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Hamas strategy isn't a plan for victory

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
Hamas militants march in the southern Gaza Strip on December 6 to mark the movement's upcoming  23rd anniversary.
Hamas militants march in the southern Gaza Strip on December 6 to mark the movement's upcoming 23rd anniversary.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Frum: Hamas political leader expects peace process to fail
  • Frum says Hamas expects next conflict with Israel will attract broader support
  • Hamas' policy is self-defeating, won't change Mideast reality, says Frum
  • He says Palestinians should recognize Israel, make best deal they can

Editor's note: David Frum writes a weekly column for CNN.com. A special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002, he is the author of six books, including "Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again," and is the editor of FrumForum.

(CNN) -- On my last day on a visit to Beirut, Lebanon, I participated in a long conversation with a Hamas political leader.

I agreed that the conversation would be off the record, but without direct quotation, I can summarize what was said.

The peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is dead, in the view of Hamas. Likewise, economic growth in the West Bank is illusory, a product only of Western aid. The Palestinians are divided, and the international community has lost interest in us.

That might sound like a negative assessment. Yet my Hamas interlocutor insisted that today's desperate outlook would soon yield to tomorrow's glorious victory.

With the peace process dead, the Palestinian Authority would break apart. West Bank Palestinians would realign themselves with Hamas. Those who refused would be eliminated as collaborators.

The Hamas man did tacitly acknowledge that Palestinian attacks on Israel have failed in the past. He declined to agree that the 2000-2003 intifada was a failure or that Hamas had been defeated in the December 2008 Gaza war. But he did not argue that these wars were successes either.

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But next time, things would be different, the "resistance" would be global: Hamas, he suggested, would call Muslims around the world to join the fight against Israel, just as Muslims worldwide joined together in Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviet Union.

This next fight -- he said -- would force Israel to rethink its continued existence. He said that just as his generation was more radical than his father's, so the next generation would be more radical than his own. The Hamas man asked with sinister humor: "If you Americans care so much about the Israelis, why don't you give them California?"

The tone was defiant, belligerent, confident. Yet through it all, I also heard a despairing undertone. The Hamas man lamented that nobody understands Hamas. Those who try to talk to them -- like U.S. president Jimmy Carter -- end up paying a heavy political price. He veered from boasting that they would never negotiate with the Israelis to complaining that Israel had ignored their offer of a truce in 2004.

He claimed the flotilla organizers who tried to bring aid to Hamas-controlled Gaza had achieved a great success -- then later complained that nothing had changed, that Israel controlled the flow of goods into Gaza as tightly as ever.

The plan seemed to be: for Hamas and the radical Palestinians to suffer defeat after defeat until finally Israel collapsed. That does not sound like a very good plan.

Earlier on the trip, another Hamas representative had explained this point of view very succinctly: "To emerge from the fight with your steadfastness undiminished: that is victory."

But actually ... no it's not victory. Fighting and losing, followed by more fighting and more losing is a formula for prolonging the pain of defeat. Hamas promises its supporters a far-off day of apocalyptic retribution and redemption. If my source is right, there will be another outburst of violence soon. Almost certainly it will end the way the previous rounds of violence have ended. Israel will be left standing more strong and secure and prosperous than ever - and its attackers will be more frozen in their refusal to do the thing most necessary to end this conflict: recognize Israel, reject war, and make the best deal they can get based on today's realities.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.