Michael Oren: Hamas Has Won. What's Next?

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Mr. Oren, senior fellow at the Shalem center in Jerusalem, is author of "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East" (Oxford, 2002).]

Hamas's landslide victory in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza general elections is being touted by the Western media as a turning point in the Palestinians' relationship with Israel and in the search for an Israeli-Palestinian peace. In fact, Hamas's triumph will probably have few, if any, ramifications for Israel's domestic political scene or its struggle against terror, and virtually no impact on the diplomatic process. For the Palestinians, by contrast, and for the Arab world generally, the consequences promise to be long-lasting and, perhaps, profound.

A solid majority of Israelis accept that they cannot continue to occupy the West Bank and Gaza without endangering the moral and demographic foundations upon which the Jewish state is built. That same majority would prefer to negotiate with a freely elected Palestinian leadership toward the creation of a Palestinian state that would live side-by-side with Israel in a relationship of mutual and permanent recognition. In the wake of President Mahmoud Abbas's failure to disarm and dismantle terrorist organizations, however, most Israelis internalized the conclusion that no Palestinian leadership was capable of meeting the minimum requirements for peace. Consequently, these same Israelis have resolved to preserve their national interests by supporting the Kadimah party -- which, in the absence of peace talks, advocates drawing Israel's borders unilaterally.

The advent of a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority will not alter these basic Israeli conclusions. Under Fatah, the PA expressed a willingness to renew the peace process but took none of the antiterror measures necessary to reactivate the talks. Hamas does not want peace talks, and will do everything to ensure that such discussions do not take place. In either case, Israel, in order to ensure its vital interests, will have to act unilaterally. There is no doubt that the Hamas victory will enable the right-wing Likud to point out the folly of the Gaza withdrawal and the danger of future unilateral pullbacks. Nevertheless, the outcome of the elections has confirmed Israeli doubts about the Palestinians' willingness to negotiate, and will more probably reinforce popular support for unilateral moves.

With little impact on Israeli politics, Hamas's victory is also unlikely to effect major changes in Israeli security policies. Even before the elections, Israeli forces remained on constant alert and were actively engaged in combating the terror organizations which the PA refused to neutralize. The presence of a Hamas government in Ramallah will do little to alter the situation. There has never been a shortage of volunteers for suicide-bombers or the ordinance necessary for arming them, and augmented state support for terror will not increase the number of attempted attacks. Israel has already developed tactics for fighting terror, and will continue to apply them with success. Indeed, the legitimacy which the Palestinians have freely granted terror by voting for Hamas will facilitate Israel's efforts to defend itself. The PA will no longer be able to claim ignorance of terror operations, and Israel can better justify pre-emptive and retaliatory actions before the world....

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