In electing Hamas to lead their government, the Palestinian people have proven to themselves and to the world that they climbed over and moved beyond the legacy left them by Yasser Arafat. The newly-elected Hamas leaders, however, have begun to show the world how very much they themselves learned from the legacy of Arafat and how they are adapting that legacy to their governance.
Hamas watched Arafat, watched him closely, for many years. And Hamas learned the value and saw the rewards of delivering the "double message."
Arafat was the Master of Doublespeak. He would deliver one message to the West and an entirely other message to his people and to the Arab world. Arafat was smiles and soft-spoken to the West, he was a fire breathing hell raiser before Arab audiences. In English, Arafat spoke of "the peace of the brave," in Arabic he called for Jihad. In Washington Arafat told world leaders what they wanted to hear in Ramallah and Beirut and Cairo he told his people what they needed to hear.
Yasser Arafat would say what he needed to say in order to relieve the pressure that was placed on him. Yasser Arafat was an enabler. He enabled Western leaders to delude themselves that "yes," there really was a chance for change, a hope for peace between the Palestinians and Israel. He enabled the Palestinian people to hope for a future when there were no plans for their future.
Hamas has learned the Lessons of Doublespeak. Hamas understands the rewards of Doublespeak. Hamas knows that even though the United States and Europe knew that Arafat was delivering double messages, they felt uncomfortable saying "no" to him in the face of his fancy words. Hamas knows that the United States and Europe want to avoid direct clashes and conflict and so, they choose the path of self-delusion and respond to what they know to be messages meant for their diplomatic ears only and promises never meant to be carried out and fulfilled.
They're new at the game, but they learned from the pro and Hamas is getting very good at delivering the double message. And Hamas has an advantage over Arafat. Yasser Arafat was a one-man-game, he could contradict only himself. Hamas is an organization with several significant mouthpieces carefully choreographed to step on each other's phrases.
This week Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas candidate for prime minister, was quoted as saying: "If Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian People a state and give them back all their rights then we are ready to recognize them."
The statement was promptly rejected by Dr. Salah al Bardaweil, the Hamas spokesman. Bardaweil laid down three conditions that must first be met before Israel could ever be recognized. Israel must return to the borders of 1967, Israel must release all Palestinian prisoners. Israel must allow all Palestinian refugees back into their homes. Only then, he said, can we talk about recognition.
Hanieyh is trying to put a positive, a human face on Hamas. Hanayieh has been chosen to be the soft, kind, conciliatory voice intended for the West. Listen to what he said in describing his movement: "Hamas does not want to throw the Jews into the sea." "We are not war seekers nor are we war initiators. We are not lovers of blood. We are not interested in a vicious cycle of violence. We are oppressed people with rights. If peace brings us our rights then this is good."
About Israel Hanieyh said: "If Israel withdraws to the '67 borders then we will establish a peace in stages." The man who wants to be Palestinian prime minister may have gone a bit overboard with that last statement. There was immediate back-peddling by other Hamas voices. Establishing incremental peace with Israel under only one no-matter-how-impossible-to-fulfill a condition, it appears, is considered too huge a concession for Hamas.
The man deserves credit for his efforts. Haniyeh is trying to resuscitate the reputation of Hamas in capitals across the world. Haniyeh is the man whose mission it is to have the Western world view Hamas in the most human of ways. Haniyeh's mission is to have Western leaders see what they want to see and overlook the content of statements made by other Hamas leaders to other audiences.
It is time for the West to open their eyes. This game of internal rejection, these Hamas imposed caveats reveal the true character of Hamas leadership. Hamas is out to dupe the world and the diplomatic world is playing along. Once again, the West is letting itself be duped.
C. David Welch, the US Undersecretary of State for Near East Affairs, is responding to Hamas' double message by, literally, buying into their message. Welch is trying to convince Israel to give more money to the Palestinians and has promised that the United States will continue to give monies for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people.
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert voiced his displeasure and disagreement. Shaul Mofaz, Israel's Defense Minister, clearly explains the situation. According to the principles set out by the Quartet, Hamas must disarm, recognize Israel, reject terror and change its charter before it can be received into the world community. "... they have not accepted any of the four rules, and this indicates their (Hamas') true intentions."
We do not want to repeat the mistakes made during the Arafat era. We should not. The Western world is smarter than that. Look, don't just listen.
Isaiah Berlin commenting on Machiavelli said, "To know the worse is not always to be liberated from its consequences, nevertheless it is preferable to ignorance."
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