Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israel Revives Hamas

As Israel presses its bloody assault on Gaza, dropping broad hints that it is planning a ground attack to complement four days of bombings that have killed hundreds, it's clear that Israel's actions are likely to bolster, not weaken, the very enemy it is fighting.
Writing in the Washington Post, Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab points out that, before the latest crisis, Hamas was in sharp decline. The headline on his thoughtful piece is: "Has Israel Revived Hamas?" He says: "Israel appears to have given new life to the fledging Islamic movement in Palestine."
Over the past two years, Kuttab notes, Palestinian support for Hamas -- an ultrareligious, terrorist-inclined wing of the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood movement -- has declined sharply, from a 30 percent in 2006 to 22 percent in August, 2007, to just 17 percent in 2008 -- compared to 40 percent for Fatah, the mainstream, secular nationalist wing of the Palestinian body politic. Kuttab points out that Hamas has "turned down every legitimate offer from its nationalist PLO rivals and Egyptian mediators." Now, he says, the attacks are a "bonanza for Hamas" and says that Israel's assault will achieve "results exactly the opposite of its publicly proclaimed purposes."
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, and reflecting the views of Israel security hawks such as Bibi Netanyahu, Bret Stephens says that the Israeli campaign -- like the campaign in Lebanon that killed thousands in 2006, in the disastrous war against Hezhollah -- will not defeat Hamas. "The green flag of the movement will fly defiantly over the tallest building left standing," says Stephens. Unless, that is, the Israelis learn from Lebanon, 2006, and act decisively to crush Hamas once and for all. Problem is, that's an impossible task. Far more likely, Israel will end up radicalizing the Palestinians once again, weakening Fatah and strengthening Hamas. And that makes peace talks, and a settlement, less likely.
An intelligent news analysis piece in the Times from Stephen Farrell asks the key question:
The questions remain: Why did Hamas end its six-month cease-fire on Dec. 19?
Will it -- can it -- unleash suicide bombers into Israel in retaliation? And will the devastation in Gaza make Palestinians fall into line behind Hamas, as they reliably have in the past, or will Hamas lose their support as Gazans count the escalating cost in blood and destruction?

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