- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Contrary to a widespread misconception, Adolf Hitler did not gain power in 1933 in Germany as a result of an election victory — in the elections held that year the Nazi Party actually lost 2 million votes. But joining a coalition with other, more moderate parties, Hitler and his henchmen soon subverted the new government and grabbed the absolute power he had sought all along. Though history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, one shouldn’t ignore the lessons that can be learned from it. One important lesson is that whenever a coalition is formed between moderates and anti-democratic extremists, it is only a matter of time until the extremists take over.

This is what’s probably going to happen soon on the Palestinian political scene, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas terrorists have announced the imminent formation of a National Unity Government. Though it would be going too far to call Mr. Abbas’ Fatah movement “moderate” or “democratic,” there still is some difference, at least outwardly, between it and Hamas, whose declared aim is the destruction of Israel (as well as Jordan), replacing it with a jihadist, fundamentalist state as part of an Islamist caliphate in the broader Middle East.

Contrary to Hitler, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, having received a majority in the Palestinian elections early this year, on the face of it didn’t need a coalition partner to set up shop. But it soon became clear to him, as it did to Hitler 73 years ago, that standing alone, at least at this stage, the Hamas government might not survive without achieving a measure of international legitimacy — and most importantly, international financial aid to avert total bankruptcy. Not that Hamas cared very much for the lot of the unfortunate Palestinians in Gaza whose economic situation has gone from bad to worse since Hamas’ election victory. But in order to maintain its hold on power and gain the breathing-space, it needs to prepare for the next round against Israel (as well as against its political enemies in the Palestinian camp) a national unity government with outwardly moderate Mr. Abbas perfectly serves its purpose.

Thus, Mr. Abbas and Hamas have a communality of interests: Hamas needs Mr. Abbas as a temporary facade for the world — while the latter is making a Faustian deal in order to survive politically as president of the Palestinian Authority. Their immediate aim is, of course, the lifting of the present restrictions on international aid, and though as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said, the American position is that “it’s hard to have a partner for peace if you don’t accept the right of the other partner [i.e. Israel] to exist ? [or] if you do not renounce violence,” Mr. Abbas is going this week to America, where he will meet with President Bush to persuade the administration to change its position.

The European Union (though not all of its members) in the meantime seems already to be shifting toward an “ostrich policy” — others would call it a “Munich policy” — mood. So, we had the head of the European Union welcoming the formation of the Palestinian Unity Government, and some European officials greeting it as a possible breakthrough, “potentially allowing for increased aid.”

Not that Hamas has actually renounced terror and violence. On the contrary, it had engineered the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, while the launching of Qassam rockets on Israeli towns and kibbutzim goes on unimpeded. But some who prefer to deceive themselves as well as others want the world to believe that the new Palestinian government, by accepting the so-called Saudi peace initiative (adopted in 2001 at an Arab leaders’ conference held in Beirut), Hamas would implicitly recognize Israel’s right to exist and thus comply with the demands of the international community in this respect.

Nothing could be further from the truth: Not only has Hamas’ official spokesman announced that the organization would “never” recognize the Jewish state, but the above-mentioned Beirut plan itself contains conditions, such as the right of Arab refugees to “return” to Israel and Israel having to give up all the land beyond the vulnerable pre-1967 temporary armistice-line — which would endanger its security and ultimate survival in the long run. Even if this were not the case, the matter of “recognition,” as experience has shown, is highly flexible in Palestinian eyes — when convenient, recognition is acknowledged, only to be forgotten when circumstances change.

While Mr. Abbas will now embark on a flurry of diplomatic activity to convince the world that the new Palestinian unity government isn’t the damaged goods it is — dealing with it, basically on its own terms, the international community would irresponsibly extend a helping hand to a government headed by Hamas, which has not changed any of its jihadist and annihilative aims against Israel.

Zalman Shoval served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 1990-1993 and from 1998-2000.

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