Last week, the terrorist group Hamas scored a breathtaking victory in the Palestinian Authority (PA) parliamentary elections, winning a solid majority of seats–almost twice as many as the previously ruling Fatah faction–in the chamber. Understandably, this development has sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East that have reverberated worldwide, calling into question what has until now been the international community’s conventional wisdom about how to make peace between Israel and the hostile forces that continue to seek the violent end of the Jewish state.
Ever since it was unrolled by President George W. Bush in 2003, the famous “road map” calls for action against “individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.” One such group whose members are supposed to be arrested and whose activities are to be disrupted, Hamas, has now been called upon to form the very government that is supposed to take action against Hamas–all of which certainly renders the roadmap complicated, to say the least. This is as if the American people elected, say, the Ku Klux Klan to solve race problems. (Skeptics are invited to read Hamas’s blatantly anti-Semitic “Covenant,” which we quoted from in our pre-election contribution to NRO. On the morrow of the terrorist group’s electoral triumph, its leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar affirmed that Hamas “would not change a single word” of its covenant calling for the destruction of Israel and pledged that “Hamas will not turn into just a political party. Hamas plays in all fields. It plays in the field of resistance.”)
Who’s Responsible Here?
How did it come about that a group listed as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union finds itself the victor in a poll that the so-called Quartet (the U.S., E.U., Russia, and the United Nations) hailed as “free, fair, and secure”? While a lot of the responsibility is borne by the hopelessly incompetent and corrupt Fatah leadership which, despite being the recipient of billions of dollars of foreign aid since the Oslo Agreement, has yet to alleviate the misery in so much as one of the town under its control, some of the blame must placed on the international community, some on Washington.
Last year, in Lebanon, to Israel’s north, political and sectarian bickering over cabinet posts delayed for months the unveiling of the country’s first elected government since Syria’s military was forced to withdraw in early 2005–much to the chagrin of hundreds of thousands who poured into the streets of Beirut in Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution.”. After lengthy and Byzantine negotiations, Prime Minister-designate Fouad Siniora finally announced the appointment of twenty-four ministers. For the first time, the cabinet contained representatives of the Shia group Hezbollah, a “specially designated terrorist group” according to Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, and other Western democracies, as well as our own State department.
Hezbollah has been the de facto (totalitarian) government in southern Lebanon for years. Allied with, but operating largely outside the control of, Lebanon’s longtime occupier, Syria, Hezbollah built villages, operated schools, and told people how to vote in southern Lebanon before and after the Syrian withdrawal. In the elections, exploiting its claim of having driven Israeli forces out of southern Lebanon in 2000, as well as its not inconsiderable powers of intimidation, Hezbollah swept up the votes of southern Shiites, winning fourteen parliamentary seats. In alliance with Amal, another Shia party, Hezbollah finished with indirect control of thirty-five seats, making it the second largest group in the Lebanese parliament. From this position of strength, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah demanded at least two cabinet posts, including that of foreign minister. This wish was granted. Hezbollah parliamentarian Mohammed Fneish received the energy ministry, while Hezbollah-backed “independent” Shiite Fawzi Salukh was given the foreign ministry, and another Shiite from the Hezbollah-Amal group, Tarad Hamadeh, was appointed labor minister. Fneish is a veteran of Hezbollah’s terrorist campaign who won notoriety in 1997 for holding hostage the remains of Israeli commandos killed in action, parceling their body parts out to Amal and the Lebanese military for “safekeeping” until Israel to agreed to release a number of imprisoned terrorists. Nor has Fneish’s subsequent entrance into the political realm moderated his views: in a March 2004 interview, for example, he continued to describe the existence of Israel as “immoral and illegitimate.”
The prospect of terrorists sitting in any government ought to send shivers down the backs of free peoples. Not surprisingly, however, some hailed Hezbollah’s participation in the Lebanese government as “progress.” For example, an editorial in The Economist, headlined “Mainstreaming Terrorists,” argued that “turning these organizations into solid citizens would strike a heavy blow against al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism in general.” Likely, similar bromides will soon be published apropos Hamas in the PA.
“The A-Team of Terrorists”
The Economist’s rosy predictions are hard to square with the opinions of those familiar with the “Party of God.” Testifying before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on February 24, 2004, then CIA Director Tenet warned that Hezbollah has an extensive network of operatives on American soil and an “ongoing capability to launch terrorist attacks within the United States.” Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage observed that “Hezbollah may be the ‘A-Team of Terrorists,’ and maybe al-Qaeda is actually the ‘B’ team.”
Lest the assessments of Tenet and Armitage surprise the reader, recall that, until 9/11, Hezbollah had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group. Since its 1982 founding, under Iranian sponsorship, Hezbollah defined the scope of its operations to include abducting citizens of France, Germany, Great Britain, and South Korea, as well as Americans, for political and economic gain. Members of the organization hijacked Air France, TWA, and Kuwait Airways flights in the mid-1980s. In September 1992, at the behest of Iranian intelligence, Hezbollah members killed four senior members of the opposition Kurdistan Democratic Party at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin. In March 1994, a car bomb hit the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people, in an attack Argentine investigators concluded was carried out by Hezbollah. Four months later, a Hezbollah suicide bomber drove a van carrying 600 pounds of explosives into a Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 and wounding more than 300. Yet another attack, planned for March 1994 at the Israeli mission in Bangkok, failed only because a Hezbollah truck loaded with explosives collided with another vehicle in the Thai city’s rush hour.
Post-9/11, not only has Hezbollah failed to reform, it has arguably intensified its efforts. Consider:
‐The Katyusha rockets launched at American ships and at the neighboring town of Eilat, Israel from the Jordanian port of Aqaba, on August 19, were likely shipped to that country by Hezbollah, which has cornered the world market on Katyushas.
Hezbollah remains as murderous as al Qaeda. Yet, unlike al Qaeda chieftains, who are on the run, Hezbollah’s leaders remain at large and are now attending meetings with their Western counterparts.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Beirut Daily Star during her visit to Lebanon during the formative period for the government that included Hezbollah, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Dibble reaffirmed Hezbollah’s designation as a terrorist organization. However, when asked to comment on the prospect of Hezbollah members joining the Lebanese cabinet, Dibble was stunningly ambivalent: “I don’t know if it will help or hinder. It’s something within the Lebanese context that obviously needs to be worked out among the various players in Lebanon.”
Dibble’s boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, evidently shared this hands-off perspective with regard to the composition of the Lebanese cabinet. During her tour of the Middle East, Rice made a surprise call on the new Lebanese government on July 22. While the secretary insisted that “our views of Hezbollah have not changed and our policy towards Hezbollah has not changed,” she added that the presence of the terrorist group’s representatives in the government would not constitute an obstacle to Washington’s “very good cooperation” with the new regime.
One result of this “very good cooperation” is now evident: Palestinians have felt authorized to vote for a vile, racist, terrorist group. After all, America imposes no penalty on such behavior. Unfortunately for those Palestinian and Israeli citizens (and their Lebanese neighbors) who want to go about their lives in peace, America’s ambiguous messages to Hezbollah effectively signaled a subtle but significant willingness to deal with governments that contain unreconstructed terrorist representatives.
Last year, the American taxpayers provided over a quarter of a billion dollars of assistance to the PA areas. While most of this was channeled through non-governmental organizations as well as the U.N., some of it went directly to the PA government, making up over a fifth of its budget. These sums would be a very good place to start sending a new signal.
Until now, President Bush’s stance against terrorists has been unyielding and courageous. He needs to remind members of his administration that this means no welcome mats for the barbarians at the gates.
–Michael I. Krauss, who just returned from Israel, is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. J. Peter Pham is director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. Both are academic fellows of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and visited Israel for the FDD earlier last year.