Considering the Post-Arafat Era
On November 23, 2002, a Hamas bulletin proclaimed that Allah required good Muslims to obey the words of itâ€™s spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin: â€œWe will knock on the doors of heaven with the skulls of the Jews.” It is of more than passing concern that in the video released after her attack on January 13, 2004, Hamas suicide bomber, Reem al-Reyashi, 22, said: ”It was always my wish to turn my body into deadly shrapnel against the Zionists and to knock on the doors of heaven with the skulls of the Zionists.” Reyashi left behind a son aged 3, and a year-old daughter. She also murdered four Israelis who had come to assist her when she feigned sickness. The message was, is and remains a jihad (holy war) against Israel and Islamic fundamentalism is at the core of the issue.
In the wake of the tragedy, the Palestinian Authorityâ€™s Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei refused to condemn the attack and Haâ€™aretz editorialized: â€œNothing has done more to tarnish the image of the Palestinian national movement than suicide bombings. Nothing has done more to align Palestinians in the foreign (especially the American) mind with the likes of al-Qaeda. Nothing has done more to alienate Israelis from the Palestinian cause. Nothing has done more to fortify the argument that with suicide bombings, Palestinians make no distinction between Tel Aviv and Tel Romeida [in Hebron] – nor between Israeli soldiers, settlers, or leftist bleeding-hearts – and that their true goal is the eradication of the entirety of the Jewish state and the annihilation or exile of its non-Arab inhabitants.â€
In a fascinating and well-researched article appearing in the January 7th issue of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jonathan Halevi concludes that there is growing evidence that Fatah, the Palestinian faction that today dominates the PLO, may not remain the power center of Palestinian politics in the post-Arafat era. The power in the Palestinian Authority, he concludes, will pass to Hamas.
Bir Zeit, the oldest and most prestigious Palestinian university offers insight into the organization’s ascendancy. In elections last month, a Hamas-led alliance, the Islamic Bloc won nearly half the seats on Bir Zeit’s student council — a shock for a school long considered a Fatah stronghold. Middle-class professionals also are turning to Hamas in growing numbers. In recent weeks, Hamas has notched big gains in elections for influential associations of engineers and doctors that were once the preserve of Fatah activists. In fact, that organization has become the PLOâ€™s chief rival since it is the sole body that includes all the Islamic organizations and secular groups on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hamas has already established its own â€œarmyâ€ in the Gaza Strip in opposition to the Palestinian Authority, and assumes that its force is the one that will succeed the Palestinian Authority. Halevi concludes: â€œAny scenarios for the future that do not take into account the possibility of a Hamas takeover of the Palestinian political system are seriously deficient.â€
An Islamic Palestine
What exactly does this mean? It means that Hamas (the Palestinian branch of the Islamic Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood – an organization that maintains strong ideological links to al Qaeda) may ultimately control the reins of power in a nascent Palestinian State. It means that such a regime would immediately declare Israel part of Islamic Palestine and it would direct every resource at its disposal towards killing Jews until all remnants of the Jewish people were purged from the Middle East. â€œMoslem Palestineâ€ (which today is nothing more than a Hamas magazine) would become the raison dâ€™etre (reason to be) of a new terrorist State in the Middle East. According to Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas: “Good Muslims will kill anyone who accepts peace with the Jews or who speaks of an independent Palestine (only on the West Bank and Gaza). The only acceptable outcome for Hamas is a united realm of Islam in Palestine.â€ There is no doubt that he means what he says, and there is no doubt that the â€œculture of deathâ€ that Hamas has fostered would be increased exponentially should Hamas seize power in a post-Arafat coup.
From the American perspective, a Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority would mean a major Islamic victory, a new al Qaeda proxy in the heart of the Middle East, and a direct threat to America and American interests (not to mention Israel). The current US administration recognizes that both Israel and the United States are engaged in a common war against a common enemy that shares a common ideology of hatred for all things Western. Whether or not that fact would allow an American green light to Israel to â€œde-Islamifyâ€ the West Bank and Gaza remains to be seen. What is certain is that it would be foolish for America to hold Israel back as there are no ideological firewalls that separate Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Moslem Brotherhood and al Qaeda. They are all Islamic terror franchises and they mean to expel all Western influence from the Middle East.
Hamas has already declared that America is a target on its radar screen. On December 17, 2001, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad released a joint manifesto declaring that “Americans are the enemies of the Palestinian people [and] a target for future attacks.” The following day, Hamas leaders issued a statement declaring that “Americans [are] now considered legitimate targets as well as Israelis” (meaning that an Islamic Palestine would be a threat to both the United States and Israel).
This was followed in June 2002, when an official Hamas web site featured a chat-room discussion on murdering a group of fifteen American citizens. The chat-room participants discussed how best to kill the “American dogs,” covering such options as running them over, throwing a Molotov cocktail at their car, burning them in their cabin on the beach, poisoning them, or shooting them “as an example for others like them.” Such murders would make “Americans understand that they are not safe in Muslim countries.”
And in February 2003, Sheik Ahmed Yassin denounced the Bush administration’s disarming of Iraq by force as “a new crusade against the Muslim nation.” Yassin called for Muslims worldwide to “strike American interests … everywhere.” With that outburst, a top American policy analyst noted: â€œHamas followers have now been freed to kill more than Israelis. And they’re here.”
The rhetoric ended in early December 2003 when Palestinian-born Jamal Akkal, 23, living in Windsor, Ontario, Canada confessed to being a trained assassin for Hamas with orders to kill Israeli officials and Jews in Canada and the U.S. marking the first time Hamas had planned attacks in North America. Akkal admitted to Israeli authorities that Hamas had trained him in bomb making and the use of small arms. His assignment was to assassinate a high-ranking Israeli official during his visit to North America, to booby-trap cars that belonged to Israeli officials and diplomats and â€œto kill Jews.â€
The Consequences of an Islamic coup dâ€™etat
A coup dâ€™etat by Hamas in the post-Arafat era could represent the final phase of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Strange as it may seem, fulfillment of the dream of Hamas to seize control over the Palestinian Authority could also signal the beginning of its own demise. If the Bush administration truly holds states responsible for the terrorists they sponsor and has (to a great extent) assimilated Israelâ€™s war against terrorism into its own, there is a possibility that America would take the reins off the Israeli war machine and allow it to achieve in the West Bank and Gaza what America itself seeks to accomplish in Iraq (especially where the alternative is a new terrorist Islamic State in the Middle East).
Under an Arafat administration (for a host of reasons), Israel is being forced to endure the murder of its citizenry, the destruction of its economy, and the universal condemnation of its actions ranging from building a security fence to its incursions into the West Bank and Gaza in search of terrorists, arms factories, tunnels and katyusha rocket launchers. But, under an Islamic Palestinian administration dedicated to the expulsion of all Western influence from the area, there exists the possibility that the Bush administration might signal Israel to end Islamic influence in that area once and for all, especially given the failure of the Roadmap and the absence of any other reasonable alternatives.
How is this to be achieved? Suicide terrorists, though presented as ultimately insurmountable weapons, are really products of a system whose leaders value their lives, property, and reputation. Accordingly, it is the heads of the terrorist organizations who should be the main targets of attack, and not only the end products, the suicide terrorists. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a liberal Egyptian intellectual, once wrote: â€œWars, bad as they are, break empires, break dictators, and leave the ground clear for new systems to be created.” Real war is nasty business, but it has the dramatic effect of breaking new ground for a better future. Many times over, Israel has demonstrated its capability of waging â€œtotal warâ€, but it has been prevented from doing so on the West Bank and Gaza for many reasons, not the least of which relates to Americaâ€™s fear of what could follow Arafat. If an Islamic regime is to follow Arafatâ€™s eventual demise, real war becomes a distinct possibility.
Marwan Barghouti, the military architect of the current intifada (now in Israeli custody) has stated: â€œIâ€™m ready to make peace with Israel, but only after weâ€™ve militarily defeated Israel.â€ In fact, the exact reverse could occur. If Hamas assumes control over the Palestinian Authority, Israel (should America acquiesce) is capable of destroying the Islamic presence on the West Bank and Gaza totally and completely and, in the process, would â€œleave the ground clearâ€ (as Ibrahim has noted) for a new infrastructure to take root.
So how does one define â€œtotal defeat,â€ given that the vast majority of the Palestinian population continues to see Israel as â€œoccupied Palestine?â€ For this, we need to look no further than the American civil war experience. â€œNo terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted,” General Ulysses S. Grant famously retorted to requests for conditions from the trapped Confederate defenders of Fort Donelson in February 1862. Grant’s bluntness was repeated in Lincoln’s tough policy toward Lee’s troops after their surrender at Appomattox three years later. The result: The Confederacy was forced not simply to admit military defeat, but also to end slavery, to accept any and all terms of defeat without conditions, and to forego their dream of a separate confederate state. That laid the basis for the reconstruction of the South. As military historian Victor Davis Hanson noted in the Washington Post: â€œ(Historically), utter surrender was seen as the critical first step in dismantling our enemies’ infrastructure of terror. Only by eradicating the reasons that we had gone to war in the first place – whether slavery, fascism, Nazism or Japanese militarism – could real peace follow. In contrast, armistices, peace processes and negotiations are no substitute for unqualified surrender but often can achieve the opposite intent of prolonging the torture chambers and death squads by reviving and legitimizing a terminal regime. Once the verdict of the battlefield ensures the specter of victory, the wisest policy is always to demand, not ask for, capitulation that alone brings truth about concentration camps, secret police and the bureaucracy of terror. The death and imprisonment of the culpable parties involved saves lives and offers the hope of a humane reconstruction – instructing the conquered that America is as humane in peace as it was deadly in war.â€
Thus, war has certain clearly defined patterns, and these patterns provide some historical insight into the possible resolution of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. â€œVictory,â€ in traditional military terms, consists of imposing oneâ€™s will on an enemy by convincing it that its cause is hopeless. â€œDefeat,â€ in traditional military terms, consists of the losing side accepting the futility of its cause. That point is reached when it is rendered incapable of continuing the struggle – when its will to fight (psychologically) and its ability to wage war (militarily) are completely destroyed.
The history of the 20th century has shown that only overwhelming and absolute military force has achieved the kind of â€œtotal victoryâ€ to which Ibrahim refers. The world witnessed it with the fall of Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. These defeated nations were totally and unconditionally vanquished (both militarily and psychologically). Their regimes and infrastructures were dismantled; their capacity to wage further war was eliminated; weapons were seized; fascist militias were hunted down and destroyed; foreign aid poured in under the Marshall Plan; human and financial resources were channeled back into social and economic programs and services; their educational systems were transformed and modernized; a new judiciary was installed; new laws were promulgated along with new constitutions; new economic plans were proposed; those responsible for igniting the conflict were removed from power, tried, imprisoned and/or executed; a new moderate, progressive and indigenous leadership was installed; and a new system of governance was introduced and nurtured over the following decades – much like we are attempting to do in post-war Iraq today.
Similarly, in the wake of 9/11, America determined that it would accept nothing short of the total and unconditional defeat of those nations that spawned the terrorists. They did so by removing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein from power, replacing their respective power structures with a new indigenous leadership, and destroying their terrorist infrastructures. America recognized that unless the terror networks were totally and unconditionally vanquished, they would continue to threaten Western society.
But to understand the concept of “total victory,” one must understand what victory is not. Neither the Korean War (1953), nor the Iraq-Iran war (1988), nor the first Gulf War (1991) constituted “victory” in the traditional sense of the term since neither adversary was â€œdefeated.â€ No fundamental regime change occurred and their respective societies were left virtually untouched. And despite the fact that the Arabs may have lost numerous wars with Israel (1948-1949, 1956, 1967, 1970, 1973, 1982), the Middle East conflict has never been resolved because the warring Arab nations were never totally and unconditionally (that is: psychologically and militarily) vanquished by Israel.
The Lessons of History
In the case of a Palestinian Authority controlled by Islamic extremists, an Israeli onslaught would continue until the Palestinians recognize that all is lost; that their dream of destroying Israel is futile; and that there is no other alternative but to accept defeat. That would occur when the Palestinians recognize that an end to the horrors of war would yield greater dividends than allowing it to continue. Today, the Palestinians assume that things couldnâ€™t possibly get worse for them, but in a true war situation designed to destroy the Islamic movement in the area, Israel has the capacity to convince them otherwise – that things could and would become immeasurably worse. This would not be another Israeli incursion. It would involve a far lengthier stay designed to ensure that the swamp was entirely drained. In a strange twist of fate, victory (as opposed to stalemate) would free the Palestinian people and extend to them the same opportunities now found in Eastern Europe (which has since been freed of the burdens imposed by totalitarian communism). The quicker America and Israel come to understand this awful historical truth and take measures to defeat rather than to ignore or appease the Islamic fundamentalists on the West Bank and in Gaza, the quicker peace will come to this conflict.
In her video, made only days before her suicide attack, Reem al-Reyashi, in military fatigues and with a grenade launcher before her declared: ”G-d gave me the ability to be a mother of two children who I love so,” she said. ”But my wish to meet G-d in paradise is greater, so I decided to be a martyr for the sake of my people. I am convinced G-d will help and take care of my children.”
If Halevi is correct in his assessment, Hamasâ€™s ascension to power could mark the end of Islamic extremism on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the beginning of a new era for peace and stability in the immediate region. But this time, Israel will have a partner.
Under Israeli rule from 1967 to 1993, the West Bank’s economy was among the fastest growing in the world thanks to burgeoning commerce between Israelis and Palestinians. Where there had been not a single institution of higher learning, by the early 1990s there were seven universities in the West Bank. While billions of dollars in foreign aid have poured into PA coffers, employment and income have fallen.