation. If Hamas’ leaders really want to accelerate the withdrawal process, they must maintain public calm and demonstrate to both Israel and the rest of the world that the evacuated territories will not become staging grounds for acts of terror. This is the only way Hamas can encourage the Israelis to speed up the process of ending the occupation, especially if Mr. Haniyeh wants future withdrawal, and final borders, to be negotiated rather than determined unilaterally. To this end, Mr. Haniyeh cannot claim in his article, “We in Hamas are for peace and want to put an end to bloodshed” and then allow other groups to commit acts of terror against Israel with impunity. By not demanding that all Palestinian factions refrain from violence and by permitting other groups to violently resist Israeli occupation, by proxy, Hamas will invite swift and crippling Israeli retaliations that will cause tremendous pain and hardship to thousands of innocent Palestinians. This is not what Hamas promised while campaigning for power.
The worst consequences of this reckless behavior will be Palestinian civil strife, if not civil war. Hamas will be pitting the majority of Palestinians who want to live in peace and dignity against militant groups that have long since lost direction and “make” their dismal failures into virtues. Scores of other Palestinian groups and families will be at each other’s throats, not to speak of the tens of thousands of disgruntled Fatah security forces currently roaming the streets without a central authority in place. If Hamas does not get its act together, the recent killing of three Palestinians by Palestinian security forces will not be an aberration but the day-to-day norm.
Hamas is obviously going through the pains of transforming itself from a declared terrorist organization to what it wishes to be perceived as: a responsible government. Whereas Hamas’ leaders can be forgiven for committing initial mistakes, condoning suicide bombing must not be one of them. Let’s be totally transparent: Hamas’ future will rest on its ability not simply to adhere itself to the ceasefire but to demand the same from every Palestinian, and then firmly enforce this policy throughout the territories. Otherwise, Hamas’ victory will end up being just another mirage in the desert of the Middle East that leaves no traces.