Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Same Old, Same Old?

A recent suicide bombing in Israel will give us some interesting insights into the new relationship between Israel and a Palestinian legislature headed by Hamas. The bombing was apparently carried out by Islamic Jihad, and the Hamas leadership has said that it is a natural reaction to Israeli policies. At first glance, it looks like the new government in Palestine is no different from the old governments, except that Hamas isn’t condemning the attacks (that might seem like a big deal, but since no Palestinian government ever really tried to stop the attacks, condemnations carry very little meaning).

The next step will probably be for Israel to respond in kind against Hamas, holding them responsible. This very well could start another long cycle of violence. My hope from the beginning was that at the very least, Hamas would lose support if their policies failed to improve the lives of most Palestinians. I thought that if Hamas continued to support violence, Israel would respond against them, and find new ways of making life bad for Palestine. Although Israel probably will do this, I no longer think this will harm Hamas’ popularity very much. Israel and the West will still be blamed for this.

According to a very good article in The New York Review of Books*, Hamas didn’t expect to win in recent elections, and had planned only to work as a minority party as a check on Fatah’s power. They wanted to play a role in the government and have the freedom to take credit for positive developments and avoid blame for failures. Since they are the party in power, they don’t have this option.

Before this latest suicide bombing, there was reason for hope. Some of the articles I have read gave the impression that Hamas has already shown a capacity for moderation and the ability to work with Israel. Some of the best case scenerios predicted that Israel and Hamas would work out long-term cease fires whereby Israel would continue to close down settlements and Hamas would work on reforming Palestinian government. Only after this would the two groups try to work out a long-term peace agreement.

While that scenerio is still possible, it is unlikely that Israel or the international community will be patient in the face of new suicide bombings. Hamas will have trouble focusing on anything other than Israel if it doesn't halt suicide bombings. What happens next will have a huge impact on the relationship between the two groups.

*There is a more recent article in the Review that talks about how Hamas isn’t that extreme and only asks for Israel to revert to the pre-1967 borders. This article is a little more biased (anti-Israel) than the one I linked to above.