Monday, April 17, 2006

Punishing Hamas

A suicide bomber has struck in Israel, killing 9 people at a fast food restaurant in Tel Aviv. It's the deadliest attack in more than a year, and is the first attack since Hamas took over the Palestinian legislature almost 3 weeks ago. The attack was claimed by Islamic Jihad, but Hamas called the attack a legitimate response to Israeli aggression, saying "we think that this operation ... is a direct result of the policy of the occupation and the brutal aggression and siege committed against our people," and "the Israeli side must feel what the Palestinian feels, and the Palestinian defends himself as much as he can." Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah condemned the attack, calling it a terrorist attack.

So, what should Israel do in response? The answer: Strike at Hamas. Hamas is now the legitimately-elected leader of the Palestinian government. A government, in order to enjoy sovereignty, must possess a monopoly of violence within its borders. The existence of rival militias and armed groups is a fundamental challenge to the sovereignty of the Palestinian government. Both Yasir Arafat and Abbas refused to take on the militias and terorrist groups, and were unable to sufficiently control the political situation within the West Bank and Gaza. Now, Hamas seems to be in the same position. Hamas bears responsibility; if it wants to govern, it must bear the burden of governance. Furthermore, the situation as it stands now allows Islamic Jihad to strike at Israel, while Hamas washes its hands claiming "it wasn't us."

Israel needs demand that Hamas take action against Islamic Jihad, and be prepared to strike at Hamas of no such action is forthcoming. Hamas leaders and assets are now in the open as it tries to govern the Palestinian territories. Hamas may be observing the cease-fire, but now it needs to step up and assume the mantle of leadership. It can start by cracking down on the armed militias and rivial organizations, such as Islamic Jihad. If Hamas refuses to act, such attacks are, in essence, acts of war that demand military responses. If Hamas chooses not to behave as a responsible government and partner in the peace process, Israel must resume the targeted killing of Hamas leaders and officials, as well as continue the unilateral separation process that is underway. If there is no legitimate peace partner, Israel will simply force the issue and create a fait accompli on the ground. Hamas has an opportunity to demonstrate that it can govern. Let's hope it takes it.

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