Saturday, January 03, 2009

Hamas and the Palestinians

Khaled Abu Toameh

It is true that Hamas came to power in January 2006 largely thanks to the corruption and incompetence of the Palestinian Authority. But it is also true that many of the Palestinians who voted for Hamas were well aware of the movement's radical ideology and its desire to replace Israel with an Islamic state.. Back then, Hamas ran in the parliamentary election under the banner of Change and Reform. Its leaders promised the Palestinians good government and an end to financial corruption. But Hamas also promised the Palestinians that it would "pursue the resistance against the Israeli enemy." It also pledged never to recognize Israel's right to exist in this part of the world.

To its credit, Hamas did not hide its agenda. Its leaders were very clear in the messages they sent to the Palestinian public and the international community. Hamas's message was the same in Arabic and English.

When Hamas talked about pursuing the "resistance" against Israel, it was referring to the firing of rockets and the launching of suicide bombings.

Hamas's clear message to the Palestinians was: Vote for us and we will not only bring you good government, but we will also continue to work toward the destruction of the state of Israel.

The majority of the Palestinians who voted for Hamas in the parliamentary election knew exactly what they were choosing. Apart from being a vote of protest against Mahmoud Abbas's corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority, it was also a vote of confidence in Hamas's dangerous and radical ideology.

Over the past three years, the Palestinians, particularly those living in the Gaza Strip, have undoubtedly paid a heavy price for voting in a terrorist organization. Yet despite the economic sanctions and the humanitarian crisis, there are still no signs that the Palestinians are even close to challenging the Hamas regime.

On the contrary – Hamas appears to be more popular than ever among the 1.4 million residents of the Gaza Strip. Just two weeks ago more than 250,000 Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate Hamas's 21st anniversary.

At the rally, the Hamas supporters chanted, "Death to Israel!" and "Death to America!" and vowed that they would never recognize Israel. The demonstrators also called on Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin al-Kassam, to continue firing rockets at Israel.

It is hard to believe that the Hamas supporters did not expect Israel to respond to the launching of rockets at its cities and towns.

Many of those who voted for Hamas in 2006 did so because they wanted the movement to pursue the path of death and bloodshed. And the masses who turned up for the Hamas anniversary rally knew that it was only a matter of time before Israel ran out of patience and responded to the rocket attacks.

In recent weeks, Hamas and its supporters did almost everything to drag Israel into a new round of violence. By refusing to extend the unofficial cease-fire with Israel that expired two weeks ago, Hamas paved the way for the massive IDF operation designed to halt the rocket attacks on Israel.

The Palestinians who are now shouting and crying because of the Israeli offensive should direct their anger first and foremost toward the "elected" government of Hamas.

Tragically, the Palestinians who voted for Hamas and those who continue to rally behind the movement are responsible for the ongoing violence. They had a chance to revolt against Hamas, but chose to either remain silent or continue siding with the movement.

The argument that the Palestinians are "afraid" to challenge Hamas sounds ridiculous given the fact that many of them were not scared to confront Israeli tanks and soldiers with stones or blow themselves up on buses and in front of shopping malls. A Palestinian teenager who stands in front of an Israeli tank and hurls stones at soldiers should be equally courageous to stand up to Hamas and demand that they either change or go away.

But that is not happening mainly because Hamas continues to enjoy widespread sympathy among the Palestinians. Sadly, the high death toll in the Gaza Strip is likely to earn Hamas even more support, especially on the streets of the Gaza Strip.

This is because many Palestinians also do not see a viable alternative to Hamas. As far as the majority of the Palestinians are concerned, according to public opinion polls, Abbas's authority is not a credible and reliable alternative because of its failure to reform itself and combat rampant corruption.

One can only hope that the Israeli military campaign would serve as a wake-up call to the Hamas supporters. The Hamas government will disappear only when the Palestinian masses take to the streets and demand regime change. The change must come from the bottom – from the same people who were bold enough to bring down Abbas's Fatah faction in 2006 because of its corruption. Israeli missiles and bombs alone are not enough to remove Hamas from power.

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