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Hamas and Us

IT IS ALMOST comic how often the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been called tragic, but this time a tragedy has really come to pass, and it is all the more stinging for having taken place without bloodshed, in the realm of politics--even of democratic politics. The tragedy is that Kadima and Hamas are in the ascendant at the same time. At the very moment that the Israelis have achieved a new consensus about withdrawing from territories and abandoning settlements and establishing borders and acquiescing in the creation of Palestine, the Palestinians have achieved a new consensus of the antithetical sort and have elected, by a significant majority, a movement that stands brazenly for theocracy and terrorism and the destruction of Israel. The contradiction could not be sharper or more disheartening.

The democratic legitimacy of the Hamas victory says nothing about the moral and historical legitimacy of the Hamas program. It is important to be clear about this: The results of free and fair elections can also be opposed. Hamas does not represent a radical nationalism. It represents a religious nationalism. The Palestinians now have an Islamist leadership. Worse, a jihadist leadership: Hamas has been in the forefront of the suicide bombings of recent years, and of the sanctification of suicide bombings. These are not extremists; these are killers, and the ideological instructors of killers. Yes, yes, Hamas also presides over institutions of social welfare and despises corruption. So what? This is the oldest of fascist alibis. The probity of Hamas is an authoritarian probity. Are they to be admired because they will murder but will not steal?

For many decades, Israel refused to recognize the PLO. It had its reasons for this, the PLO's terrorism foremost among them. But, insofar as the refusal to recognize the PLO was also a refusal to recognize the reality of the Palestinians, it was bound to crumble; and, in 1993, it did, in a handshake between a brave Israeli leader and a low Palestinian leader. But Hamas, by contrast, has no claim whatever on the recognition of any Israeli, or American, or Westerner, or citizen of modernity. It must not be allowed to hide its reactionary sectarian crusade behind its people's aspirations. It does not want justice; it wants its preferred version of injustice--for Israelis and Palestinians. The burden of proof now rests not partially but entirely on the Hamas leadership. So far, it deserves to be met only with hostility and skepticism.

But that is not all that they have met with. "The Russian Foreign Ministry has never regarded Hamas as a terrorist organization." Vladimir Putin uttered those stupefying words on January 31, days before inviting Hamas to send a diplomatic delegation to Moscow. With that stunning sentence, Putin vitiated his own much-vaunted antiterrorism--"The State Department has never regarded Shamil Basayev as a terrorist": How does that sound?--and served notice that Russia has chosen to remain faithful to the Soviet Union's meretricious foreign policy in the Middle East. Pour épater les americains, Putin has agreed to meet with a group whose charter endorses the anti-Semitic worldview behind The Protocols of the Elders of Zion--a Russian export, come to think of it. Then a French Foreign Ministry spokesman expressed sympathy with Putin's plan: "We share with Russia the goal to bring Hamas to the positions which allow us to reach the goal of two states living in peace and security." Never mind that the goal of one state only is Hamas's reason for being. And then Jimmy Carter--surprise!--put another nail in the coffin of decency and sense by warning, in The Washington Post, that Israeli and U.S. attempts to make life difficult for Hamas would "alienate the already oppressed and innocent Palestinians." Innocent? Not of freely bringing this hateful party to power. So now, too, the Palestinians are to be exempted from the consequences of their actions.

All of these hemi-demi-semi-friends of Hamas would like to believe that their friendship will have a moderating influence. More generally, one hears over and over that the rise of Hamas is a perverse kind of good news, because power breeds responsibility. But the history of the Middle East, and of many other regions of the world, has demonstrated the opposite. Again and again, power has bred irresponsibility. Consider Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. And consider, too, Khaled Mashal, the exiled leader of Hamas, who was in Tehran this week arranging for Iranian assistance. What drove Mashal into Ahmadinejad's arms was not Israeli or U.S. policy. It was a deep political and philosophical affinity. They are made of the same stuff; and it is not the stuff of which we are made.

This article originally ran in the March 6, 2006, issue of the magazine.