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Weep for Gaza

The new `Hamastan' is an unmitigated disaster, and a `West Bank first' peace is unlikely.

June 18, 2007

THE EMERGENCE of "Hamastan" between Israel and Egypt is an unqualified disaster for the world. It's especially cruel for the 51% of the Palestinians in Gaza who did not vote for Hamas in 2006 but now find themselves living under an illegal, self-declared Islamic republic. This outcome is further evidence that President Bush has spent six years allowing a terrible foreign policy problem to grow unimaginably worse. The Hamas takeover is a victory for its key patron, Iran. The only consolation for the U.S. is that relations between Hamas and Al Qaeda, which does have some presence in Gaza, are poor.

In response to the rout of Fatah, the U.S. and Israel are weighing a "West Bank first" strategy. It would aim for a peace deal with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas only on the West Bank, where Fatah remains in control in part thanks to the Israeli Defense Forces. A West Bank peace deal is worth a try, simply because there appears to be no alternative. But the likelihood of success is low.

Can any Palestinian leader, let alone the weakened Abbas, strike a separate peace in the West Bank and survive, while 1.4 million fellow Palestinians are quite literally imprisoned in Gaza, suffering and hopeless? Can any Israeli leader, let alone the weakened Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, force through the compromises necessary to craft a West Bank-only peace, ousting armed Jewish settlers from hilltops even while Hamas continues to fire missiles into Israel from its mini-state in Gaza, as it surely will? The U.S. must hope, and should bolster its hopes with pressure, money and real diplomatic engagement. Only if the downtrodden in the hellhole of Gaza can look up and see a bright and shining Palestinian state rising on the West Bank can hope begin to be justified.

Meanwhile, what can be done about Gaza? Very little. Israel (and Egypt, should it choose) has every right to close its borders against the terrorist state of Hamastan. But the international community will have to supply food and medicine to the Palestinians trapped inside. Because the Europeans have cut off aid, this will probably have to be done by the Arab states. We nominate the Egyptians, who did little to prevent arms shipments to Hamas from Tehran and Damascus.

As a matter of principle, Washington should assert that Hamas' military victory over its coalition partner Fatah is the legal equivalent of a coup d'etat -- though no one will listen. Bush should also publicly oppose calls from the Israeli right for a reinvasion and reoccupation of Gaza. New elections, of course, would be desirable, but Hamas refuses them. And elections, as the world has painfully learned, are no guarantee of stability, peace or the rule of law. Weep for Gaza.

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