This is the Israel that dismantled its settlements in Gaza in August 2005, a unilateral concession for which it asked, and got, nothing in return. And it is the U.S. President who, in a landmark speech five years ago this month, called on Palestinians to "elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror." Had Palestinians done so, they could be living today in a peaceful, independent state. Instead, in January 2006 they freely handed the reins of government to Hamas in parliamentary elections. What is happening today is the result of that choice--their choice.
That election didn't simply emerge from a vacuum, however. It is a consequence of the cult of violence that has typified the Palestinian movement for much of its history and which has been tolerated and often celebrated by the international community. If Palestinians now think they can advance their domestic interests by violence, nobody should be surprised: The way of the gun has been paying dividends for 40 years.
In 1972 Palestinian terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Yet only two years later Yasser Arafat addressed the U.N.'s General Assembly--the first non-government official so honored. In 1970 Arafat attempted to overthrow Jordan's King Hussein and tried to do the same a few years later in Lebanon. Yet in 1980, the European Community, in its Venice Declaration, recognized Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization as a legitimate negotiating partner.
In 1973, the National Security Agency recorded Arafat's telephoned instructions to PLO terrorists to murder Cleo Noel, the U.S. ambassador in Sudan, and his deputy George Curtis Moore. Yet in 1993, Arafat was welcomed in the White House for the signing of the Oslo Accords with Israel. That same year, the British National Criminal Intelligence Service reported that the PLO made its money from "extortion, payoffs, illegal arms-dealing, drug trafficking, money laundering and fraud." Yet over the next several years, the Palestinian Authority would become the largest single recipient of foreign aid on a per capita basis.
In 1996, after he had formally renounced terrorism in the Oslo Accords, Arafat told a rally in Gaza that "we are committed to all martyrs who died for the cause of Jerusalem starting with Ahmed Musa until the last martyr Yihye Ayyash"--Musa being the first PLO terrorist to be killed in 1965 and Ayyash being the Hamas mastermind of a series of suicide bombings in which scores of Israeli civilians were killed. Yet the Clinton Administration continued to pretend that Arafat was an ally in the fight against Hamas. In 2000, Arafat rejected an Israeli offer of statehood midwifed by President Clinton and instead initiated the bloody intifada that left 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians dead.
In 2005, only months after Arafat's death, Israel dismantled its settlements and withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip. Palestinians have used the opportunity to intensify their rocket fire at civilian targets within Israel. Last month, Israeli security services arrested two Gazan women, one of them pregnant, who were planning to enter Israel on medical pretexts in order to carry out suicide attacks. Yet the same month, the World Bank issued a report faulting Israel for restricting Palestinian freedom of movement.
Now it appears Hamas has taken control of the Gaza Strip's main road and its border with Egypt, as well as the offices of the so-called Preventive Security Services, traditionally a Fatah stronghold. "They are executing them one by one," a witness told the Associated Press of Hamas's reprisals against the Preventive Security personnel.
We do not pretend to know where all this will lead. On Thursday, Mr. Abbas dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency, though he seems powerless to change the course of events in Gaza. Israel could conceivably intervene, as could Egypt, and both states have powerful reasons to prevent the emergence of a Hamastan with close links to Iran hard on their borders. But neither do they wish to become stuck in the Strip's bottomless factionalism and fanaticism.
At the same time, pressure will surely mount on Israel and the U.S. to accept Hamas's ascendancy and begin negotiations with its leaders. According to this reasoning, the Bush Administration cannot demand democracy of the Palestinians and then refuse to recognize the results of a democratic election.
But leave aside the fact that Mr. Bush did not simply call for an election: Is it wise to negotiate with a group that kills its fellow Palestinians almost as freely as it does Israelis? And what would there be to negotiate about? The best-case scenario--a suspension of hostilities in exchange for renewed international funding--would simply give Hamas time and money to consolidate its rule and rebuild an arsenal for future terror assaults. Then, too, the last thing the Palestinians need is yet further validation from the wider world that the violence they now inflict so indiscriminately works.
The deeper lesson here is that a society that has spent the last decade celebrating suicide bombing would inevitably become a victim of its own nihilistic impulses. This is not the result of Mr. Bush's call for democratic responsibility; it is the bitter fruit of the decades of dictatorship and terrorism as statecraft that Yasser Arafat instilled among Palestinians.
(Tack till Ralph för tipset !)