Facing Collapse, Palestinians Turn to America's Enemies
By Ted Rall
-- -- NEW YORK--Abandon the tactic of terrorism
and work within the system, the United States and its Western
allies have long urged armed resistance groups. Lay down your
weapons and pick up a megaphone. Campaign for public office and,
if the people you claim to represent agree with your ideas,
you'll win power peacefully. Then, whether or not they share
your values, the world will recognize your movement as
legitimate and will treat you accordingly.
In the Muslim world, the focus of American-led democratization
efforts since 9/11, Republican neoconservatives have repeatedly
used a Sunni boycott of Iraqi elections as a cautionary tale:
you'll be shut out if you don't participate.
Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, got
the message. After two decades of suicide bombings and guerilla
warfare against Israel the Palestinian group, founded in 1987 as
an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, was exhausted. In 2004
Israel assassinated four of Hamas' top officials, including
67-year-old founder Sheikh Ahmed Ishmail Yassin--whose paralysis
had confined him to a wheelchair. Hamas boycotted the January
2005 Palestinian presidential election held to replace Yassir
Arafat only to see its political enemy Mahmoud Abbas take power.
Frustrated that they were no closer to their goal of an
independent Palestinian state than they had been in 1987, Hamas'
leaders changed course. They declared a unilateral ceasefire, or
tahdiyah (Arabic for "period of calm") in March 2005. They ran
candidates in municipal elections. Some won. Encouraged by their
success in working within a democratic process developed at the
behest of the Clinton and Bush Administrations, Hamas ran a full
slate of candidates for the Palestinian Authority Legislative
Council. Palestinians liked what they saw and heard from Hamas.
In January 2006 Hamas won 76 out of 132 seats in the Council,
becoming the majority party in a race with a turnout of over 80
Celebrating their sweeping victory, Hamas officials promised not
to cave in to American and Israeli demands that the group disarm
and recognize Israel's right to exist. Despite their clear
mandate, however, Hamas indicated that they were willing to make
concessions. The tahdiyah remained in effect, and the party's
leaders said they were ready to start peace talks with Israel.
"Negotiation is not a taboo," said Mahmoud Zahar, a major Hamas
The Bushies might have lost Afghanistan and Iraq, but they got
exactly what they wanted in Palestine: democratic elections, a
peaceful transfer of power, a radical Islamist group ready to
disavow terrorism and transform itself into a parliamentary
political party, a majority party willing to work with Israel
and her allies. It was a staggering victory for the
neoconservative agenda, a golden opportunity to co-opt one of
the most prominent organizations of militant Muslims in the
world, and proof positive that democracy prevails over
And the neocons hated it.
U.S. state-controlled media reacted to Hamas' victory with
dismay. "[It] can hardly be considered good news," editorialized
The Wall Street Journal. "If your platform is the destruction of
Israel, it means you're not a partner in peace, and we're
interested in peace," said George W. Bush (shortly after going
to war against two countries and sponsoring coups in several
others). He ordered a stop to American aid and froze Palestinian
bank accounts. Elections, it seems, are only good when you like
"It's not possible," asserted Hamas spokesman Farhat Asaad, "for
the U.S. and the world to turn its back on an elected
democracy." He underestimated our capacity for hypocrisy.
On February 13, The New York Times reported that "The United
States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the
Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials
will fail and elections will be called again, according to
Israeli officials and Western diplomats. The intention is to
starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international
connections to the point where, some months from now, its
president, Mahmoud Abbas, is compelled to call a new
election...[They] say Hamas will be given a choice: recognize
Israel's right to exist, forswear violence and accept previous
Palestinian-Israeli agreements--as called for by the United
Nations and the West--or face isolation and collapse."
In the end, they were never offered that choice.
Israel, which collects $50 million per month in customs taxes on
behalf of the Palestinian Authority on $1 billion in Palestinian
goods sold to Israel and $2 billion in Israeli products sold to
Palestine, reacted to Hamas' win by pocketing the Palestinians'
money. "I have no intention of approving the transfer of money
which will be used for terrorism," barked Israeli prime minister
Ehud Olmert. But customs taxes aren't aid. The money belongs to
the Palestinians. Israel isn't cutting off a "transfer of money"
to the new Hamas-led government, a line repeated throughout
mainstream media accounts. They're stealing it.
Three months later, reports USA Today, the Palestinian Authority
is broke. "The loss of revenue has paralyzed Palestinian
government institutions, left salaries unpaid and deepened
poverty...unemployment could jump to 40 percent this year from
about 30 percent now, and that two-thirds of Palestinians will
live under the poverty line, compared with a little over 40
percent in 2005." If this keeps up, the Occupied Territories
will collapse into an anarchy that will make Israel long for the
On his latest taped statement, Osama bin Laden capitalizes on
the diplomatic and economic isolation of the Palestinian
Authority. "[The West's] opposition to Hamas has confirmed that
it is a Crusader-Zionist war against Muslims," he said. "They
are determined to continue with their Crusader campaigns against
our nation, to occupy our countries, to plunder our resources,
and to enslave us." It's hard to argue with his assessment. If
Israel's American-backed theft of Palestinian customs revenues
isn't plunder, what is?
Once again, the geniuses who run United States foreign policy
have transformed a glorious opportunity to gain an ally into
total disaster. Rejected by the West whose democratic game it
played and won, the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority has been
shoved into the arms of America's enemies. Iran, Qatar and Saudi
Arabia---financiers of right-wing madrassas and the 9/11
attacks--have agreed to help the Authority make payroll for its
140,000 government employees.
Ted Rall is the editor of "Attitude 3: The New Subversive Online
Cartoonists," a new anthology of webcartoons. Visit his website
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