You know a theory is becoming accepted wisdom when it’s spouted by everyone from the editorial board of Israel’s far-left daily Haaretz to the highly intelligent American foreign policy scholar Walter Russell Mead. The theory in question holds that ruling Gaza, and the consequent need to ensure the welfare of its residents, has forced Hamas to moderate to the extent of being ripe for pragmatic agreements with Israel on this subject. Specifically, argue Mead and Haaretz, Hamas has an interest in further easing Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and its ability to conclude the Shalit deal –under which Israel traded 1,027 Palestinian terrorists for one kidnapped soldier – proves it can negotiate other mutually beneficial deals with Israel as well.
If this theory of Hamas’ pragmatism is correct, it obviously has important implications for other Islamist parties that have won, or are poised to win, elections in the Arab Spring countries, first and foremost Egypt. So it’s worth reading what Gershon Baskin, who played a key role in brokering the Shalit deal, has to say on the subject:
In the early days of the official negotiations I was asked to inform Hamas that once Shalit was no longer in Gaza Israel would allow major economic development and infrastructure projects to be implemented there. Some in Israel believed this could serve as an incentive to the Hamas leaders to advance the deal. It was not. To the contrary: that proposal was essentially ignored. At no point in those talks did my Hamas interlocutors express any real interest in pursuing that discussion. My hunch – that economic issues would not excite Hamas leaders to make compromises – proved to be correct.
In other words, Hamas couldn’t care less about improving ordinary Palestinians’ lives by easing the blockade of Gaza. Indeed, it was so indifferent to this goal it completely ignored an Israeli offer to do so. Instead, it focused solely on trying to get Israel to release the maximum number of the most murderous terrorists it possibly could –for instance, the men who orchestrated deadly suicide bombings on a Passover seder in Netanya, a Jerusalem pizzeria and buses in Jerusalem and Haifa (those four attacks alone killed 73 Israelis). In short, faced with a choice between improving its people’s lives and improving its ability to murder Israelis by freeing the most accomplished killers, it unhesitatingly chose the latter.
Nor is there any shortage of other evidence regarding Hamas’ utter indifference to its people’s welfare. It has barred aid shipments from entering Gaza; it banned Israeli imports after Israel eased the blockade last year, hence ensuring Gaza remained deprived; it shut down Gaza’s major power plant rather than pay for the fuel; it barred high school students from using the scholarships they won for study abroad; and the list could go on and on.
Hence, the idea Hamas will suddenly decide to change course and cooperate with Israel on easing the blockade is ludicrous. And the idea other Islamist governments will moderate once they gain power is liable to prove equally so.