TEL AVIV, Israel - The quality of Arab despots has really plummeted. Only a few years ago you could count on the PLO to steal an election from the amateurs in Hamas. Today it looks like these devout terrorists will be running Gaza. It's almost enough to make a good peace processor pine for the days of Yasser Arafat.
But the civilized world should not panic just yet. On the bright side, the Hamas victory Wednesday in the Palestinian legislative elections smashes the illusion that nominally secular terrorists will catch Sharia terrorists if enough land is relinquished. This point was driven home for me this week when a reporter asked a senior Palestinian Authority official about an alleged Hamas kidnapping of a British aid worker and her parents in December. The man corrected her, "No, that was us."
Indeed it was. As it turned out the kidnappers of Kate Burton were from a splinter of Fatah, not unlike the masked men who in December seized police buildings only to be paid off later by the Palestinian Authority. Just as Fatah's militia commander, Marwan Barghouti, founded the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in October 2000, or as Arafat himself was providing financial and logistical support for the terror cells he was supposed to catch during the intifada.
Today, the primary qualification for joining the Palestinian Arab security services, according to one senior Israeli intelligence official, is to have killed enough Israelis in a terror operation. Petty criminals turned terrorists are now being trained by the CIA and Egyptian intelligence to thwart terror. The strategic scenario now facing the Jewish state is best summed up in a lyric from rock band "The Who": "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
The primary tragedy of the election will afflict the proprietors of the PLO casino opened in Jericho during the peace process, not to mention the importers of Johnny Walker Black into the West Bank. Now is not a good time to be a Christian in the birthplace of Jesus, where the local Hamas government has already imposed special taxes on non-Muslims. The Palestinian Arabs, renowned only 20 years ago for their cultural sophistication and pluralism, will now be ruled by nostalgic terror clerics, whose long-range planners plot the recapture of not only Jerusalem but Andalusia, the sovereign territory recognized by the United Nations - at least for now - as Spain.
So how did this state of affairs come to pass? The answer is not as simple as blaming the Israelis for the occupation, the Americans for favoring the Israelis or the Arabs for an abstract mania that draws them to jihad like a moth to a flame. Hamas won the election this week because as fanatic as they are, they made an undeniable case that they won't steal as much aid money or strong-arm as many Palestinians as the old mafia empowered by the West during the peace process. While the schools and hospitals pledged in the 1990s by the great powers were never built, Hamas projects were.
It is poetic justice that the U.S. Agency for International Development had slipped over $2 million for Fatah's re-election campaign in recent weeks. Why should it be any different in 2006 than it was in 1991 when the CIA first went to Tunis to recruit the preventive security forces from Arafat's old terror gang?
The logic behind America and Europe's sponsorship of the Palestinian Authority, not to mention Israel's decision to work with their old enemies, was simple: Who better to arbitrarily detain, torture and pay off the new generation of terrorists than the old ones? Even after the demise of Arafat, the despotism of his regime remained. When Mahmoud Abbas was praised for unifying the 17 security forces created by his predecessor into three, in an effort to rein them in, the old thugs remained in place, but their men had different uniforms and their offices different titles.
The Palestinian Authority couldn't even make the basic changes in financial transparency to be eligible for the billions promised last year by the group of seven industrialized nations. All the while, made men cruised the streets of Nablus and Ramallah in gleaming Mercedes as unemployment reached staggering levels. So in response to an international swindle that rivals only oil-for-food in its perversity, Palestinians voted for the one organized party not directed by thieves.
But soon the Palestinians will be disappointed. A similar dynamic animated the Iranian revolution. Today, many of the founders of that failed Islamic Republic own pieces of the local prostitution and drug dealing rackets. All the while, Iranians suffer both from a paucity of political freedoms but also the economic miseries that afflict far poorer nations. Some of the regime's budget, an estimated $120 million last year, is even diverted to a radical Sunni terror group operating in the West Bank and Gaza. They did quite well in the elections here, you may have heard of them.