It is now common knowledge that, from the time of Hamas's formation, the Israeli government played a major role in building it up as a "safer" alternative to Fatah. In the 1970s and 1980s, successive Israeli governments feared that Fatah was moving in a "moderate" direction at that, accordingly, Israel would be pressured to recognize it.
To avoid that contingency, Israel started promoting the Muslim Brotherhood's franchise in the occupied territories, the newly established Hamas. The Israelis viewed Hamas as purely a religious movement whose membership would devote themselves to praying and not politics. So they made life easier for Hamas leaders while doing whatever they could to destroy Fatah.
The Israeli government has always demonstrated a preference for Palestinian extremists over Palestinian moderates. It is infinitely easier to resist negotiations with those whose stated ideology is wishing Israel dead than with those -- as has been the case with Fatah since 1988 -- who declared willingness to live in peace alongside Israel.
Most recently -- and tragically -- this preference was demonstrated when the Sharon government refused to negotiate Israel's withdrawal from Gaza with the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas. Although Abbas warned that, without Israeli-PA coordination, Hamas would move in and take Gaza, the Israelis refused to discuss any of the details of their withdrawal with the PA, including its timing. As the PA predicted, when the IDF pulled out, Hamas took over -- leading to the rocket attacks on Sderot, the 2009 war, and the continuing blockade of Gaza.
The Israeli tilt toward Hamas was again demonstrated vividly last week. The Israeli government released 20 Palestinian women prisoners to Hamas in exchange for the Gilad Shalit video. The Israeli government repeatedly refuses to make any large scale release of Palestinian prisoners to President Abbas but clearly has no similar reservations about Hamas, with whom it has been discussing massive prisoner exchanges for three years. Even more telling, in 2008 they released the notorious terrorist, Samir Kuntar, and four Hezbollah fighters to Hezbollah in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.
Then there is the issue of the settlement freeze. It has been promised to the Palestinian Authority for 15 years but, nonetheless, settlements keep expanding. Even after President Obama personally demanded the freeze to kick start negotiations, Prime Minister Netanyahu simply ignored him. President Abbas, who had publicly expressed confidence in Obama and his ability to achieve the freeze, looked helpless.
But the worst humiliation of all came when the United States, at Israel's insistence, pressed the Palestinian Authority to request deferral of a United Nations Human Rights Council discussion of the Goldstone report on Israeli (and Hamas) human rights violations during the Gaza war. It would have been bad enough if the United States itself requested that consideration of the Goldstone report be deferred but, that not being enough, we had the Palestinian Authority do it. The UN agreed.
This may be the last straw for the PA, or close to it. Asking the United Nations not to address crimes directed against its own people makes the Palestinian Authority look like quislings -- especially to the people of Gaza who were the victims of the Israeli onslaught.
I suppose the Palestinian Authority had good reason for agreeing to Israel's request (conveyed by the United States). I imagine that the United States threatened to apply the kind of pressure on the Palestinians for not agreeing to postpone an investigation into crimes against them that we do not apply to Israel on settlements.
Is it any wonder that so many Palestinians view Hamas and even Hezbollah as able to "deliver" while they view Abbas and the PA as unable to extract much of anything from the Israelis or their superpower backer?
Why do they think that? Simply because it's true. What, in God's name, are we thinking?