Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Arab elites vs Hamas

Predictably, it's started. Europe's pro-Palestinian lobby, instinctive anti-war campaigners, Muslim extremists and the so-called Arab street have all been demonstrating against Israel's military operations in Gaza.

In London, Muslim and leftist protesters rallied raucously outside the Israeli embassy. Marchers protesting the Palestinian "holocaust" were held in Copenhagen, Paris and Madrid. A protest by the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party in the northern city of Mosul ended abruptly when a suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up, killing one and wounding 16. Some might wonder why al-Qaida would attack other Sunni anti-Zionists. Plainly, the extremists' lust for chaos and bloodshed trumps all.
Pro-Hamas rallies were organized from Teheran to Beirut, and from Baghdad to Cairo. Arab citizens of Israel observed a general strike, accompanied by sporadic rock-throwing and tire-burning. An Arab minister in the Israeli government protested by refusing to attend a cabinet meeting; Palestinian youths in east Jerusalem rioted as their elders honored the strike.

We find it curious that the weekend deaths of 13 schoolchildren in Afghanistan at the hands of an Islamist bomber; the Taliban suicide attack in Pakistan, which claimed 30 Muslim lives, and the unremitting internecine slaughter in Iraq (9,000 dead in 2008 alone) fail to incense the Arab street half as much as the Jews exercising their right to self-defense.

THAT SAID, it is instructive to look beyond the mobs with their incendiary placards, shrill chants and de-rigueur burning of Israeli flags and take note of a remarkable rupture in the Arab and Muslim world.

The Arab elites, comprising statesmen, academics, journalists and businesspeople, may preface their criticism with references to Israel's "crimes," but a significant facet of this class - it would be simplistic to label them "moderates" - appreciates that Hamas is to blame for what is taking place in the Gaza Strip.

Moreover, their hearts may tell them to bankroll Hamas, but their brains tell them that the fanaticism, political intolerance and social backwardness championed by the Islamists pose a profound threat to the Arab future.

These predominantly Sunni elites - whether they sit in Cairo, Riyadh or Amman, in the Maghreb, the Gulf or in the West - don't want their societies to ape the Taliban or the ayatollahs.

HIZBULLAH leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, still in hiding two years after supposedly defeating Israel in the Second Lebanon War, has been denouncing this attitude as he seeks to salvage Hamas's fortunes - in which he and his Iranian patrons are heavily invested - by mobilizing the Arab street.

He has practically called for a revolution in Egypt. As Al Jazeera reported: "Nasrallah urged Egyptians... to force their government to open the country's border with Gaza. 'If the Egyptian people took to the streets by the millions, could the police kill millions of Egyptians? People of Egypt, you must open this border by the force of your chests.'"

What Hizbullah's demagogue in-chief pointedly neglected to tell the throngs watching him on a giant TV screen as he spoke from his bunker, was that Hizbullah and Iran were egging Hamas on to pick a fight with Israel while Egypt (and Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas) were working overtime to convince Hamas to honor the cease-fire.

Nasrallah is half-right.

Arab elites suffer from a sort of split personality disorder. Even as they are trying to pull Hamas's chestnuts out of the fire by pressing Washington to lean on Israel to back off, they know that Hamas (like Hizbullah and the Muslim Brotherhood) threatens not just their own regimes, but political development in the Arab world. If only the Jordanian and Saudi monarchs, Gulf emirs and the Egyptian president would stand up to the Islamists.

How? They should be incrementally fostering transparent government and the rule of law, and socializing their masses to the idea of tolerance and majority rule while respecting the minority. That would promote political institution-building and social stability.

The Arab elites need to offer their people an alternative to Islamist extremism. They could begin by redefining what it means to be pro-Palestinian and dissociating the Palestinian cause from anti-Israel rejectionism.

In this context, if Israel can deflate Hamas, it will be advancing an Arab interest as much as its own citizens' security.

Source: Jerusalem Post


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