Hamas Blows a Hole in Bush’s Plans

The hole blown by Hamas in the Gaza-Egypt border fence has finally punctured the bubble of delusion surrounding the U.S.-Israeli Middle East policy. In a moment reminiscent of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, through the breach surged some 350,000 Palestinians — fully one fifth of Gaza’s total population, as my friend and colleague Tim McGirk observed at the scene. And what did they do on the other side? They went shopping for the essentials of daily life, denied them by an Israeli siege imposed with the Wehrmacht logic of collective punishment. And the Egyptian security forces didn’t stop them, despite Washington and Israel urging them to, because U.S.-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak would provoke a mutiny among his citizenry and even his own security forces if they were to be ordered to stop hungry Palestinians from eating because Israel has decided that they should starve until they change their attitude.

With some carefully placed semtex (or whatever the Palestinian sappers use), Hamas managed to take advantage of the impossible situation the U.S.-Israeli policy had created for Mubarak and for President Mahmoud Abbas, to once again emerge on top. Then again, it ought to be noted that Hamas is blessed by the brutal ineptitude of its enemies.

Rob Malley and Hussein Agha, in a characteristically sharp analysis last week noted that Israel, Abbas and Hamas were confronting one another in a three-way standoff in which each was obsessed with preventing any rapprochement between the other two. But Hamas has now forced the issue. The Israelis have no choice but to recognize that the group’s control of Gaza is an intractable reality, that will force the Arab world and Abbas himself to accelerate efforts to restore Palestinian unity. And Israel will have no choice but to pursue the cease-fire option offered by Hamas as the most effective means for ending rocket fire out of Gaza.

In that sense, of course, Hamas has done Israel a favor, presenting it with a fait accompli that can allow it to stand down from an unworkable and morally untenable position evolved by the dunder-headed combination of the Bush Administration and the two Ehuds, Olmert and Barak (whose return to the center stage of Israeli politics is a sure sign that Israel has run out of ideas… Next up, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu — take that one to the bank.)

By breaking the siege, Hamas has opened the way for a range of new possibilities, including movement toward restoration of a single Palestinian government (by inviting Abbas to once again send PA units to guard the border with Egypt), cooperation with Egypt over managing Gaza’s affairs, and even movement towards a cease-fire with the Israelis.

It remains to be seen whether Israel has the imagination to seize the opportunity — to the extent that Olmert is still taking directions from Washington, I wouldn’t bet on it. Then again, as Malley points out in another of his must-read pieces, the alternative is war.

The whole Annapolis strategy is based on the false premise that Arab leaders could be rallied to the purpose of isolating Hamas (and also Iran) through blockades and even military action in furtherance of U.S. and Israeli objectives. The hole in the wall in Gaza is an eloquent tombstone to President Bush’s Middle East policy. The post-Bush era has begun, a moment of great promise for all in the region who hope to live in peace and security.

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