The Rise of Hamastan in the Gaza Strip
The fight against Islamic militancy suffered a major defeat with Hamas's bloody takeover of the Gaza Strip. "This is the first military coup in the Arab world in 30 years, and Islamic forces did it," declared Israeli TV commentator Ehud Yaari. It is alarming news for the Bush administration, for Israel, for the West, for the moderate Muslim world, and above all for the 1.4 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Last week's savage fighting between the radical Islamist Hamas groupbacked by Syria and an increasingly aggressive Iran (story, Page 30)and the corrupt, western-backed Fatah organization ended all pretense of cooperation between the two Palestinian movements. Hamas had control of impoverished Gaza and Fatah the more populous West Bankfor now. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader, declared a state of emergency and disbanded the Hamas-led coalition government. But that is mainly a holding action that enables Fatah to gather its strength in the West Bank. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Abbas on the phone and then endorsed his moves.
The situation made recent talk of restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process even more fanciful than usual, blowing away any lingering illusions that the conciliatory Abbas was strong enough to get his house in order and negotiate with Israel. And with Hamas gunmen shooting Palestinian peace demonstrators to death, tossing Fatah rivals off the roofs of high-rises, kneecapping doctors, and sending U.N. relief workers fleeing, any argument that Israel must negotiate with Hamas became hollow.
The Bush administration's Palestinian policy now lies in ruins. Since Hamas's January 2006 election victory, the United States and Israel have tried unsuccessfully to bolster Fatah and to weaken and isolate Hamas. The United States armed and trained Fatah security forces to wrest control of Gaza's streets from Hamas militias, the aim being to prop up Abbas's rule. That was Plan B; Plan A had been last year's legislative election that Fatah was supposed to win. Is there a Plan C?
This story appears in the June 25, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.