Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Undoing the Damage of Oslo

Our American government is invested in the notion that peace can come if only we help boost the popularity of the so-called "moderates" such as Mahmoud Abbas/Abu Mazen. This ignores numerous realities, such as Abu Mazen's clinging to the same extreme demands Yasser Arafat was making at the start of the Oslo Process.

This article highlights another reality, made far worse by the mistakes of the Oslo Experiment: The basic rejectionism of the Palestinian Arab public.

Hamas's popularity is growing, even as it makes the lives of the people it governs in Gaza far worse than they've ever been before. Hamas' popularity is even growing in Judea and Samaria, even as we try to bolster Abbas by trying to make the lives of the people there better.

There was hope to the Oslo Experiment; it was worth a gamble. Unfortunately, the gamble was lost, at least in part because the most revanchist instincts of the Palestinian Arabs were appeased rather than fought.

It will take a long time to undo the damage. The popularity of Hamas, as described in this article, is just one piece of evidence.

Hamas Gaining in Popularity, Poll Finds

Los Angeles Times
Jerusalem - During three months of floundering peace talks overshadowed by violence, the U.S.-backed Palestinian leader ship in the West Bank has lost popular support and is now viewed as less legitimate than Hamas' rival Islamist government in the Gaza Strip, according to a poll released Monday.

The survey is the latest sign that the Bush administration's effort to shore up secular Palestinian leaders and isolate Hamas is failing. That effort, part of a strategy to stabilize the Middle East through an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, includes diplomatic support and promises of economic aid to the West Bank.

Polling data collected in the West Bank and Gaza this month showed that Hamas, which rejects peace talks and continues to fight Israel, has gained sharply in popularity since December, reversing a two-year decline.

According to the poll, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would receive 47 percent of the vote if the Palestinian Authority held presidential elections today, compared with 46 percent for the U.S. backed incumbent, Mahmoud Abbas.

Haniyeh was prime minister in a power-sharing government that Abbas dissolved in June after Hamas gunmen evicted Abbas' Fatah-led security forces from Gaza. Abbas completed the violent split by appointing a West Bank government led by former World Bank economist Salam Fayyad.

Hamas' armed takeover in Gaza badly hurt its popularity. When pollsters asked in December which Palestinian government is the legitimate authority, 38 percent of the respondents said Fayyad's and 30 percent said Haniyeh's.

In the March poll, 34 percent said Haniyeh's government is the legitimate one; 29 percent said Fayyad's is. Nearly one-fourth said both governments are illegitimate.

This is a major shift in Hamas' favor, said Khalil Shikaki, head of the survey group , the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

Shikaki and other Palestinian analysts attributed the turnabout to several factors: The current peace talks, launched by President Bush in November, have failed to stop Israel's military incursions and airstrikes in Gaza. Nor have they halted the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, eased Israel's security checkpoints there or made evident progress on the big issues of a final peace accord.

Meanwhile, Hamas has reasserted itself. In January, it demolished parts of a wall along the Gaza-Egypt border, enabling Palestinians to leave en masse to stock up on goods made scarce by an Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Later, Hamas carried out its first suicide attack in Israel in more than three years and stepped up rocket attacks on Israel

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