The other day I listened as a friend with a passion for history recalled his college days. It took him a while, he recounted, to figure out the point of studying history at all — but eventually he got it: To avoid repeating past mistakes. “So why,” he asked rhetorically, “do we insist on repeating them?”
Good question, especially pertinent now, as the drama unfolds over three kidnapped Israeli teenagers and the group we believe is responsible for their abduction, Hamas.
Reality check: Remember Yasser Arafat? The one who led the Palestinian people from one disaster to the next, who tried in 2000 — and before that in 1996 (and numerous other times) — to exploit Palestinian violence to strengthen his own reigns of control and create a “balance of terror” vis-a-vis Israel.
Full of hubris and inflated self-confidence, Arafat was sure that by encouraging organized Hamas terrorism — and not less-organized “street” violence — he would neutralize his rivals, whether Israeli or Palestinian. After these had served his purposes, he thought, they could be dispensed with.
They were not. Ironically, one person who apparently understood this better than most was Mahmoud Abbas. Now head of the Palestinian Authority, he called in 2004 the Palestinian violence of the second intifada “a complete destruction of everything we built.”
At the time, Abbas seemed to comprehend that Arafat was “riding the tiger,” and that the tiger would turn its head for a chunk of flesh before it could be quelled. Unfortunately for the political process with Israel, Abbas circa 2014 forgot that lesson of history. Now it is he who is riding the Hamas tiger, which has already reared its much more potent head.
Not much time was required between the signing of the Palestinian unity government agreement and the open West Bank reappearance of the Hamas and its symbols. Israel has been through this before, and knows all too well how it ends.
Even in the best of times, the Middle East teeters on the brink of uncertainty and instability. With Syria (and Iraq) imploding, with Jordan being tested to the limits, with Egypt emerging from one of its most challenging periods — the last thing the region needed was for the PA to roll out a welcome mat to Hamas. But that’s precisely what it did.
The kidnapping of the teenagers occurred against this background, and could very well be a harbinger of worse things to come. We pray that the teens will be found safe and sound. While we have no choice but to be optimistic on that front, the future of a PA riding the Hamas tiger promises to be much bleaker.
Abbas has repeated the historical blunder of his predecessor. Stability and hope in our region will be the worse for it.