It is well established that Menachem Begin’s Likud government of Israel helped to give birth to Hamas by giving it financial aid in the late 1970s in order to provide the Palestinians with a Islamic alternative that would offset and weaken the secular PLO. Israel’s goal was to use a divide and conquer strategy to make it easier to control the Arab territories it grabbed in the 1967 war.
With the election of Hamas to control of the Palestinian parliament, long term effects of the seeds planted by that strategy are now seen to have backfired spectacularly, a debacle not unlike the blowback from the secret aid the CIA provided to the radical Islamists, including Osama bin Laden, who were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
What to do?
More of the same, apparently. According to a recent report in the Sunday Times [UK], the US, Israel, and the PLO are now conspiring in a secret strategy to undo the results of what appears to have been a fair election, because they do not like the results.
It was obvious that news of this kind of cynical conspiracy had to leak — probably by Israelis in this case, because the leak works so obviously to further Israel’s interests, to wit: it discredits the PLO further, it drives the US deeper into the Israeli camp by increasing its alienation from the Arab world, and it increases the resistance of Hamas.
Together, these effects will work to continue the conflict and to justify the continuing occupation of the West Bank on the basis of "security" requirements. They also have the added benefit of making it easier to garner more blind support from the religious right in the US.
The PLO looks especially bad, because the leak that it is working secretly with the Israelis comes on same day as Israel’s decision to suspend monthly payments of around $50 million in customs and tax receipts it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority under an economic protocol established in 1994. "This is a measured response that sends a message to the incoming Hamas leadership," said Mark Regev, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman. [Financial Times, Feb 19, 2006]
A smarter grand strategy for the United States would be to learn from past mistakes and give Hamas some room to work things out, including their governing policy toward Israel. If Hamas refuses to moderate its position regarding Israel’s existence, then that decision should be its free choice — and the more obvious its its freedom in making that choice the more moral leverage we have in dealing with them.
But instead, Ameica is used to paint Hamas into corner. Hamas will have no choice but to resist both rhetorically and ultimately by action, perhaps by restarting its suicide bombing campaign. That resistance will increase its moral authority among the disaffected Palestinian masses supporting Hamas.
Even worse, the mismatch between America’s moral pretensions and its actions will bring into sharp relief the bankruptcy of our rhetoric about freedom and democracy, not to mention our support for a Palestinian state. So, once again, it looks we are setting the stage for a mutual amplification of tensions and continuation of the conflict … and more blowback that will further moral isolation of America.
And at the end of the day, the world will be left with yet another example of US policy being complicit in helping the Israeli right wing to entrench itself domestically, while it systematically weakens the effectiveness and legitimacy any Palestinian government (remember how the Likud weakened PLO after Israel became its partner Oslo "peace" process).
The Israeli right will then use the never-ending instability and conflict to continue its permanent expansion into the West Bank, where, it should not be forgotten, Israel gets one third of the fresh water needed to support is water-starved economy.
Franklin Spinney is a former Pentagon analyst and whistleblower. His writing on defense issues can be found on the invaluable Defense in the National Interest website.