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by Barry Rubin


There's good news at last about Palestinian politics! Hamas has not appointed any suicide bombers to its Palestinian Authority (PA) cabinet!

Of course, the joke is that the only reason is that they are dead. The new Hamas cabinet is hardline politically, whether or not it has a half-dozen professors. Those who run terror organizations stick with the "military" side of things. Hardly anyone in Yasir Arafat's cabinets ever had even a slight direct connection with terrorism while, of course, they had supported it for decades.

All the Hamas ministers advocate and applaud the deliberate killing of Israeli civilians and continue to do so. Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniya, for example, told interviewers he has never personally killed Israelis. No, he just ran the operations of Sheikh Yasin who was the leading advocate of Hamas terrorism.

Another question is whether Europeans will define Hamas as moderate enough to receive economic or diplomatic help. Evidence is conflicting. A lot of European leaders are determined to take their anti-terrorism rhetoric seriously and not to let Hamas off easily. Yet the EU's $78 million emergency check, supposedly to fund the PA's payroll before Hamas took over, will now be handed to the new government.

It is vital to remember that the only reason the PA receives any international aid at all is because of the commitments it made in the 1993 "Oslo" agreement with Israel, including preventing terrorism, ending anti-Israel incitement, and making peace. It violated all those pledges. But while the Fatah-led PA pretended to comply, the Hamas regime openly rejects all these principles. Why should it get a single penny?

The Western debate on Hamas reminds me of a scene from a satirical film on World War Two, "How I Won the War." A captured British lieutenant, befriended by a German officer, asks his new buddy whether he has killed any Jews."

Quite a few," the man answers. "What do you have to say to that?"

The lieutenant replied, "Well, I try to find the good in everybody."

But the most interesting question is what the Hamas regime will do. The top three cabinet selections provide clues: --Mahmud Zahar as foreign minister is an open extremist, showing Hamas will spend its time cultivating Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia rather than moderation to win over the West.

--Omar Abdel Razik as finance minister has academic credentials and will try to present a pragmatic, honest face to squeeze out Western aid money.

--Said Siam as interior minister was picked to make the Fatah people who run the security forces feel comfortable. But they still won't give up their jobs and guns to Hamas replacements!

This leaves three critical issues:

--Where will money come from and what will Hamas do when it doesn't have enough? Whatever aid the PA receives, its overall income is going to fall. (Incidentally, one reason the PA has so little money is that it collects no taxes from its own people, a luxury never mentioned by those bemoaning the PA's poverty.)

Certainly, the PA cannot conduct development projects, though it did very little even at the peak of international aid. Most money went to funding violence, lining corrupt officials' pockets, and paying salaries as a way of buying support. Actually, where cutting aid will be really effective is be blocking Hamas from hiring thousands of its militants as internationally subsidized terrorists, teachers, officially appointed clerics, or media workers paid by Western taxpayers to commit violence and spread anti-Jewish hate.

--To what extent will violence break out among Palestinians? Almost daily, Fatah gunmen attack the PA demanding jobs and pay-offs. If they are ready to attack a Fatah-dominated PA how much more will they do so to a Hamas-led one denying their demands? Certainly, there will be some blame on the West for cut ting back funds, but Fatah members are going to be far angrier at Hamas for being in power and following a policy that denies them loot.

This means anarchy and internal violence though stopping short of civil war. The only way Hamas can impose real order is to suppress Fatah and it will not do so. Thus, social conditions are unlikely to improve under Hamas. The same applies to corruption. Will Hamas throw Fatah officials in jail for past or present stealing and trigger an all-out confrontation? No. The PA will just muddle through as it has been doing for years.

--How will the Hamas regime handle violence against Israel? Let's get real. The most "moderate" policy Hamas will follow is to let Fatah, the PFLP, and Islamic Jihad attack Israel on a daily basis. No terrorist will be stopped be forehand or imprisoned afterward. The Hamas regime will facilitate a terrorist war on Israel while disclaiming responsibility. It will maintain a ceasefire as a movement while carrying out a war policy as a government. Is this sufficient to provide a fig leaf for European aid? Let's hope not.

Another option is for Hamas to carry out terrorism "unofficially." Can Hamas stand by while Fatah gathers all the "glory" for murdering Israeli civilians? It will be hard. Expect to see a "new" group called the Islamic Struggle Front or the Yasin Brigades through which Hamas gunmen carry out attacks while Hamas PA officials deny involvement. Israeli intelligence will offer evidence of the Hamas connection which Western media and governments may ignore. This is how Fatah used Black September in the 1970s and the al-Aqsa Brigades in recent years.

If you think Hamas is going to moderate, I have a really nice bridge in Brooklyn I'm ready to sell you.


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and co-author of "Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography" and "Hating America: A History" (Oxford University Press, August 2004). is latest book, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Stru ggle for Democracy in the Middle East, was published by Wiley in September. Prof. Rubin's columns can now be read online at

This was submitted April 2, 2006.


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