Friday, June 09, 2006

Hamas Is Getting Nervous

In the wake of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' threat to call a referendum on the questions of recognizing and negotiating with Israel, Hamas seems to be getting nervous that its hard-line position won't be so popular. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has called on Abbas to postpone, if not drop, the call for a popular vote on the so-called "prisoners' plan". The ostensible reason is to protest the Israeli killing of Jamal Abu Samhadana, a leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) militant group who had also been appointed by Hamas to serve as a senior security chief.

It's a bit tough to swallow this justification. Hamas is very likely scared that the Palestinian people, tired of the abject poverty currently being exacerbated by the funding cut-off, will reject the Hamas platform of no recognition or direct negotiation. The referendum would be the first opportunity for the Palestinian people to directly register their opinion on the matter, and most opinion polls indicate strong support for the proposal. And, to make matters worse for Hamas, al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, also weighed into the referendum debate on Hamas's side, urging Palestinians to reject the proposal.

Hamas came into to office, most likely, not due to its position on Israel, but for its ability to provide social services to the people, where the PLO/PA had failed, and for its reputation for honesty and uncorruptability. However, the consequences of that decision has been nothing short of disastrous for the Palestinian people. It's time for the Palestinian people to speak up and let their leaders, the Israelis, and the world, know what they want. I'm fairly certain they know what's in their own best interest.

UPDATE: In response to the Israeli killing of Abu Samhanada, members of the PRC launched rockets into Israel, which prompted a relaliatory Israeli strike. The Israeli strike seems to have targeted a beach, killing 10 Palestinians, including 3 children. In response, Hamas has announced that it will no longer observe the 16 month old cease-fire. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, also the leader of Hamas, called the attacks a war crime, Palestinian President Abbas called them "a bloody massacre," and Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri announced that Hamas would resume attacks against Israel.

The Israeli Army is investigating the attacks, and the Chief of Israeli Southern Command seemed to hint that the deaths were either accidental, or not the fault of Israel, saying "[Israel is] exploring two possibilities -- a wrongly aimed artillery shell or an independent incident we were not involved in." Either way, however, Hamas is likely going to learn a tough lesson. It's one thing to exist as a shadowy organization, striking out at Israel. It's another thing to try to carry on the armed struggle at the same time as governing a state. Hamas now has "hard" targets: government buildings, legislators, officials who must be out in public and have their whereabouts known, etc. Israel's target set is now much larger and Hamas is much more vulnerable. Resuming the armed struggle against Israel may force Hamas to give up its political goals, and its not clear that Hamas will be willing to do so.

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