Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Why Israel and America are mishandling Hamas

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Hamas winning elections in Palestine was one of our bigger nightmares. The approach being taken by Israel, and by extension, the United States, is not a good position.

Because of years of corruption, the Palestinian territories are decrepit, run-down, and filled with despair. Yasser Arafat's back and forth battle with conservatives such as Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon broke down the Oslo accords, and the stealing of millions by old Fatah leaders left the Palestinian people vulnerable. In steps Hamas.

Once known simply as a terrorist organization, Hamas has broadened its horizons in the past decade. They have become like the IRA, a social organization, a political organization, and a paramilitary organization make up the ranks. Hamas won elections because of what they did on the social level.

Where the Palestinian Authority failed, they stepped up. They built schools, hospitals, businesses. They took care of Palestinians, all while indoctrinating them with their vision of what Palestine should be. With Arafat alive, they were the spoilers, never able to run for office, but with him dead, they could run for office and they did. They won big.

Now Hamas has the weight of years of promises to keep. They are in charge now. The responsibility is with them, and they see this, and I think that their leaders are trying to move ground some so they aren't cut off like Arafat was. They haven't sent a bomber into Israel in over a year now. Their prime minister-designate said they are willing to acknowledge the existence of Israel and accept a split Palestine, an unprecedented move.

However, Israel's Cabinet has voted to cut off all tax revenue due to the Palestinians to, in effect, punish them for exercising their democratic rights. We are not pressuring Israel to change their minds on this. In a related issue, Iraq's prime minister ripped us a new one for warning them about sectarian government, saying that Iraqis know what's best for them, not Americans.

If we are to acheive peace, we cannot achieve it from telling everyone what to do, who to vote for, and cutting them off from needed funds if they elect someone we don't like. Those actions will breed radicalism.

It's quite simple. When Palestinians realize, and they will, that they are paying taxes to Israel, and they are having those funds impounded over who they elected with their democratic rights, they will rise up in a way that Israel will only be able to put down with the most massive show of force, which will set off a reaction in the Arab world that we do not want to see happen.

Currently, the Mohammed cartoons are still being held up as reason for people to act like jackasses in the Middle East. Can you imagine what a massive, West Bank or Gaza-wide protest would look like, since it would invariably be followed by massive fighting between Israeli security forces and unarmed protestors throwing stones? Worldwide revulsion, followed by allies of ours calling for war, freeing of Palestinians, etc. And because of Iraq, we can't even help the Israelis if things go to hell. We don't have the forces.

It is far better for everyone, and far safer, if we engage in diplomacy and give the Palestinians aid. They voted for Hamas because Hamas, whether we like it or not, were the only ones to do anything for them for years, and you vote for the guys who take care of you. We talk with them, open a dialogue. They aren't just a terrorist group anymore. They are a government, and we can't just sit here, ignore it, and hope it goes away. This administration has mishandled Mideast policy for a while now, not to mention plain ignoring diplomacy. We never went to war with the Soviet Union, because we instead filtered in positive information about America, about freedom, about democracy, and the Soviet Union was done in ultimately by rising expectations. The British and Irish are slowly achieving peace, but not because either side won a military victory, but because of diplomacy engineered by President Clinton and George Mitchell.

We can turn people away from Hamas and terrorism, but we can't do it by taking food off the table of the millions who live in Gaza or the West Bank. If we stand by and let Israel do this, we are allowing the likely destruction of any chance of peace the region may ever have. In the early 1960's, we pushed Kruschchev hard, and we ended up with even worse Soviet leaders like Brehznev and Andropov. If we push the Palestinians too hard, we're going to make a bad situation an absolute disaster.

And before Sean Hannity calls me "weak on national security" and Ann Coulter calls me "a terrorist coddler who thinks we should give them therapy," I must simply say that I think the actions of Hamas are, by and large, a disgrace to their religion and their countrymen. However, we must act pragmatically in this situation. We are hypocritical if we want to "spread democracy" but then cut off a nation if they don't vote the way we want. If they vote the way we, another nation, tells them, then we aren't being true to the spirit of democracy. How would we like it if King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia told us how to vote, and then cut off our oil if we didn't go along? We'd be mad as hell about it, and rightfully so. Tell me, what makes us right to do the same?

If we allow this to go on, we will lose everything we have given the lives of our soldiers for. We must not let our emotions get in the way of reality, and we can achieve the same goals in a far less confrontational way.


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