Allowing Hamas Victory Was 'Historical Blunder,' Israeli Diplomat Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Allowing Hamas to come to power in the Palestinian Authority was a "blunder of historical dimensions," which could lead to a burgeoning of terrorist activity in the Middle East and destabilizing of American allies Egypt and Jordan, if left unchecked, a former Israeli diplomat said on Thursday.

Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel and an Islamic state in its place, swept to power in the Palestinian Authority in parliamentary elections in January, displacing the Fatah party of P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel voiced objections to Hamas participation in the elections at the time because doing so broke P.A. agreements with Israel. But the international community pushed for the P.A. elections to take place in January as scheduled.

"To let Hamas win the so-called Palestinian democratic elections was a blunder of historical dimensions," said Zvi Mazel, who was Israel's ambassador to Egypt from 1996 to 2001.

"This victory means a drawback to the moderate forces in the Middle East ... especially Egypt and Jordan and a booster to the extremist front," Mazel said. That being the case, he said, now the Western world must not cave in.

"The only response should be ... boycott, siege and pressure till they will have to go away," Mazel told a meeting of diplomats and journalists at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on Thursday.

"Any other answer will bring [their] digging in and presenting themselves as a legitimate political government, enabling them to carry out their ideal objectives, thus encouraging the [Muslim Brotherhood] movement in the region and encouraging instability in Egypt [and] Jordan," Mazel said.

According to Mazel, the Hamas victory robbed Egypt of its prowess in the Middle East as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because now there is no peace process. Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

Financial need?

Following Hamas' rise to power, the international community laid down three conditions for continuing its financial aid to the Palestinian Authority: recognize Israel, abandon terrorism and abide by previous agreements between Israel and the P.A.

Because Hamas has refused to accept those demands, the U.S. and European Union have refused to send aid directly to the P.A., which has caused great financial hardships among Palestinians.

So far, the boycott is holding, said Mazel, although there are some cracks appearing.

Sweden issued visas to Hamas officials this month. Russia hosted a Hamas delegation shortly after the election. P.A. Foreign Minister Mahmoud al Zahar is currently on a trip that will take him to countries including China and Iran.

The European Union is in the process of examining a way to increase humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people while at the same time bypassing the Hamas-led P.A. Earlier this week, the Israeli cabinet decided that it would use Palestinian tax revenues that it is withholding in order to buy medical supplies for the Palestinians.

(The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation earlier this week limiting even U.S. humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.)

But Mazel warned that the West needs to be careful even giving humanitarian aid because it could free up other funds for Hamas to buy weapons.

"The West should be very, very cautious because if they give money directly to some Palestinians [Hamas] will use the money they have for the military," said Mazel.

Some 145,000 Palestinians have not received their salaries for March and April and yet
Hamas was able to establish a 3,000-man security force recently in the Gaza Strip.

"We see that they are [in] very nice uniforms and they have rifles," said Mazel. "For the military side, they have everything they need, so why not for the Palestinians?"

Earlier this month, a liberal Saudi Internet site in Arabic reported that, "the military branch of Hamas - Izzadine al Kassam - declared that it was preparing the equipment and war material ... for a long battle with Israel," said Mazel. That means that they are developing their military strategy and missile power, he said.

Not politics but religion

Mazel warned against being misled by Hamas' political statements such as its demands for an Israeli territorial withdrawal from the West Bank.

P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said in a media interview earlier this week that Hamas would be prepared to enter into a lengthy ceasefire with Israel if Israel withdrew from the entire West Bank.

"Their real language is religion. They speak politics to make us [forget] their [religious] layer of their thinking," said Mazel.

"Hamas is part of a world front of radical Islam and belongs to the [Muslim Brotherhood] movement that created modern radical Islamic theology," said Mazel.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which originated in Egypt decades ago, has a phased plan to Islamize the planet, said Mazel.

Following the failure of the movement to seize control in Egypt through violence and terrorism, the group embarked on a plan to win the hearts and minds of individuals, families and civil society through preaching and charities.

But their greatest success was the Hamas election victory.

"Their dream and main strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood in the last 60 years were to reach power in an Arab country by democratic means - by elections - after they failed to do it through violence in the 40s and the 50s," said Mazel.

"Now they have the power. They've got a government in the territories," he said. They won't let it slip from their hands, he added.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.