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After Hamas

Robert Farley writes about the strategic logic of the Gaza standoff:

The strategic aims seem clear; Hamas wished to provoke an Israeli attack in anticipation that the reaction will help Hamas seize control of the West Bank. Israel wants to damage Hamas’ state infrastructure, and thus apply enough pain to the Palestinians that they move back towards Abbas, and incidentally give Kadima a chance to win the upcoming elections. Although Egypt and Abbas seem to be on board with the Israeli plan, I know which way I’m betting; people rarely respond to bombing by picking the more moderate option. I’m guessing that Hamas comes out of this stronger than before, although of course the Egyptian reaction could change things a bit by affecting Hamas logistical situation. Even then, though, the policy of the Egyptian government can be quite different than the actual behavior of the Egyptian border guards and inspectors who monitor commerce with Gaza.

It’s important to recall that the rise of Hamas is, in part, the result of a very successful Israeli effort to undermine the authority and infrastructure of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. Israel interpreted the collapse of the Camp David talks as indicating that Yasser Arafat and his movement were not reasonable negotiating partners and that the whole enterprise of trying to deal with them had been a mistake. So they spent years — with the support and at times encouragement of the Bush administration — trying to weaken their hold on the Palestinian people and the Palestinian territories in hopes that this would bring to power some kind of hazily defined quisling entity that would be more accommodating. And they succeeded in the undermining. Why, exactly, the Israeli and American governments thought the likely upshot of success would be a more accommodating alternative rather than Hamas I couldn’t quite say. But that’s what they thought and they were wrong.

Similarly, one has to contemplate the possibility that Israeli efforts at disempowering Hamas won’t so much fail as suffer “catastrophic success” as the area is taken over by a Palestinian branch of al-Qaeda. I’m not sure that would be worse for Israel (probably would) but it would definitely be worse for the United States of America.

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