NEWS AND VIEWS FROM ISRAEL
Volume 6 Issue
Policy Switch: Hamas Need Not Dismantle to Gain Recognition
DEBKAfile Special Washington-Middle East Report
The bolt from the blue
from Crawford, Texas, hit a slumbering Middle East overnight Sunday, June
5. The news agencies took down every careful word dictated by "senior
The Bush administration, they were told, is showing signs of easing its hard-line
approach towards Hamas
It has acceded to the (terror group) running
candidates in the Palestinian elections, even while they refuse to disarm
and are still listed by Washington as a major terrorist organization.
The "senior US officials" said they may be open to contacts with some Hamas
political "affiliates" and left open the possibility of dealing with the
group if it gave up weapons and ended violence. This was in contrast to past
calls for its total dismantlement.
The sources spoke of responding to a push for flexibility from European allies
Britain and France, who are warning that complete dismantlement would be
a "disaster" for Palestinians who benefit from Hamas aid.
"There is now a realization that they (Hamas) do have a role to play
if you can bring them into the political fold, then you'll be marginalizing
the military elements of those groups," said a European diplomat.
A senior administration official said: "We are not acquiescing. We do not
terrorists." But he added: "How do you pursue this without
limiting democratic choices?"
Middle East leaders woke up Monday, June 6, to find that the Bush administration
had hit on a way of leapfrogging over the standoff between Palestinian leader
Mahmoud Abbas' declining clout and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's
losing battle for a crackdown and total dismantlement of Palestinian terror.
Both were now confronted with the compulsion to address a third party, the
fully armed Hamas as is. To gain US recognition, the jihadist group is no
longer required to dismantle its terrorist structures, foreswear violence,
renounce its goal to destroy the Jewish state - or even to stop shooting
Qassam missiles into Israel.
This shift also implies a curtailment of the Middle East road map by omitting
the dismantlement of terrorist organizations as a pre-condition for peace
This policy U-turn has major applications far outside the Israel-Palestinian
arena. It is a portmanteau concept that allows for legitimizing (the already
ongoing) US contacts with Sunni Baathist guerilla leaders in Iraq, while
they continue to wreak carnage; Lebanon's Shiite extremist Hizballah (which
claims electoral victory in South Lebanon's elections Sunday, June 4) despite
its refusal to lay down its weapons, including 12,000 Katyusha rockets on
Lebanon's border with Israel; and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which is likewise
bidding for a role in the democratic process without relinquishing the use
If the Bush administration can dredge up moderate Hamas "affiliates" with
whom to maintain contacts, similar "moderates" can no doubt be dug out in
Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyrs' (suicides) Brigades, Gaza's violent Popular Committees
and the various rejectionist Palestinian Fronts. Washington will argue that
it is leading the way to a breakthrough and Israeli will have little choice
but to follow suit.
For Washington, the shift is a pragmatic acceptance of the real situation
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which DEBKAfile has repeatedly exposed in
earlier reports. Abbas's authority is confined to the small Ramallah pocket
of the West Bank - and even then not every corner of this hub of Palestinian
government. The northern and central West Bank are ruled by his opponents,
an armed and violent coalition of Hamas, al Aqsa Brigades, Jihad Islami and
Palestinian Fronts. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas, the Popular Committees and
the al Aqsa Brigades hold sway.
Bush heaped plenty of verbal praise on Abu Mazen when he visited Washington
last month but was under no illusion about his real clout among his people.
Left to stand alone own as sole buttress of Washington's peace policy, he
could come crashing down at any time amid the chaotic collapse of the Palestinian
Washington is no less worried by Sharon's situation. Israel is undergoing
social and political disintegration under his rule, the damage aggravated
by his government's fixed priority on the approaching pull-backs from the
Gaza Strip and West Bank in August - albeit in the face of declining public
approval (which has dropped below 50%). Seen from Washington, there is no
point in waiting for improvements: Abbas' collapse and Sharon's further popular
decline will only expose the Bush administrations' entire Middle East stake
The new US tolerance for Hamas will be welcomed by Abbas as the vindication
of his own policy of refusing to tackle terrorist groups head-on to dismantle
or disarm them, but rather integrating them into the political process. That
is for the short term. But for later, neither the Americans nor Abu Mazen
are yet asking who will lead a Palestinian negotiating team for talks with
Israel: will he retain the primacy or have to accept a coalition of terrorist
groups led by Hamas?
This awkward question will be brushed under the same carpet that has concealed
the real state of affairs in the Palestinian community with regard to Abbas.
Until now, he has served as a useful front man for disguising realities and
there is no reason why he cannot carry on as before.
Sharon and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak will be left grinding their teeth
over the Bush policy departure but will have to swallow the pill. The Israeli
prime minister will not only be dragged into facing Hamas as an acceptable
negotiating partner which has embraced democracy, but find the Islamist radicals
are present and ready to take charge of evacuated territory in the northern
West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mubarak will be made to re-define the hitherto
banned Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian offshoot, as
a respectable part of Egypt's political system and entitled to run a candidate
against him in the coming presidential election.
By the device of postponing the Palestinian parliamentary vote from August
to November, Abu Mazen had hoped to escape Hamas' electoral threat to his
own Fatah. Sharon, for his part, toyed with the notion of a general election
after the pull-back was completed and before Israelis woke up to the prize
he had awarded the most extremist Palestinian Islamic terrorist group. Mubarak
had played with the notion of winning a fifth term unchallenged by the Muslim
Brotherhood. George Bush has smashed the failing hopes of all three leaders
with a surprise blow by the Hamas bludgeon.