RAMALLAH - Tuesday showed that after nearly four years, Hamas has reared its head in the West Bank. It's doing so with Israel's help: The Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal has in many ways thrown Hamas a life preserver.
The organization, whose civilian and military infrastructure has almost completely disappeared from the West Bank in recent years - and support for it has tumbled - has been clever enough to register its first significant achievement since the Hamas government in Gaza was established in January 2006.
A campaign replete with military and political failures ended on Tuesday when the celebrations for the prisoners, most of whom belong to Hamas, began. Since June 2007, Hamas supporters in the West Bank have eschewed rallies or demonstrations; they're even wary about waving Hamas' green flag.
To Israeli viewers who witnessed the sight of hundreds of Hamas supporters waving the organization's flag in the West Bank after more than four years, Tuesday's events were far from a reason to celebrate. They weren't even something to be happy about.
It was a sad day, during which it became clear that despite the relative quiet in the West Bank, the weakening of Hamas' infrastructure, the operations of the Palestinian security forces against Palestinian terror organizations and the improvement of the West Bank's economy, Hamas was buoyed in the public arena due to the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in return for Shalit.
Most of the Israelis who watched the live broadcasts on Tuesday could become emotional and even shed a tear at the sight of an Israeli soldier returning home after five and a half years in captivity. But many Israelis couldn't see the price involved: Hamas celebrating in the streets of the West Bank, masses of people vowing to kidnap Israelis, songs of praise of Hamas' military wing and crowds vowing to continue the jihad until Israel is destroyed.
The song was heard time after time in Beitunia where the crowds were waiting for the released prisoners: "The people want a new Shalit." Similar pictures arrived from Gaza and Cairo. Senior Hamas officials alongside dangerous former prisoners vowed to continue the terror attacks, rejectionism and in particular abduction of Israelis to bring about the release of more prisoners.
And as innumerable other speakers said - first and foremost Hamas' Damascus-based leader Khaled Meshal - Israel has once again proved that it understands only force. The motivation of Palestinians, not only Hamas, to kidnap more soldiers or civilians as soon as possible reached a new high yesterday.
Israeli security experts will claim that the motivation to abduct more Israelis already existed - and they're right. The problem is that the level of such motivation has never been so high. That's because Israel has never agreed to release so many prisoners in return for a single soldier, and has never reached such an agreement with Hamas, which is striving to destroy Israel and threatens Israel's partner of not so long ago to the peace process. But now Israel will have to deal with the threat of kidnapping not only from Hamas but also from other Palestinian organizations, and even Fatah is jealous of its political rival's success.
The message the Palestinian people have absorbed from the deal is a problem, to say the least. For Palestinians, whether from the West Bank or Gaza, Hamas' way is the one that succeeded and defeated Israel, while the Palestinian Authority, as usual, has been unable to produce results. Almost tragically, Israel has nearly succeeded in strengthening the war camp and weakening the Palestinian peace camp.
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