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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 3, 2006

COMMENTARY
Hamas election pleases all hard-liners

By James P. Pinkerton

The Hamas election in the Palestinian territories was disturbing to many. But not to all. Some were happy extremely happy.

There's a concept in political science called "objective allies." That is, even people who hate each other can still find common ground by, for example, hating others even more. In the past century's Europe, the communists and fascists of Europe agreed on nothing, except that they both, from their respective extremes, hated the centrists. And so both Reds and Browns would be objective allies, as both sought to tear down moderate parties and governments.

So it is in the Middle East. The Hamas election spells the dead end of "the road map for peace." Such an end to negotiations seems to be fine with Hamas, but it's also fine with many Israelis. The "no-negotiations" hard-liners on both sides have been objective allies all along.

Uri Avnery, a longtime observer from the left end of Israeli politics, wrote last week: "If Ariel Sharon had not been in a deep coma, he would have jumped out of his bed for joy. The Hamas victory fulfills his most ardent hopes." The Israeli prime minister became something of a moderate in his country's politics only because all but the hawkiest hawks concluded that many of the settlements were not viable in the era of suicide bombing.

So the hawks, such as Sharon, moved to the center. But their basic disdain for the Palestinians never changed. Avnery says that what Sharon & Co. wanted was to avoid dealing with the Palestinians: "Such negotiations would inevitably have led to a situation that would have compelled him to give up almost all of the West Bank. Sharon had no intention of doing so. He wanted to annex about half of the territory." And in the current climate, with Hamas ruling the roost, nobody expects the Israelis to sit down and talk with people sworn to exterminate them.

But, of course, if the Israelis unilaterally demarcate the border, bypass any peace treaty and complete their big wall through lands the Palestinians claim, such actions will reinforce Israel's objective allies on the Palestinian side. That is, the position of Hamas will be strengthened further, at the expense of Palestinian moderates such as Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas will say that Israel's "unilateral" actions concerning its border demonstrate the basic point Hamas has been preaching all along: The Israelis are an implacable and permanent enemy, and moderates such as Abbas have been fools even to bother talking to the Israelis or to the Americans.

So what will happen then? Do the hard-line "objective allies" have any prospects for getting along? About 5 million Jews live in Israel, plus another million Arabs who hold Israeli citizenship and uncertain loyalty. Then there are the 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who enjoy the mostly-theoretical support from 300 million Arabs worldwide. Those two groups, Jews and Arabs, claim the same territory. The rest of the world is closely involved. Many in the West support Israel, many in the Third World support the Palestinians. And everyone wants Mideast oil.

In such a tortuous environment, most likely the best we can hope for is a cold war. But in the meantime, the United States might reflect on its own policies toward the Mideast, which have put democracy at the center of our foreign policy agenda. Is America really better off because the Palestinians had this election, which undermined the last of Palestinian moderation?

Conservative analyst Daniel Pipes offered this simple piece of advice to Americans: "Slow down: Take heed that an impatience to move the Middle East to democracy is consistently backfiring by bringing our most deadly enemies to power." It's kind of hard to argue with Pipes on this one.

James P. Pinkerton is a columnist for Newsday.