Monday, June 25, 2007

Damned if we engage with Hamas, damned if we don't

Lately, it has become fashionable to argue, as Jonathan Freedland does, that by supporting Fatah and shunning Hamas, the West is only further radicalising the Palestinians. This is all based on the assumption that the alternative scenario, engaging Hamas is a better idea. It isn't.

There are many who like to fantasise that Hamas are some kind of Palestinian Sinn Fein: Negotiate with them the argument goes, and in a few years time, Hamas and the Israeli Prime Minister will be shaking hands on the White House lawn. If Hamas were a secular terrorist movement like Sinn Fein/IRA, that might be true, but here were dealing with people whose only aspiration is an Islamist state. Hamas are more interested in paradise in the next world than the wellbeing of their fellow citizens in this one. They are quite literally living on another planet.

There is some truth in what Jonathan Freedland says: Many in the Arab world will indeed look suspiciously at any regime the West supports...
"...the more generous the west is to Abbas, the more his credibility will be destroyed. Every dollar or euro he takes will confirm him as the lackey of foreign powers, casting him alongside Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Nuri al-Maliki of Iraq and Fuad Siniora of Lebanon as a mere western proxy. Each bouquet from Israel will tarnish him further, establishing him as the servant of the enemy. Already the Arab press is comparing Abbas with Antoine Lahad, the strongman whose hated South Lebanon Army served as Israel's policeman..."
But that doesn't make it wrong to support the Lebanese, Iraqi or Afghan governments. It just means that those governments will have to work hard to win their voters trust. Would Jonathan Freedland prefer the alternative? Should we let Lebanon fall to Hezbollah? Or Afghanistan fall to the Taliban? It doesn't bear thinking about.