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Hamas Takes Over

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By Barry Rubin  

Hamas' Haniyeh: a hardliner presiding over a hardline cabinet

There’s good news at last about Palestinian politics! Hamas has not appointed any suicide bombers to its Palestinian Authority (PA) cabinet. Of course, the joke is that the only reason is that they are dead.

The new Hamas cabinet is hard-line politically, whether or not it has a half-dozen professors. Those who run terror organisations stick with the “military” side of things. Hardly anyone in Yasser Arafat’s cabinets ever had even a slight direct connection with terrorism while, of course, they supported it for decades.

All the Hamas ministers continue to advocate and applaud the deliberate killing of Israeli civilians. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, for example, told interviewers he has never personally killed Israelis. No, he just ran the operations of Sheikh Yassin, who was the leading advocate of Hamas terrorism.

Another question is whether Europeans will define Hamas as moderate enough to receive economic or diplomatic help. Evidence is conflicting. A lot of European leaders are determined to take their anti-terrorism rhetoric seriously and not let Hamas off easily. Yet the EU’s US$78 million emergency cheque, supposedly to fund the PA’s payroll before Hamas takes over, will now be handed to the new government.

It is vital to remember that the only reason the PA receives any international aid at all is because of the commitments it made in the 1993 Oslo Agreement with Israel, including preventing terrorism, ending anti-Israel incitement, and making peace. It violated all those pledges. But while the Fatah-led PA pretended to comply, the Hamas regime openly rejects all these principles. Why should it get a single penny?

But the most interesting question is what the Hamas regime will do. The top three cabinet selections provide clues:

  • Mahmoud Zahar as Foreign Minister is an open extremist, showing that Hamas will spend its time cultivating Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia rather than moderation to win over the West.
  • Omar Abdel Razik as Finance Minister has academic credentials and will try to present a pragmatic, honest face to squeeze out Western aid money.
  • Said Siam as Interior Minister was picked to make the Fatah people who run the security forces feel comfortable. But they still won’t give up their jobs and guns to Hamas replacements.

This leaves three critical issues: Where will money come from, and what will Hamas do when it doesn’t have enough? Whatever aid the PA receives, its overall income is going to fall.

(Incidentally, one reason the PA has so little money is that it collects no taxes from its own people, a luxury never mentioned by those bemoaning the PA’s poverty.)

Certainly, the PA cannot conduct development projects, though it did very little even at the peak of international aid. Most money went to funding violence, lining corrupt officials’ pockets, and paying salaries as a way of buying support.

Actually, where cutting aid could be really effective is in blocking Hamas from hiring thousands of its militants as internationally subsidised terrorists, teachers, officially appointed clerics or media workers, paid by Western taxpayers to commit violence and spread anti-Jewish hate.

To what extent will violence break out among Palestinians? Almost daily, Fatah gunmen attack the PA demanding jobs and pay-offs. If they are ready to attack a Fatah-dominated PA, how much more will they attack a Hamas-led one denying their demands? Certainly, there will be some blame on the West for cutting back funds, but Fatah members are going to be far angrier at Hamas for being in power and following a policy that denies them loot.

All this means anarchy and internal violence, though stopping short of civil war. The only way Hamas can impose real order is to suppress Fatah, which it will not do. Thus, social conditions are unlikely to improve under Hamas.

The same applies to corruption. Will Hamas throw Fatah officials in jail for past or present stealing and trigger all-out confrontation? No. The PA will just muddle through, as it has been doing for years.

How will the Hamas regime handle violence against Israel? Let’s get real. The most “moderate” policy Hamas will follow is to let Fatah, the PFLP and Islamic Jihad attack Israel on a daily basis. No terrorist will be stopped beforehand, or imprisoned afterwards. The Hamas regime will facilitate a terrorist war on Israel while disclaiming responsibility.

It will maintain a cease-fire as a movement while carrying out a war policy as a government. Is this sufficient to provide a fig leaf for European aid? Let’s hope not.

Another option is for Hamas to carry out terrorism “unofficially”. Can Hamas stand by while Fatah gathers all the “glory” for murdering Israeli civilians? It will be hard.

Expect to see a “new” group called the Islamic Struggle Front, or the Yassin Brigades, through which Hamas gunmen carry out attacks while Hamas PA officials deny involvement. Israeli intelligence will offer evidence of the Hamas connection, which Western media and governments may ignore. This is how Fatah used Black September in the 1970s and the al-Aqsa Brigades in recent years.

If you still think Hamas is going to moderate, I have a really nice bridge in Brooklyn I’m ready to sell you.

 

Dr. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Centre and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs. © Jerusalem Post, all rights reserved, reprinted by permission.