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Friday, March 23, 2007

Middle East Reality: Who is making peace impossible?

Burston makes it clear why it is now impossible for Israel to make any sort of concessions: Hamas. That is the reality of Israeli politics. Outsiders like George Soros and Nicholas Kristof who babble about pressuring Israel to negotiate forget that there is nobody on the other side who is a serious negotiating partner.
Ami Isseroff, Rehovot

By Bradley Burston

There was a time, not long ago, when, no matter what happened in this part of the world, Hamas came out the winner.
Palestinian disenchantment with the peace process? Support for Hamas grew. Suicide bombings provoked Israeli crackdowns, curfews, house demolitions, and massive military incursions? Support for Hamas grew further. Israeli raids and assassinations made Islamic militants into martyrs? Washington invaded and occupied Iraq? Corruption was rife in the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority? Poverty deepened in the territories? Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip? Hamas was right there every time, to reap the rewards.
What a difference a regime change makes.
It's been a little over a year since Hamas took power. For a little over a year, in fact, no matter what Hamas has done, the settlers have come out the winner.
In its policies, its platform, and particularly, in its stubborn inability to reinvent itself, Hamas has proven the answer to an anxious settler's prayer.
Thanks largely to Hamas, the threat to settlers of a further withdrawal in the West Bank, with wholesale eviction of scores of settlements, has been lifted.
Who would have guessed a Hamas government would have proven so settler-friendly?
A few months before the rise of the Hamas government, the settlement movement was on the ropes. The Israeli pull-out from the Gaza Strip and settlements in the northern West Bank, a measure which the movement had confidently predicted would never take place, took a bare six days to complete. Many settlers found particularly galling the fact that the disengagement was the brainchild of Ariel Sharon, for decades the champion, patron, architect and contractor of the settlement enterprise.
The disengagement went ahead despite the most extensive, certainly the most expensive protest movement in the nation's history. The disengagement went ahead with the support of a strong majority of the public, whose response in opinion polls was nearly as favorable at the end of the long, painful process as it has been at the beginning.
The settlement movement, meanwhile, was riven by squabbling, mutual recriminations, heartache and despair.
Not only had the movement failed to block the disengagement - the first instance of dismantling government-authorized settlements in the West Bank and Gaza since the territories were captured in 1967 - but the cornerstone of Ehud Olmert's later campaign for prime minister was a plan under which Israel would cede most of the West Bank to the Palestinians within four years.
There was no one left to save the settlement movement. Except Hamas.
Ironically, the most effective life preserver thrown the settlement movement was the Hamas-developed Qassam rocket.
Qassams had been fired at Gaza Strip settlements and at the western Negev since 2001. But it was only with the disengagement that the launches began in earnest, with as many as a dozen or more rockets a day striking civilian targets in the Israeli city of Sderot and its environs.
Daily Qassam barrages quickly and precipitously eroded Israeli support for a further withdrawal in the West Bank. Palestinian gunners pointedly used the ruins of evacuated settlements as launch platforms.
The lesson drawn by most Israelis - including leftists - was clear: If Israel willingly removes settlements and carries out a withdrawal in the territories, it can expect only rocket attacks in return.
But there were more lessons to be drawn as well:
If you pull IDF forces out of Gaza and redeploy them on Israeli territory outside the Strip, Hamas, with help from other groups, will tunnel under the border, attack your forces on Israeli territory, capture a soldier, and hold him hostage indefinitely.
If Hamas kidnaps a soldier from sovereign Israeli territory in the south, then its new partner Hezbollah, backed by Iran, will kidnap two in the north. The same border to which Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in an act recognized by the United Nations as a full withdrawal from occupied Lebanese soil.
Offered a chance to prove that Palestinians could govern themselves with skill and maturity - therefore demonstrating to the world, and to the Israeli electorate, that a further withdrawal in the West Bank could contribute to stability and increased coexistence - Hamas and Fatah spent much of the past year at war with one another, often literally.
Offered a chance for international legitimacy and restoration of much-needed aid, Hamas will opt, as it did this month in an open letter to Al Qaida, for a restatement of its commitment to taking over all of the Holy Land by force.
To underscore this commitment, the Hamas military wing this week sent one of its marksmen to the Gaza border to kill an electrical worker on the Israeli side. The plan nearly succeeded, but the victim lived.
These days, thanks to Ismail Haniyeh, Khaled Meshal, and the Qassam Brigades, settlers find themselves sleeping better, secure in the perception that plans for a further West Bank withdrawal have been rendered a non-starter.
Who says Hamas is not a partner?

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