- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

When a revolutionary movement is transformed from a resistance group into a legitimate government having won the trust of the people through democratic elections, with that trust comes the far greater responsibility of running the affairs of state. It’s a heavy task that demands bold initiative — comparable to the rite of passage of a teenager into adulthood.

As a teenager, one is permitted mistakes every now and then. But with adulthood come new responsibilities and challenges. That is the situation Hamas finds itself in today.

As long as the Islamic movement was the opposition, the active resistance, like a teenager, was expected to err. But since it won the majority vote in the last legislative elections, Hamas has suddenly found itself propelled into the world of governance and leadership — a very different world from the one it was born into and became used to — and is expected to behave as such.

Hamas no longer is responsible for managing a few dozen mosques, schools and clinics in Gaza. Today, the Hamas leadership is directly responsible for the lives and the well-being of the entire population of Gaza and the West Bank. It’s a rude awakening.

To complicate matters further, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority find themselves in a deep financial crisis after being chastised by the European Union and the United States for continuing to refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and for refusing to reject terrorism.

Adding to their financial woes is the withholding of about $50 million Israel levies on behalf of the PA in import duties collected monthly. The result is the new Hamas-led government is unable to meet the payroll of its 140,000 state employees. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have stepped in to help with offers of several tens of millions of dollars each to bail out Hamas. It has solved the problem for this month. They may well repeat their generous gesture once, twice or 10 more times, but this is by no means a long-term solution.

What Hamas needs, what the PA needs, what Israel needs, indeed what the whole region needs, is a long-term solution that will finally pull the Middle East out of this infernal cycle of never-ending violence.

Despite its financial troubles, Hamas is, for the moment, in power, having won the majority vote. This gives the Islamic group a legitimate popular mandate. As such, Hamas can negotiate from strength, giving it the opportunity of going down in history as the party that revives the dead peace process and, in so doing, as the party that extricated the Palestinian people from decades of misery and conflict.

Alternatively, Hamas can continue to play the role of the teenager, in which case as soon as the honeymoon period ends — and that will come about far sooner than it expects once hardships brought about by the new financial crunch begins to crystallize — it will be remembered as the party that dragged the Palestinians deeper into the abyss.

Let Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist, let it renounce terrorism, let it embrace the peace process. Let it place the ball in Israel’s court.

It takes great courage to move toward peace after being stuck in decades of hate. To be able to do so — and succeed — one must be in a position of strength. Hamas finds itself in that position today. That will change once the Palestinian people realize the political impasse translates as many more years of lean hardship.

These are by no means easy changes for Hamas. These difficulties, however, are part of the natural growing process of a revolutionary movement that matures enough to make the lateral move from a guerrilla group to a responsible government.

Yasser Arafat, the long-time leader of the Palestinian resistance, failed to make that transition from revolutionary leader to statesman, and for that, both he and the Palestinian people suffered greatly. Arafat knew how to be a resistance chief. He excelled at it. He lived for it and knew how to manipulate the various factions within the Palestine Liberation Organization to his advantage. Arafat was a master at that game.

But when it came to diplomacy, he failed drastically. He should have retired and gone on to become the father of the nation. Instead… well, we know the rest. Hamas should learn from his mistakes.

Claude Salhani is international editor and a political analyst with United Press International. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service Partners in Humanity.

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