[Marxism] Columnist sees gains for, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Jun 19 14:15:58 MDT 2008

Well, Kristof is on a different side in these matters, but its good to see
his estimate that those who are resisting US and Israeli domination are on
the rise in the region. I tend to think he is correct. I tend to think that
this is also true in Iraq, and that despite the gains that are constantly
being reported in largely unopposed "advances" against the Sadrists.
Fred Feldman

June 19, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Strengthening Extremists 

The yearlong siege of Gaza may soon end with the new cease-fire there,
marking the eclipse of one more American-backed Israeli policy that
backfired by strengthening extremists.

Here in Gaza, sulfurous with fumes from cars burning cooking grease because
the siege has made gasoline scarce, the entire last year of the blockade
feels not only morally bankrupt - a case of collective punishment - but also
counterproductive. The fragile new truce between Hamas and Israel just might
create a new opportunity to stabilize the Palestinian territories, but only
if we absorb the lessons of what has gone wrong.

Consider Adham Sharif, a 26-year-old man whose only child, a baby girl named
Mariam, had a tiny hole in her heart and needed surgery to repair it. Gaza
hospitals were unable to perform such an operation, but doctors said that
surgeons in Israel or in neighboring countries could save her.

In theory, there was an exception to the siege to let people out of Gaza in
medical emergencies. But Mr. Sharif could not get the Israeli permit for
Mariam to leave, and she died in November. "It's so hard," he told me. "You
see your child dying, and you can't save her."

Does Mr. Sharif blame Hamas as the cause of the blockade that cost his
daughter's life? "Of course not," he said. "I blame the ones who closed the
border: Israel. And America, its ally."

Now when he hears of extremists firing rockets at southern Israeli towns
like Sderot, Mr. Sharif has a warm feeling all over. 

When Hamas won democratic elections in Gaza and then seized full power a
year ago, there were no good choices for Israel and America. Hamas includes
terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists and ideologues, and it has cultivated
ties with Iran. It has decent governance by the region's devalued standards
- it is not particularly corrupt; it delivers social services efficiently,
and the streets are safe - but it runs a police state and alarms all its

Of all the bad choices, Israel chose perhaps the worst. Punishing everyone
in Gaza radicalized the population, cast Hamas as a victim, gave its
officials an excuse for economic failures and undermined the moderates who
are the best hope of both Israel and the Arab world.

If the U.S. and Israel had formed a Joint Commission to Support Hamas
Extremists and Bolster Iranian Influence, they could hardly have done a
better job. The episode is the latest evidence that hard-liners in Israel,
Palestine and America all reinforce each other. Arab terrorism led to the
rise of Israeli hawks and to two invasions of Lebanon. The first Israeli
invasion helped give birth to Hezbollah, and then the Israeli assaults on
Palestinian police helped nurture Hamas.

So while Israelis denounce Hezbollah and Hamas, they helped create them. And
while Palestinians denounce the separation barrier, their suicide bombings
built it. 

"Extremists need each other, support each other," noted Eyad el-Sarraj, a
prominent psychiatrist in Gaza. He laments that the siege of Gaza has
discredited pro-American voices: "Whoever is not going along with the U.S.
is a hero, even the crazy ones." 

The U.S. and Israel devoted their energies to punishing Hamas and didn't
work to make a success of our preferred interlocutors. So moderates like
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, now come across as weak,
irrelevant and ineffective, while Hamas emerges as the victor.

We should talk to Hamas, not because negotiations will necessarily get
anywhere, but because a failure to negotiate will necessarily get nowhere.

Israel's decision to block Gazans from studying abroad was particularly
shortsighted. Educating Gazans might help build a contingent of moderates,
but Israel has continued to block three Fulbright scholars from leaving for
the U.S.

"For Israel to have a better future, it should want neighbors with better
education," Zohair Abu Shaban, one of the Fulbright students, noted

So far, Hamas has outmaneuvered Israel and the United States. Opinion polls
this year show Hamas gaining over all in the West Bank and Gaza. And, when
we help Hamas, we inadvertently boost its backer, Iran.

Perhaps most depressing, large Palestinian majorities - more than before -
now favor terror attacks. A university student in Gaza, Rajaa Batrikhi, 20,
told me she has suffered so much from the siege that she relishes the rocket
attacks from Gaza on Israeli towns.

"I think it's good when we hit them with rockets," she said defiantly. "Our
rockets are nothing like the rockets they hit us with. At least they feel
the fear that we feel every day."

It's a credit to Israel that it was willing to negotiate indirectly with
Hamas, and with the truce, we now have a chance to break this downward
spiral. Let's stop bolstering Hamas. 

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog,
www.nytimes.com/ontheground, and join me on Facebook at

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