Hamas must change its ways for the good of Palestinians

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2006, 12:00am

The militant Islamic movement Hamas is now firmly in charge of the Palestinian territories after a new parliament was sworn in at the weekend and its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, was appointed prime minister. But although the group is now the Palestinians' democratically elected government, it cannot be accepted internationally while it refuses to renounce violence or recognise Israel.

There is no sign of this, despite Israel suspending customs tax payments and the Palestinians' main donor nations threatening a boycott of support; Mr Haniyeh said on Sunday that there were 'plenty of options and alternatives'.

His hope is that Arab and Islamic states are ready to fill the financial breach, amounting to US$50 million a month in the case of Israel alone, half the amount necessary to pay the Palestinians' 140,000 civil servants. The Arab League made such a pledge four years ago, but has yet to come good with its promise.

Given US pressure on key league members Saudi Arabia and Egypt, there is some doubt whether the new leader's optimism can be backed by cash when the organisation meets next month. If it cannot, and other sources also prove fruitless, already impoverished Palestinians face a crisis as a result of their democratic decision to elect Hamas last month.

In the post-September 11, 2001, environment of anti-terrorism, this is a harsh reality, but one that cannot be ignored. There are new rules by which the world's governments must play and unless they do so, they must expect to be isolated.

Israeli acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pointed this out at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, referring to the Palestinian Authority, the administrative body that governs the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, as 'becoming a terrorist authority'. Hamas has, after all, been behind numerous suicide bombings against Israeli military and civilian targets that have claimed hundreds of lives.

In coming weeks, Mr Haniyeh will form a cabinet and there are suggestions that, to appease critics, he will try to make it as broad a representation of Palestinian society as possible. Such an approach is needed but it will be pointless unless Hamas deals with reality.

Until the group renounces violence and lays down its arms, recognises the right of neighbouring nation Israel to exist and acknowledges that the only way forward is to negotiate a two-state solution, it must be shunned diplomatically. For a government with terrorism at its heart, there can be no alternative.

While Hamas refuses to make these choices, Palestinians will suffer. They may believe the movement to be less corrupt than its predecessor government, Fatah, and better equipped to rule them, but they also need to understand that its views towards Israel are unacceptable.

For the sake of a future, independent Palestine, Hamas must immediately change its ways.