This is politics Gaza-style: Hamas and Fatah, in a tit for tat, throwing their rivals from buildings, and Hamas executing Fatah members in front of their wives and children. In the battle for Gaza, Hamas has won, routing Fatah from almost all of its strongholds in the brutish beginnings of what could be a wider civil war. Abba Eban’s famous statement that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity doesn’t quite capture it. The Palestinians take opportunity, surround it with gun-toting thugs, and blast away at it, until only a few deluded Europeans and State Department negotiators don’t realize it’s good and dead.
The Islamic radical group Hamas now controls Gaza, and it remains to be seen whether Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas can hold the West Bank. The Hamas takeover of Gaza is of the utmost importance. It means Iran has staked out yet more territory in the Middle East, and will embolden extremists around the region. It is another sign that the old-school secular nationalist radicalism of Fatah is in decline, pushed aside by the even more noxious radicalism of Hamas, the spawn of the Muslim Brotherhood. Israel will likely see stepped-up attacks from Gaza, which will become a terrorist training ground. And relatively moderate Arab governments have to fear the rising tide of Iranian-sponsored Islamists who will aim to topple them after they are through with Abbas.
The Arab governments certainly realize this. As one observer says, “There’s a coalition of fear, but not a coalition of action.” Instead of working to marginalize Hamas, the Saudis a few months ago brokered a power-sharing agreement between Abbas and the Islamic radicals that meant the PA president was coopted by Hamas rather than the other way around. Now, we see the bitter fruit of that deal. The United States must insist that the Arabs push Abbas — and support him — in cracking down hard on Hamas. Thursday, he dissolved the government and fired Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, steps in the right direction, but Abbas — whose fighters were marched out of a Fatah security building in Gaza in their underwear — has hardly been a pillar of strength.
Abbas has to make a choice: to finally turn his back on Palestinian rejectionism of Israel and realize the threat to his society is from within, from the Islamic radicals with the guns. Of course, this is a path the Palestinians have been resolutely unwilling to take. Fatah itself has a terror arm, the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, and remains committed to the destruction of Israel. The Palestinians are in love with a cult of death. Two Palestinian mothers — one of them nine months pregnant — were just intercepted by Israeli authorities on their way to perform a suicide bombing, as apt an illustration of the macabre mania gripping this society as possible.
Already, the Bush administration has been blamed for the budding civil war. It has supposedly ignored the Palestinians, creating the conditions for this outbreak of violence. At least this is a novel argument: Usually the U.S. is blamed when Palestinians kill Israelis (and the Israelis retaliate), not when Palestinians kill one another. Actually, the administration has been working to prop up the ineffectual Abbas. As for Hamas, no amount of aid or “engagement” would turn it from its maximalist goals. Where the administration can be faulted is in thinking a little over a year ago that an election featuring an armed terrorist group, in the form of Hamas, could be productive. Fundamentally, what is happening in Gaza is the Palestinians’ own tragedy, although it is one with far-reaching consequences.