Outside editorial: The enemy within

Posted: Monday, January 28, 2008

Last week, Israel closed border crossings into Gaza and blockaded some supplies of fuel and food, a response to rocket fire into Israel from the Palestinian territory. Electricity was reported to be in short supply in some places. Hospitals were warning of tragic consequences if power lapsed or medical supplies ran low. The Red Cross and United Nations issued warnings of a potential humanitarian crisis.

Israel eased the blockade on Tuesday. And on Wednesday, thousands of Palestinians flooded into Egypt after masked gunmen blasted huge holes in the border wall.

Sound familiar? It should. These kinds of flash points have been increasingly common since Hamas took control of Gaza. So have the warnings against the "collective punishment" of Gazans. And the potential solutions: There is talk, again, of an Israeli military incursion to stop the rockets that rain down on southern Israel from Gaza.

As always, Gazans look around, see how terrible conditions are, and point fingers. Many blame Israel. Or they blame the United States. Or they blame Fatah, rival to Hamas.

If things are to improve in Gaza - and we hope they do - then that reflexive attitude is one of the first things that must change. Until most Gazans fix the blame for their miserable living conditions where it belongs - on their elected leaders of Hamas - Gaza will remain poised on the brink of crisis, sending rockets into Israel and then complaining bitterly when its foe retaliates.

This really isn't all that complicated. It's quiet for quiet. If the Palestinians stop lobbing rockets into Israel, there will be no retaliation.

This is not a matter of the "cycle of violence," as bedraggled a phrase as there is in the Middle East. Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza in 2005. That was supposed to end the "provocation" of the settlements and stop the rocket fire. But it hasn't. There's also no doubt Hamas could stop the rockets. After Israel imposed its recent measures, for instance, five rockets were fired on Sunday, down from 53 in the prior two days, the Associated Press reported.

So why doesn't Hamas clamp down, to show it can effectively govern the territory? Unfortunately, the leaders of Hamas find it to their political and economic advantage to allow their people to suffer while they smuggle arms and money from Iran and elsewhere to continue the campaign of terror against Israel.

While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas negotiates a peace deal with Israel, Hamas has pledged never to recognize the Jewish state. Hamas leaders have vowed not to abide by earlier agreements or renounce violence as a means to achieving their goals. With no prospect for negotiations, there's no prospect for reviving the economy and no prospect for improving people's lives. No wonder they'd rather fire rockets.

Who else benefits from this always-simmering crisis? One answer: Iran. Tehran gains influence as it builds up a terror ministate on Israel's border. Another answer: Syria, which hosts Hamas' headquarters and some of its top leaders. Increasing chaos in Gaza could play into Damascus' hopes for regaining sway over Lebanon.

Who suffers? That's easy: The people of Gaza. As long as Hamas is in power, Gaza will be driven further into misery, further from the path that would lead to an independent state. For Gazans, the real enemy is within.

The leaders of Hamas find it to their advantage to allow their people to suffer.



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