Hamas and Fatah believe that it can take over the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority. They may be right. Certainly the PA, living as it has under the tutelage of terrorists from abroad such as Arafat, has shown that it wishes to do little for the Palestinian people.(fn1) If these groups, with their significant international funding, is able to do so, it stands a good chance of seizing control from Abbas.
They stand no chance, however, of leveraging the Israeli forced-withdrawal into lasting victory against Ariel Sharon. Consider the picture at right. The Gaza strip is tiny, and of marginal strategic significance vis-a-vis Israeli survival.(fn2)
That the Gaza withdrawal will somehow enable Hamas to defeat Abbas in the West Bank, which is by far the greater threat to Israeli security, is simply wishful thinking. Should the Israelis build the same sort of security cordon(fn3) around the Strip, it will no longer matter whether the Palestinians smuggle explosives in from Egypt for bombings. There will simply be no convenient land route by which Hamas could possibly leverage a tiny slat of beachline into a means by which to hit Israeli towns. Rocket attacks are still an issue, but one that can be handled by back-azimuth radar tracking, and specific attacks to hit rocket squads while they’re still moving to cover.
Israeli security concerns are predicated primarily on stopping suicide bombings. It’s hard to hold society together when you’re busy cleaning your mothers and daughters off the wall with a hose. The security cordon solves that problem handily, making infiltration vastly more difficult. By staking Israeli peace on geography, rather than demographics, Sharon has created a situation where separation becomes an actual possibility. Israel benefitted for years from relatively cheap Palestinian labor, and suffered shocks to its economy due to security shutdowns during the Intifada. The Palestinians, on the other hand, also suffered due to not being able to go to work. This, of course, played directly into Arafat’s hands, since he became one of the only purse-holders left in the region. What Hamas doesn’t seem to grok is that Sharon has fundamentally changed the nature of the game with this withdrawal. Geographic separation is a much more deadly political weapon against Hamas than any helicopter gunship. Up to now, Hamas, Fatah, and other anti-semitic terrorist organizations have profited mightily by blaming Palestinian poverty on the Israeli occupation. They have also profited from being able to point to victorious terror operations against the Israelis. The more they are forced to attempt attacks based on conventional warfare, the more those operations are going to fail.
But what happens, on the other hand, when Israelis are blamed for Palestinian poverty, but there’s not an Israeli in sight, or even over the next horizon? Hamas and Fatah are certainly not going to engage in the building of proper civic institutions and economic development: that would undercut their arms budget, and develop precisely the sort of societal strength that tends to get people like them strung up from streetlamps by otherwise quiet people who previously were too weak to take action. The first acts of any tyrannical force always includes breaking the economic backs of its victims and creating the dependence which the tyrant requires for its survival.
The moral equivalence theory which Fatah and Hamas require for their ongoing international political “air cover” is going to start ringing hollow when international groups decry Palestinian poverty, and the Israeli response is “what does this have to do with me?” Hamas’ fiscal support may loom large for a time in the Gaza Strip, but in the West Bank, Abbas will be able to point to feats of actual governance, rather than sick millenarian fantasies and bloodshed… and this will count for those who both want peace, and increasingly begin to obtain the freedom from desperate want to make their desires felt.
Hamas is a corpse sculpted from sand, and doesn’t recognize that what it regards as triumph, is actually the flipping of the hourglass on its existence.
(fn1) The PA is not exactly known for financial transparency, and infamously so under Arafat, who did not allow anyone besides himself to have a solid knowledge of Palestinian finances. With US aid alone having run somewhere between 80-100 million USD/yr, it’s quite clear that the PA could have delivered vastly superior infrastructure and basic services to its people had it chosen to do so.
(fn2) Yes, these are the terms under which it must be discussed. Though there are those who adhere to the “two scorpions in a bottle” theory, I have yet, for all of Israel’s numerous faults, heard any Israeli political party call for the worldwide extermination of all Arabs or Muslims. Hamas has degenerated quite a ways from when it could reasonably attempt to claim that it only engaged Israeli military forces.
(fn3) In the supercharged, eternally hyperbolic political rhetoric of the area, one may call it, on the one hand, a “security fence,” as do the Israelis, who overwhelmingly approve of it, or even the “apartheid wall” by those who, well, don’t. Either way, the barrier itself is impressive, and infiltration by Hamas’ murder squads will simply not be possible on a regular basis.