It’s open season on mocking Hamas lately. Israel’s discovery of a tunnel the terrorist movement had dug along the border is widely seen as an example of the impotence of a group that seems to be running out of credibility as fast as they are running out of cash. The millions of foreign aid money expended as well as the concrete intended for civilian use employed in building a structure aimed at executing a terrorist attack across the Israeli border is a symbol of the group’s priorities. But the fact that Israel’s military reportedly had been aware of the project and let Hamas go ahead and finish it before exposing the scheme makes it look as if there’s no doubt about which side of the struggle has the upper hand. Combine that with the fact that Hamas is still reeling from the fall from power of their Muslim Brotherhood allies in Egypt and the closing of the border and smuggling tunnels that linked Gaza to the Sinai and there’s little question that the Islamists are in genuine trouble.
So it’s little wonder that Hamas chose this weekend to make a big deal out of the anniversary of their last victory over Israel: the ransoming of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit with the release of more than a thousand Arab terrorists. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh spoke yesterday to remind Palestinians of this feat and to speak of the latest surge in violence against Jews in the West Bank as evidence that his movement is by no means as isolated as its critics believe. As beleaguered as they may be, the Islamists clearly seem to think they are just one kidnapping of an Israeli away from being back in the catbird seat in Palestinian politics. But whether they are able pull such a crime off in the near future or not, those discounting Hamas’ impact on the future of Israeli-Arab coexistence need to take a deep breath. The pressure being exerted on it in the West Bank by Fatah security cooperation with Israel is a real blow to the Islamists and their cash shortfall is harming their ability to keep a lid on their Gaza stronghold. But anyone who thinks this gives Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas the leeway he needs to cut any sort of a peace deal with Israel in the talks currently being conducted under the aegis of the United States is forgetting the realities of Palestinian politics.
Most observers assume the negotiations going on in private between Israel and the PA are stalled. Indeed, given the Palestinians’ stated unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it is hard to imagine how there could be hope for an accord that would truly end the conflict. But that has not stopped the Obama administration to continue to push the talks. Nor has it stopped those groups seeking to promote more pressure on Israel to make concessions in the vain hope that the PA will ever make peace on any terms that would allow Israel to survive as a Jewish state.
That’s why Hamas’ efforts to remain relevant should not be ignored or dismissed as a last gasp for a group that is struggling to hold onto power. Though Hamas is in serious trouble, Abbas knows all too well that the one way to revive its fortunes is for him to make a genuine effort to make peace with Israel. While Israelis and Westerners would hope that the people of the West Bank and even many in Gaza would prefer peace to another generation or two of conflict, Abbas knows that the legitimacy of his Fatah Party rests on bolstering its reputation as furthering “resistance” against the Jewish presence in the land, not cooperating with Israel. That’s why his official media continues to foment hatred of Israel and honors terrorists in a manner that is not that much than that of Hamas. He is also aware that for all of its troubles, another coup like a kidnapping would once again raise Hamas’ stock among Palestinians.
Until a sea change in Palestinian culture occurs that would enable a Palestinian leader to make peace, Israel will remain powerless, no matter what it gives up, to change this equation.
The bottom line is that for all of the ridicule now being heaped on Hamas’ boasting; it retains a veto over peace. That means even if Abbas and Fatah were to transcend their origins in terrorism, something that highly unlikely, the Islamist tyrants of Gaza are still capable of overturning any movement toward a solution. That’s why Israel would do well to ignore any American pressure to make concessions on borders, Jerusalem or refugees that would be pocketed by Abbas but never reciprocated. Nor, given the recent developments in the P5+1 negotiations, should the Israelis assume that they could trade a Palestinian state for an American guarantee against a nuclear Iran. So long as Hamas remains in power in Gaza, no matter how bankrupt or precarious they might be, they are the guarantee that peace is not in the offing.