[The] Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip… is the most important single Middle East event of 2007 because it is a clear, probably irreversible, shift in the balance of power. Four decades of a movement dominated by nationalists has come to an end. Given Fatah’s continuing weaknesses it is conceivable that Hamas will take over the West Bank within a few years and marginalize its rival. To Islamists, this is a great victory.
In fact, it is a disaster for Palestinians and Arabs. It deepens divisions and destroys any real (as opposed to the silly superficial events that take up governments’ time and media space) diplomatic option for them. A negotiated resolution of the Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and with it prospects for a Palestinian state, has been set back for decades. Much Western sympathy has been lost. [my emphasis]
In years to come, struggles between Arab nationalists and Islamists, as well as between Sunnis and Shias, will dwarf the Arab-Israeli conflict. During 2008 we will have to assess whether the Palestinian Authority still ruling the West Bank can meet the Hamas challenge (we already know it won’t meet the diplomatic challenge but it will take all year for most Western politicians and much of the media to discover that).
I agree that it is a disaster for Palestinians and Arabs. But so many of them, maybe not only the hard-core Islamists, think the opposite!
The fact is (and I’m sure Rubin would agree), that they don’t have the same criteria as the West. Peace and prosperity are not the primary desiderata for them. Recovery of Arab honor and removal of the hated Jew from ‘their’ land are.
The US has finally learned a similar lesson in Iraq. The Shiites, having suffered horribly under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, are not looking forward to peace and prosperity alongside Iraq’s Sunnis. Rather, they would like to set up a brutal regime which will give the Sunnis their ‘just’ desserts!
Strategic planners in Israel and the West should be prepared for the ultimate triumph of Hamas. But regardless of who the Palestinian leadership will be, whether it will be of the nationalist or Islamist variety, the one thing that we can be sure of is that it can garner respect and support from the Palestinian public only if it promises to replace Israel by an Arab state. This is the only way that honor can be restored.
Therefore we can expect that there will always be demands for right of return, etc., that Israel cannot meet and still survive as a Jewish state.
It’s a matter of speculation whether this has always been the case or if there was some point — possibly before the return of Arafat and his campaign of incitement that was enabled by the Oslo accord — at which a modus vivendi between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East could have been found. But if there was such a window, it is certainly closed today.