Monday, June 16, 2008

A Year Reshapes Hamas and Gaza

The New York Times published an article looking back on Hamas' rule in Gaza. The complete article may be found on The Times' web site. We include some small sections with commentary.

Cursing God in public here - a fairly common event in this benighted and besieged strip of Palestinian land - can now lead to prison. So can kissing in public. A judge ruled last week that a bank could not collect its contracted interest on a 10-year-old loan because Islam forbids charging interest.

One year ago, gunmen from Hamas, an Islamist anti-Israel group, took over Gaza, shooting some of their more secular Fatah rivals in the knees and tossing one off a building. Israel and the West imposed a blockade, hoping to squeeze the new rulers from power. Yet today Hamas has spread its authority across all aspects of life, including the judiciary. It is fully in charge. Gazans have not, as Israel and the United States hoped, risen up against it.

Gaza has always been poor and pious, distinct from the more secular and better off West Bank. But a year of Hamas rule has made it more so. The notion of Gaza as an enduringly separate entity is solidifying, making it less likely that Palestinians might agree even among themselves on peace with Israel.

[Given that's it's always been highly unlikely that the Palestinian Arabs would agree to peace — if it wasn't clear before, the intensified terror war they've waged since rejecting the establishment of their own state on almost the entirety of the disputed territory should have cleared up any doubts — decreasing that remote likelihood is not very significant.]

Those who reject Israel's policy as evidence of its ill will make it sound like Gaza has turned into Somalia. It has not. At the same time, those who consider it their role to defend Israel in all it does make it sound as if the 70 truckloads of goods that Israel permits in daily have prevented any real suffering. They have not.

[Hamas regularly attacks the very Israelis who are trying to help them.]

"What happened in Gaza a year ago was not really a coup," a second official said. "Hamas's takeover was a kind of natural process. Hamas was so strong, so deeply rooted in Palestinian society through its activities in the economy, education, culture and health care, and Fatah was so weak, so corrupt, that the takeover was like wind blowing over a moth-infested structure."

[The natural result of being primarily concerned with their own power rather than on doing what would be best for their people, in this case, ending their war against Israel beginning an era of friendship, peace and prosperity.]

"Everything that has happened here has been a terrible mistake," he says of the election victory and subsequent takeover. "It is a mistake for Islamists to get into power. But what can we do? Hamas is even stronger than a year ago. They can take me and put me away whenever they want."

[The entire war against Israel from 1948, and the war against the Zionists which preceeded the war against Israel, was a mistake for which the Palestinian Arabs, even more than the Israelis, have paid a heavy price.]

While few dispute that Hamas has changed Gaza, a more complicated question is whether ruling Gaza has changed Hamas. Many in the movement and even outside it say that it is less ideological than it was at its founding or even a year ago.

Whereas Hamas says it will never recognize Israel, its leaders say that if Israel returned to the 1967 borders, granted a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and dealt with the rights of refugees, Hamas would declare a long-term truce. This is not that different from what the rest of the Arab world says or the Fatah position in peace talks with Israel.

[This, too, is hardly a revelation, since the Fatah Charter, as well as the PLO Charter, continues to call for the complete elimination of Israel.]

Jawad Tibi, a health minister under the Fatah government and a Fatah advocate in the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis, is angry at Hamas. Still, he said, "Hamas is talking about a 30-year truce which is no different really from what we want. Hamas is Fatah with beards."

[Again, an admission from Fatah that they aren't interested in peace, but in merely strengthening their position in order to destroy Israel in the future.]

Sayed Abu Musameh is one of the founders of Hamas and now a member of the legislature. One of the old guard moderates, he is also on the board of Hamas's first research organization just opening here. It is called Beit al Hikma, the House of Wisdom, and seeks to build bridges with the West.

"We are not seeking all of Palestine, only the '67 borders," he said. "Then there would be a truce for a very long period to pave the way for the next generation to resolve the issues we are paralyzed to resolve."

[Repetition drives home the point, much as the West tries to ignore it.

Note this is a "moderate."]

Americans who have visited the top Hamas leader in Syria, Khaled Meshal, including former President Jimmy Carter and Henry Siegman of the U.S./Middle East Project, say a real change is under way, especially regarding the group's willingness to live next to Israel. So far, few American or Israeli officials have taken their assertion seriously.

[Given the clear statements by Hamas and Fatah leaders, it's clear the only change, if any, is a professed willingness by some to consider postponing their efforts to completely destroy Israel.]

"Israel is trying to pressure us to make us forget that the real problem is the occupation," she said.

[There is no occupation of Gaza, except by Hamas.]

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