Hamas surprise

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(HOST)While American intelligence didn’t anticipate Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian elections, commentator Bill Seamans thinks it’s also significant that Israeli intelligence didn’t forsee it either.

(SEAMANS) The Hamas election victory was such a stunning surprise that even the Washington punditocracy was amazingly bereft of the usually profound 20/20 follow up analyses. Whatever the editorial reaction, the baseline that emerges is that Hamas reached out and won the favor of the people in the Gaza and West Bank street – in other words, to evoke a well-worn phrase – they won “the hearts and minds of the people”. And they didn’t do this secretly – the Hamas campaign was right out there on the street where everyone could see it.

The failure to see it may well rank as one of the biggest intelligence breakdowns since 9/11. Not only did the American intelligence community miss the probability of a Hamas election victory but what rocks my twenty years of experience on the Palestinian street was the failure of the vaunted Israeli Shin Bet and Mossad secret agents to foresee a Hamas victory that would throw the peace process back to square one.

Even Condi Rice in a front page New York Times report Monday admitted that we failed to anticipate a Hamas election victory that, as the Times put it, has reduced to tatters crucial assumptions underlying American policies and hopes in the Middle East. Condi Rice said, “I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming – It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse.”

Well, that “pulse” that Condi mentioned is what our intelligence community is supposed to keep a finger on to help Condi navigate the very complex problems of diplomacy in the Middle East. I expect that we will soon be hearing critics charge that our intelligence community was again seeing only what the Bush administration wanted to see.

In plain sight was how Yasir Arafat and his inner Fatah circle who had come from exile in Tunis had created a culture of corruption, cronyism, fraud, a monopoly of no-bid construction contracts, and a disastrous Palestinian economic infrastructure. While sewage ran in their gutters, the people saw millionaire Fatah officials building lavish homes, driving luxury cars and giving jobs to incompetent followers.

Meanwhile, the militant Islamic Hamas went beyond its deadly terrorist attacks and established clinics, kindergartens and schools, orphanages, summer camps and even sports clubs along with allotments of food for the most needy. This was the only really effective social welfare program in Gaza and the West Bank whose people were suffering from the burden of years of their intifada war against Israel. The result was an Islamic Hamas landslide, control of the Palestinian government, and a giant step backward for the peace process – a result not anticipated by President Bush’s vision for democracy in the Middle East.

This is Bill Seamans.

Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.

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