The Hamas quandary exercises the minds of world leaders – not only Palestinians and Israelis. By cleaving the Palestinian entity more than a year ago into two warring halves, Hamas has presented would-be peacemakers like the Middle East Quartet with a knotty dilemma.
Visiting Russian officials offered an original solution during their talks in Damascus and Jerusalem this week: Try the “Chechen formula” they said. They agreed that the diplomatic and internal Palestinian knot can be sundered only if Hamas ends its life as a terrorist organization and complies with the criteria laid down by the Quartet, which is composed of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, that is, renounce terror, recognize Israel and abide by previous accords.
But the Kremlin has its own notions for attaining this objective.
Asked to clarify their idea, DEBKA-net-Weekly’s diplomatic sources report the Russians explained how Moscow tamed rebellious Chechnya.
In 2004, Ramzan Kadyrov, chief of a private Chechen army called Kadyrovtsy, was appointed deputy prime minister of the turbulent province. He was the broom Moscow had chosen to pacify Chechnya after decades of bitter warfare.
In 2006, the new man was promoted to prime minister and, in February 2007, to president, his reward for successfully and brutally quelling the Chechen revolt and all but eliminating most of the Islamic fighting groups associated with al Qaeda.
Moscow’s idea was to find a Palestinian Kadyrov. Asked where one was to be found, the visitors replied unhesitatingly that Moscow’s secret services would be glad to help Israel, or if need be Washington, find the right candidate.
Prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Ehud Barak had the impression that they had someone, or even a list of candidates, in mind for the role of Gaza pacifier, although they refused to name names, or even specify whether they were thinking of a Fatah or Hamas figure.
Moscow proposes using a terrorist to out-terrorize his comrades
The nub of his plan was to install one of the “bad guys” in the Palestinian driver’s seat – not a moderate, democratic type, but the toughest terrorist of them all – and use him to hammer all the terrorist organizations and paramilitary groups until they gave up and dispersed.
The Russians had little good to say about American and European moves on the Palestinian question till now. All of them, including last year’s peace conference at Annapolis, they said, had proved to be bad mistakes. The rift within the Palestinian movement had widened and Hamas and its allied terrorist groups were stronger than ever. If this process continued, they warned, things would get worse and in the end the Hamas-led Palestinian bloc would take over the West Bank and oust Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, the Russians tried selling their scheme to European, Egyptian and Saudi leaders, but found no takers.
They were not deterred. The visitors informed Israel that Moscow would be inviting Hamas political chief, Khaled Meshaal and a large delegation in the coming weeks [Meshaal was last there in March 2007]. This time, he would be received by the designated Russian president Dmitry Medvedev as well as prime minister-to-be Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin is clearly trying its hand at a Russian solution for the Palestinian predicament and hopes to show up President George W. Bush’s conception of a New Middle East and democracy in such places as Palestine and Iraq, as disastrous. Moscow is also sending signals to the next US president to sit in the White House from January 2009 that Russian-US collaboration in the Middle East could do with a new set of benchmarks.
Israel intelligence chiefs, our sources report, did not fall out of their chairs when they heard the Kremlin’s Hamas solution.
In January and February 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian general election which President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, still then on their democracy kick, forced on Olmert.
A group of high-ranking Israeli security officers, seeing the dangerous fundamentalist terrorist group on the ascendance, wanted to cut them down without delay.
They proposed choosing a Palestinian strongman and backing him in a military coup to oust Hamas from the new Palestinian government and parliament.
Israeli government heads, fearing Washington’s disapproval, turned the plan down.
Now, their scheme was seeing new life in the Russian proposal.
Carter talks to terrorists
No sooner had the Russians shaken Middle East dust off their boots when former US president Jimmy Carter arrived to begin his highly controversial tour.
He invited snubs from Israeli leaders by requesting a meeting with Hamas’ Damascus-based leader Khaled Meshaal.
Tuesday, April 15, he took two steps to curry favor with Meshaal: he lunched with a group of Palestinians including the former deputy prime minister representing Hamas Nasser Shaer.
Shaer is at one and the same time one of Meshaal’s close cronies on the West Bank and engaged in quiet talks with US officials operating in the territory in an effort to counteract the militancy of Gaza’s Hamas government.
The second step Carter took is one studiously avoided by every visiting American dignitary: With his wife and son, he paid respects at Yasser Arafat’s tomb in the forecourt of the Palestinian government’s headquarters in Ramallah and laid a wreath of red roses on his grave.
By these gestures, the former US president demonstrated that his approach to Middle East conflicts was diametrically opposed to that of the Bush administration; he believed in talking to terrorist leaders, not shunning or boycotting them like the incumbent administration in Washington, or seeking their destruction like Israel.
The former Democratic president is highly unpopular in Israel, especially after he wrote a book accusing Israel of apartheid practices. But he is not alone in his views.
He is close to his party’s candidate for the presidency, Barack Obama, and even closer to the Washington circles, some within the Bush administration, who are pressing for the United States to engage Iran in dialogue on the thorny issues of Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinians.
His approach has at least one element in common with that of the Kremlin; both advocate coexistence with Palestinian terrorists one way or another.