Dan Diker: The hidden costs of a ceasefire, part 2

Dan Diker is Director of the Jerusalem based Institute for Contemporary Affairs and serves as a Middle East analyst for Israel’s Channel One English News. I met Dan this past summer in Israel. In April he sent us timely reflections on “The hidden costs of a ceasefire” with Hamas. Today he files this update from Ramallah:

In view of today’s reports of an imminent Israeli “ceasefire” with Hamas (which I place in quotes in that to Muslims the term may mean only a temporary calm enabling rearmament), I spent much of this morning in the West Bank city of Ramallah at the home of a senior Palestinian official who shared his concern about Hamas. He offered his assessment of Hamas’ plans in no uncertain terms. “They take their orders from Tehran, get weaponry, training as well as financing from the revolutionary leadership and the Muslim Brotherhood, and now will move in the coming months to take over the West Bank from Fatah with or without the cease fire,” he noted. “Hamas earns international points for declaring their readiness to stop their rocket fire.” He continued, “They need the international good will to increase their legitimacy in the West.” He added that Secretary Rice backs the cease fire, which undermines Fatah. The official reminded me that Hamas will exploit any temporary cease fire to undermine Fatah-led PA control in all Palestinian West Bank cities. “They work best when no one sees them,” he said. But “soon Hamas will begin showing their weapons even in Ramallah.”

While many in Israel and the West welcome Hamas’ diplomatic engagement and its agreement to stop firing on Israel (though three Kassam rockets assaulted southern Israel during this writing) through the brokerage of Egypt, not enough attention has been paid to the fact that such a move strengthens Hamas immeasurably whether it enters into any kind of formal or informal agreement with Israel — or whether Hamas observes or violates the agreement. The fact that Hamas is engaged with Israel and the West undermines Fatah and the Bush administration policy supporting Fatah. What seems strange about Israeli and US support for such a move is that it spells political death for PA leader Abbas, whom President Bush and Secretary Rice have invested in so heavily. Many Palestinians see Hamas as far more effective than Fatah in having established a de facto sovereign Islamic Emirate in Gaza that they rule with an iron fist, as having maintained the upper hand over Israel in negotiations for the return of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, and in deterring the IDF from attacking the Hamas terror infrastructure.

The Palestinian official this morning noted that Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurie presented Secretary Rice a letter explaining that negotiations with Israel have hit a dead end. Perhaps now it’s time for Secretary Rice and Israel to reduce the American investment in the hopeless Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy and focus on containing Iran. That would be time well spent for the United States, the West and Israel. It wuold also be consistent with what more than a few senior Palestinians are saying privately, and what Jordan and Egypt and the Gulf States have said quite publicly: That until the Iranian regime and its proxies across the region are contained or defeated, the threat to the entire Middle East intensifies. That is the main lesson from this morning’s visit in Ramallah.

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