Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hamas muffs its chance

From an editorial in the Toronto Globe and Mail:

The Hamas-led government issued no such condemnation. To the contrary, Khaled Abu Helal, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the Israelis had brought the attack on themselves, calling it the "direct result of the policy of the occupation and the brutal aggression and siege committed against our people." Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said "the resistance is a legal and natural reaction to the Israeli crimes, and the Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves."

The attack was carried out by Islamic Jihad, not Hamas, which has declared a moratorium on suicide bombings. This was the time for Hamas to show that it understood its newfound responsibilities to the Palestinian people, and that the cutoff of aid from the West was a mistake.

They blew it.

A point of detail is in order. There is nothing inherently wrong with suicide bombing as a tactic. During World War II the Russians trained dogs to run under German tanks carrying antitank mines. The Japanese had kamikaze pilots and suicide torpedo pilots. In a conflict between two totally unmatched opponents, the weaker side will always resort to unorthodox tactics in an attempt to even the contest.

What is completely unacceptable, however, is suicide attacks against civilian targets.

I understand why they do it: to inflict enough pain on Israel to force Israel to make concessions. I understand why they don't limit themselves to attacking military targets: military targets are too well defended. I understand how they justify it: they consider all Israelis their enemy. Morality aside, suicide bombings of civilians are a pragmatic and rational response to the Palestinians' military situation.

But I won't support it.

Hamas could have defended the use of suicide bombers while condemning their use against civilians. But they didn't. So screw 'em.

I disagree with the Globe on one point: the early withdrawal of Western aid was a mistake. We should have given Hamas a chance to show that it would behave responsibly.

But now that they have been given that chance, and blown it, I would be calling for aid to be withdrawn if it hadn't been already.

We should not close the door completely, though. Unless we plan to wash our hands of the entire region -- and on days like this, it can be hard to see the downside to that -- we need to make a distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people. Hamas did not win a majority of the popular vote; Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah condemned the bombing. So suspend the aid -- but stick to the conditions we have laid out for resuming it: namely, recognition of Israel's right to exist.

In the meantime we must prepare for a new reality, where Hamas survives on Russian, Iranian and perhaps Arab aid. Will it decide it has no need or use for the West or Israel? Will the Palestinian people agree and vote to keep them in office? Will it mark a new upsurge in violence? Will Hamas look into the abyss and blink?

Time will tell.

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