Regardless of the outcome of Israel’s barbaric “Operation Cast Lead,” one thing is certain: It is high time for Hamas to step down as keeper of Gaza.
People will object and remind me that the movement was democratically elected. My answer to that is yes, but Hamas also happens to be incompetent. Most of us in the Middle East still believe that incompetence is a trait that is exclusive to Arab dictators. However modern history has proven that democracy and incompetent governance aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, George W. Bush and Mikheil Saakashvili were both democratically elected and yet they are responsible for disastrous wars.
Hamas has not mastered the art of politics. As the veteran British journalist Robert Fisk recently noted in The Independent, nor does the movement have the military discipline of Lebanon’s Hizbullah. Hamas also missed the opportunity of a reconciliation with Fatah brokered by the Saudi King Abdullah last year, and it didn’t mend that relationship when this might have allowed it to take partial control of the vital Rafah crossing with Egypt.
Then there is the audacity of Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Hamas political bureau, who currently resides in Syria. Soon after the Gaza attack began, he called for the launch of a third intifada, even as his own personal security was being increased by the Syrian regime. Does Meshaal believe that his life is more important than that of the scores of dying, innocent Palestinians in Gaza who he is responsible for as the representative of a supposedly democratically elected party? Meshaal can wake up in tranquil Damascus, turn on the television set, read the newspaper and have breakfast with his wife and seven children, then he can say live on Al-Jazeera – where else? – that “we want armed resistance, a military uprising to face the enemy.” Couldn’t he smuggle himself into Gaza to be with his resistance fighters?
This resistance has for many years been funded by donations from wealthy Arabs in the Gulf, among others, to cover an annual budget that the Council on Foreign Relations has estimated at $70 million. Yet Hamas has hardly managed to amass a significant arsenal or military capabilities thanks to this money. All the movement really has to show for its income, and after all this time, is an arsenal basically of long-range firecrackers whose launch against neighboring towns in Israel has done more damage to Hamas’ own image than to Israeli infrastructure. Meshaal, who declared that the resistance “has lost very few people” as the body count approached 434, displayed the same disdain for human life as Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who said in Paris last week that there was “no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
Many thought that Gaza and the West Bank were inseparable entities until Hamas’ bloody takeover of Gaza in summer 2007 undermined that promise. The movement’s 18-month rule has been marred by lawlessness, extrajudicial public killings, and gang warfare reminiscent of Somalia.
Time magazine reported on the violence that followed the takeover, observing that “[g]angs have tossed enemies alive off 15-story buildings, shot one another’s children and burst into hospitals to finish off wounded foes lying helplessly in bed.” Recently, Taghreed El-Khodary of The New York Times reported that militants in civilian clothing had again resorted to killing wounded former inmates of Gaza’s central jail who were accused of collaboration with Israel. These alleged collaborators were executed in public even though Palestinian human rights groups repeatedly claimed that “most of these people are completely innocent.” Hamas seemed to be either unable or unwilling to stop these extrajudicial executions.
On the first anniversary of Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, reporters from The Christian Science Monitor found a lack of medicines in hospitals, as well as a lack of clean drinking water in the territory and raw sewage streaming into the sea. And this wasn’t because Hamas’ dignity prevented it from meeting with the enemy. Hamas’ propaganda machine around the Arab world mysteriously failed to report on meetings between some of its members and Israeli representatives. For example, according to the BBC, in early 2006 the Hamas-affiliated acting mayor of the West Bank town of Qalqilya met for 90 minutes with an official from the Israeli state electricity company in order to sort out the town’s electricity needs. The Palestinian official, Hashem Masri, told the station: “It was civil, without any problem between him and I.”
By any standards Hamas has failed. It has failed in peace, it has failed in governance, and it is failing in war. In addition to Hamas’ ambiguous political agenda, the movement’s goal seems to be resistance for the sake of resistance, where it is the journey that ends up being the destination. It is time for Khaled Meshaal to step down before he causes even more damage to the Palestinian cause. He must allow more competent leaders to emerge.
This article was originally published in The Daily Star Lebanon.