To understand the strange twists that Hamas's war against Israel has taken over the past week, it is instructive to cast a glance at the current situation in Pakistan. For in their dealings with Hamas, the Bush administration and the Olmert-Livni-Barak government have apparently been operating in accordance with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's playbook.
In a radio interview this week, Michael Leiter, the director of the US National Counter-Terrorism Center, noted that al-Qaida today is stronger than it was two years ago. This development, he explained, is a consequence of Musharraf's decision to sign peace accords with the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border.
The first agreements in North and South Waziristan were signed in September 2006. They involved the removal of Pakistani military forces from the areas, and the release of 2,500 Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners from Pakistani prisons.
The Waziristan accords made the area the Taliban's and al-Qaida's first safe haven since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. Freed from the need to defend themselves against the Pakistani army, al-Qaida and the Taliban immediately turned their attention to Afghanistan. Within weeks of the signing ceremony, cross-border raids from Pakistan tripled.
And so began a devastating calculus. Systematic breaches of the accords by the Taliban were ignored. But any anti-Taliban operations launched by Pakistan or US forces in Waziristan or anywhere else in Pakistan were met with massive brutality.
Speaking to CNN recently, Michael McConnell, the Director of US National Intelligence, concurred with Leiter's dim assessment. McConnell noted that from its safe havens in Pakistan, al-Qaida has reconstituted itself as the central command post for global jihad. "They have the leadership that they had before. They've rebuilt the middle-management and the trainers. And they're recruiting very vigorously," he said.
These American acknowledgments of the consequences of Musharraf's "peace process" with the Taliban come rather late in the game. When he first signed the accords, Musharraf pretended that the Taliban were not involved, claiming that the accords were with "tribal leaders."
Musharraf's statements were obvious lies, and yet the US decided to pretend along with him. In September 2006, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "The [Waziristan] agreement really has potential to work… Talibanization will not be allowed in the area of or in the cities near the tribal region."
The State Department had no excuse for believing Musharraf because by the time Boucher made the statement, Musharraf had already released the 2,500 al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners.
But American praise for the agreement didn't end with Boucher. President George W. Bush also endorsed it.
After the Waziristan accord, between March and August 2007, Musharraf's representatives signed similar surrender agreements in the Bajaur, Swat and Mohmand agencies. Some commentators, like Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, have argued that US public support for the accords stemmed from the administration's unwillingness to criticize Musharraf lest he be ousted from power.
But now, with the Taliban and al-Qaida in control of massive swathes of Pakistan, Musharraf is about to cede power. And the civilian coalition government set to replace him has made clear its desire to end all residual Pakistani military operations against the Taliban.
In a taste of things to come, on Thursday Pakistan lodged a strong protest with the US over a US air strike in Waziristan that killed five civilians. According to The Associated Press, thousands of protesters on Thursday shouted "Death to America," and, "Anyone who is a friend of Musharraf is a traitor."
The spillover effect of the Talibanization of Pakistan's frontier in Afghanistan has been so dramatic that that even the UN is recognizing that NATO's military actions need to be stronger and more effective. Speaking before the Security Council on Wednesday, UN Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno said, "We face an insurgency that has proven to be much more resilient than we expected and more ruthless than we ever imagined."
As Pakistan-watchers like military analyst Bill Roggio warned at the time, the consequences Musharraf's "peace process" were eminently foreseeable. And yet, the Bush administration refused to see them. The administration, which based its entire strategy for contending with Pakistan on its complete support for Musharraf, preferred to allow the Taliban and al-Qaida to reconstitute their strength than to accept the fact that its Musharraf-based strategy had failed.
Today, the Bush administration's treatment of Hamas's control of Gaza follows the same pattern. Since the Iranian-sponsored jihadist group seized control of Gaza from Fatah last June, Hamas has transformed the area into a safe haven for local and global terrorists. In Gaza today, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah forces share space with al-Qaida, Hizbullah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Syrian intelligence officials.
The only way to overthrow the Hamas regime and end Gaza's status as a hub for global jihad is for Israel to conquer the Strip. But such an operation is antithetical to the US administration's sole strategy for contending with the Palestinians and their war against Israel. That strategy, of course, is to champion Palestinian statehood by backing Fatah and its leader, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Since enabling Hamas to take control of Gaza, Abbas has insisted that an Israeli takeover of the area would weaken his standing with the Palestinians, who overwhelmingly support Hamas. And since supporting Abbas is the only plan the administration has, it is willing to accept Hamas control of Gaza.
This was made clear this week when, in the aftermath the latest round of Hamas's missile war against southern Israel, the US openly supported Egyptian efforts to negotiate a Waziristan-styled cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas that would take the option of an Israeli invasion of Gaza off the table indefinitely, and so safeguard Hamas's control over the area. At the same time, it is publicly pressuring Israel to make massive concessions to Fatah in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, to "strengthen Abbas" and facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza, Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem by the end of the year.
It has been argued that Musharraf signed the accords with the Taliban because he feared his political opponents in Islamabad who demanded an end to his military dictatorship more than he feared ceding control over large swathes of Pakistan to the Taliban. It would seem that in negotiating with Hamas and Fatah, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government is following a similar cost-benefit analysis. It fears its political opposition in the Likud and the prospects of elections it will surely lose more than it fears abandoning the security of southern Israel to the whims of Hamas and Iran and more than it fears pledging to surrender Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem to Fatah-Hamas-Iran.
Yet, since the Israeli public does not, by and large, share the government's view, the government is simply lying about its policies. On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak both loudly denied that Israel was conducting cease-fire negotiations with Hamas. On Tuesday, an unnamed senior government official acknowledged that a cease-fire agreement with Hamas had been reached. Also on Tuesday, Olmert visited hospitalized Israelis, wounded by Hamas missiles, and told them that it is impossible to defend them.
On Tuesday, the Winnipeg Free Press'< /em>s Israel correspondent Samuel Segev provided another reasonable explanation for the US-Israeli decision to abandon their rejection of Hamas. Segev reported that during US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Cairo last week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak relayed a joint Egyptian-Saudi threat to abandon the so-called Saudi peace initiative from 2002 unless the US and Israel agree to accept Hamas control of Gaza and negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas.
The Saudis and Egyptians further demanded that this cease-fire agreement pave the way for the reinstitution of the Hamas-Fatah unity government that was formed in Mecca in March 2006.
Perhaps in preparation for his reunification with Hamas, Abbas has recently issued a series of statements that make a mockery of his supposed commitment to peaceful coexistence with Israel. In his latest foray into anti-Israeli incitement, Abbas reacted to the IDF's counterterror raid in Bethlehem on Wednesday in which four senior terror commanders were killed by calling the Israeli action "a barbaric crime." One of the targeted terrorists was Hizbullah-linked Mahmoud Shehada, who the Palestinians identified as the mastermind of last week's massacre of eight students at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
Abbas's office released his statement while Abbas was addressing the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Dakar, Senegal. There, a week after Shehada sent Jerusalemite Ala Abu Dhaim to kill Jews studying Torah in Jerusalem, Abbas accused Israel of ethnically cleansing Jerusalem of Muslims.
Hamas is playing its cards wisely. It refers to its cease-fire with Israel as a tahadiya, which translates roughly as a temporary cessation of violence that can be ended at any time.
Hamas also demands control over the international border with Gaza. It claims that it will allow Fatah personnel to be stationed at the border crossing with Egypt, but only Fatah forces that it approves. That is, it will only allow Hamas loyalists in Fatah uniforms to man the border. Moreover, Hamas announced that it would allow European monitors to return to the border crossing, but only if they live in Gaza or in el-Arish, rather than in Israel as they did until they were withdrawn in June. That is, Hamas will allow EU monitors to return, but only if they do so as Hamas hostages.
Finally, Hamas insists that it will only abide by the cease-fire if its supply lines with Egypt are opened and if Israel also opens its own land passages to Gaza for goods and persons. That is, Hamas also demands that Israel accept responsibility for the welfare of Gaza's residents.
Just as was the case when Musharraf began negotiating with the Taliban, so too, with Hamas in Gaza it is clear what the outcome will be. Hamas will continue to gain strength in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria. More and more Israelis – and Palestinians who don't want to live in a jihadist caliphate – will pay for the Olmert-Livni-Barak-Bush-Rice policies with their blood.
The US will seek to divert attention from its acceptance of a safe haven for global jihad in Gaza by changing the subject. Rice is doing so already by attacking Israel for permitting Jews to build homes in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem and by pretending – as Rice did in testimony before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday – that Abbas remains committed to peace and that peace is possible with an Iranian-controlled Hamas enclave in Gaza.
As Musharraf did in Pakistan, so in Israel, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government simply seeks to hide what it is doing by lying to the public. Like Musharraf, apparently Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Barak hope that their lies won't run out until after the next election is held.
But of course, they will. Using lies to hide a strategy of surrender to jihad didn't work for Musharraf. It won't work for them.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.