Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hamas Quagmire...

The international community yesterday called on Hamas to recognise Israel and renounce violence in the wake of the militant Islamic group's electoral victory last week, or face a reduction in funding for the Palestinians.

On the face this appears a fairly balanced trade-off: of course Hamas must recognise the right of Israel to exist. For one, it would be impossible to continue a peace process in which one of the partners doesn't recognise the right to existence of the other.

But look a little below the surface and it becomes clear that cutting funding may well make matters worse. Firstly, from a humanitarian point of view, this kind of sanctions is likely to hit the already worst hit worst: the estimated 1.2 million Palestinian refugees, living in camps in Palestine as well as neighbouring states.

Secondly, the PA is virtually bankrupt as it is. It's hard to tell what exactly cutting funds will achieve but a further radicalisation of the Hamas group in particular and the Palestinians in general is a likely and dangerous outcome.

Thirdly, it's almost certain that if the EU and the US cut funds to the Palestinians, others sympathetic to their cause, in particular Iran and possibly Syria, will step in to make up the balance. That too, presents the danger of further radicalisation of Hamas and complete breakdown of the Roadmap project.

I maintain that the Hamas victory presents
an opportunity to engage this group in politics and diplomacy and defuse the more radical side of its ideology. Today's revolutionaries invariably end up as tomorrow's political leaders.

So before we start cutting funds and make the situation worse, much diplomacy is needed. Hamas will have to be convinced that at least moderating its stance on Israel's existence is a sine qua non for progress of the peace process.

I wonder what Sharon would have made of all of this...

And how will this situation affect the planned evacuation of the Amona West Bank settlements?

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