Regardless of the outcome of the barbaric Israeli Operation Cast Lead, one thing is certain; it is high time for Hamas to step down as the keeper of Gaza. This is where people will object and remind us that they were democratically elected. My answer to that is: Yes, but they are incompetent.
Most of us in the Middle East still believe that incompetence is a trait exclusive to dictators such as Muammer Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein and Jamal Abdul Nasser. However modern history has proven that democracy and incompetent governance aren’t mutually exclusive. For example, George W Bush and Mikhail Saakashavili were both democratically elected and yet they are responsible for disastrous wars.
Clearly, Hamas has not mastered the art of politics, and as the veteran British journalist Robert Fisk recently noted, they do not have the military discipline of Hizbollah. Hamas also baulked at the opportunity of reconciliation that was brokered by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia last year and didn’t mend the relations with Fatah that may have allowed them to take partial control of the vital Rafah crossing with Egypt.
Then there was the audacity of Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas supreme leader, who called for the launch of a third intifada from exile in Syria.
Mashaal wakes up in the safety of Damascus, turns on the television, reads the paper and then says live on Al Jazeera TV – where else? – that “we want armed resistance, a military uprising to face the enemy”. Couldn’t he smuggle himself into the Gaza Strip to be with his resistance fighters?
That resistance has for many years been funded by donations from wealthy Arabs in the Gulf, among others to cover an annual budget that the US Council on Foreign Relations estimates at $70 million. Despite such sums, Hamas has hardly managed to amass a significant arsenal or military capabilities.
All it has to show after all this time and money is little more than long-range fireworks that it launches into neighbouring towns but which do more damage to its own image than to any infrastructure in Israel.
Ultimately Khaled Mashaal, who declared from Damascus that the resistance “has lost very few people” as the body count approached 434, displayed the same arrogance as the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, who unashamedly declared only last Thursday that there is “no humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.
Many thought that Gaza and the West Bank were inseparable entities until Hamas’s bloody takeover of the Strip in the summer of 2007 damaged that notion. Their 18-month rule is marred by lawlessness, extra-judicial public killings and gang warfare that is more reminiscent of Somalia than a civilised state.
Time magazine reported on the violence that followed the takeover then: “Gangs have tossed enemies alive off 15-storey buildings, shot one another’s children and burst into hospitals to finish off wounded foes lying helplessly in bed.”
Last week, Taghreed El-Khodary of the New York Times reported that Hamas militants in civilian clothing again resorted to killing wounded former inmates of Gaza’s central jail who were accused of collaboration with the enemy. These unproved “collaborators” were executed in public even though Palestinian Human Rights groups repeatedly claim that “most of these people are completely innocent”. Hamas seems to be either unable or unwilling to stop such extrajudicial executions.
Additionally, on the first anniversary of Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip, the Christian Science Monitor found a lack of medicines in hospitals as well as of clean drinking water in the territory, and raw sewage streaming into the sea. And this isn’t because Hamas’s dignity prevents it from meeting the enemy.
Hamas’s vast propaganda machine around the Arab world mysteriously fails to report on the meetings between its members and Israeli government representatives. For example, after a 90-minute meeting with an official from the Israeli state electricity company in order to sort out the town’s electricity needs, the Hamas-affiliated mayor of Qalqilya told the BBC about the meeting: “It was civil, without any problem between him and I.”
Where do you think Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in the Strip, gets his electricity from?
By any standards Hamas has failed miserably. It has failed in peace, failed in governance, and moreover failed in war. In addition to Hamas’s ambiguous political agenda, their goal seems to be resistance for the sake of resistance, a quagmire where the journey really is the destination. It is time for Khaled Mashaal to step down and allow more competent leaders to emerge before he causes even more damage to his cause. The question is if Hamas leaves, what is the alternative?
In fact, probably the only good thing that can be said about Hamas is that they are not Fatah.
This article first appeared in The National newspaper on Sunday January 4th 2008