Sunday, January 29, 2006

In the wake of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian legislative elections, Washington is already under pressure to emulate the wrong-headed policies of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when American policy-makers labored to persuade Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization to say they recognized Israel’s right to exist.

After the PLO collaborated in Saddam Hussein’s brutal subjugation of Kuwait, and Saddam was defeated in the first Gulf war, the drumbeat of demands that the United States persuade Israel to negotiate with Mr. Arafat intensified. Israel eventually elected a government under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that was dovish enough to take the risk. The result was the 1993 Oslo Accords and the endless and naive “peace process” that followed: seven years of substantial Israeli political and territorial concessions to Mr. Arafat in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, in exchange for the PLO leader’s empty promises to end the conflict with Israel and to prevent Palestinian terrorism.

The process, seriously flawed to begin with, collapsed in the summer and fall of 2000, when Mr. Arafat rejected the generous compromise offered him at Camp David by President Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Then he went to war. Now, more than five years later, with Hamas having defeated Mr. Arafat’s old Fatah organization, there is a new drumbeat of demands that Washington court Hamas — in other words, that we repeat what failed.

President Bush’s initial response to Hamas’ victory was to urge Mr. Arafat’s successor as leader of the Fatah movement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to stay in office to work with Hamas. That’s the wrong way to go. In voting for Hamas candidates, the Palestinians made their decision and they must live with the consequences. There’s nothing to be gained by papering over these differences by encouraging an emasculated Mr. Abbas to stay on in a fraudulent “continuity.” Similarly, it makes no sense to go chasing after the likes of Hamas boss Mohammed Zohhar, to cajole him into making a meaningless statement laden with caveats about continuing “a ceasefire” with Israel — even as Hamas and its terrorist allies fire Qassam rockets into Israel and prepare for a new round of terrorist strikes against the Jewish state.

Washington should have contact of some kind with any government elected by the Palestinians — even a government mismanaged by Hamas. But such contact should be severely limited, and, as was the case under Fatah, aid should go only to nongovernmental organizations that support human rights and democratic reform. Hamas has received substantial aid from Iran and wealthy Saudi sheikhs, enabling its terrorist network and social-service operations to flourish. Washington and the European Union should never, ever, subsidize Mr. Zohhar and his ilk.

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