Bush and Sharon Agreed to Let Hamas Win

The interim Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s decision to bar Hamas from campaigning and running for election on Jan 25 in the first Palestinian parliamentary poll in a decade pits Israel on the Palestinian street against the Islamist terror group. Israel like the US is banking on the Islamic terror group being disarmed by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas after the election or, alternatively, being tamed by a stake in government.
Neither calculation is realistic. Abu Mazen has confessed he has neither the will nor the strength to disarm Hamas. Furthermore, there is an innate contradiction between Hamas running for election in the Palestinian legislative council everywhere but Jerusalem, and Israeli permission for Palestinians to cast their ballots in Jerusalem – excluding Hamas. The spectacle of Hamas candidates and activists in Jerusalem being bundled into Israel police cars Sunday, Jan. 15, after the Olmert cabinet’s first substantial decision, will only enhance the Islamist terrorists’ already rosy prospects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
debkafile‘s political sources reveal that Olmert in fact picked up and ran with the last significant policy line Ariel Sharon laid down before he was struck by a massive stroke on Jan. 4. It evolved through secret diplomacy in full accord with the Bush administration. Washington and Jerusalem could have scuppered Hamas’ prospects of winning the Palestinian election by bowing to Abu Mazen’s fervent wish to postpone the ballot as demanded by his own Fatah.
Because they decided against this, the Palestinian Authority stands to become the first national entity in the Middle East to be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian branch.
Its dominance will extend beyond civilian government and the legislature. Desertions from the Palestinian security forces at Abu Mazen’s disposal to Hamas are now estimated at 65%. Hamas already controls the only coherent Palestinian military force organized in military units with command structures. It is made up of an amalgam of terrorist groups: Hamas’s own combat arm Ezz-a-Din al Qassam Brigades, sections of the Popular Resistance Committees and defectors from the Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades.
So when Hamas comes to power in less than two weeks, the Israeli armed forces will have to contend with the largest combat-terrorist structure in the Middle East operating under a Palestinian “party” that was democratically elected with the unacknowledged endorsement of Washington and Jerusalem.
This powerful Palestinian fighting machine takes its place between the al Qaeda and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s networks planted in the Gaza Strip on Israel’s southwestern border and in Lebanon to the north.
So as not to interfere with the Hamas victory, Sharon held the IDF back from striking out against the Qassam missile launchers in the Gaza Strip when they fired at Israeli civilian locations in the western Negev and Ashkelon, site of Israel’s main power station, big oil reserves and oil port.
Sharon had his reason for this inexplicable restraint: his determination to build a continuum running straight from the Aug-Sept. 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip to the next unilateral pull-backs from the West Bank. They was planned to begin after he was returned to a third term in office at the head of his Kadima party in the March 28 election. His victory was universally judged a piece of cake.
Sharon needed a Hamas victory, which would be translated as the absence of a Palestinian negotiating partner, to justify his unilateralism.
This strategy dovetailed with the Bush administration’s policy at two points – one at least based on the misreading of Palestinian dynamics:
1. That democracy would transform Hamas from a terror group into a political party, a concept which misfired badly in Lebanon, where Hizballah is still a staunch and fully armed terrorist group after joining the Beirut government.
2. That Hamas in government owned an interest in retaining Abu Mazen in power as their internationally-accepted front man for diplomacy on the Palestinians’ behalf with Washington and Jerusalem.
Hamas tacticians understood the American-Israeli strategy and responded in two ways.
While making a show of announcing their purported truce would expire on Jan 1, Hamas more or less held its fire. debkafile‘s military sources point out that had the Qassam missile campaign been run by Hamas, 40-50 missiles a day would have flown across the Gazan border into Israel – five or six times the current number.
The second Hamas move was to assure Abbas that its winning candidates would not aspire to displace him and his party as the ruling force in the Palestinian Authority. They would extend him their support, but maintain their power bases in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
On this understanding, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly 236 revealed on Jan. 6, Hamas and the Palestinian leader held quiet talks for some weeks along two channels. In Gaza, the facilitator was the deputy commander of the Palestinian security service Hussein Mashrawi; In Qatar, Abu Mazen conducted a quiet dialogue with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, brokered by the Emir of Qatar Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. These exchanges were coordinated with Washington and Jerusalem. They progressed smoothly until Wednesday Jan.4, 21:25 local time, when a massive brain hemorrhage felled Ariel Sharon.
The ailing prime minister was a lone decision-maker, preferring his own counsels to kitchen cabinets or consensus. His decisions usually surfaced in the guidelines he handed down his chain of command. But this time the process was cut short abruptly. He left two main players in the field, the Americans and Hamas.
He also bequeathed Olmert a half-digested strategy governing a key element of Israel-Palestinian relations, forcing his interim successor to scramble hard in order to grasp and assert some sort of control over a tricky situation.
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