Thursday, February 09, 2006

Little town lessons
Israel: Hamas learned to win big by starting small, but now faces an aid embargo
Mindy Belz

One way to understand the Hamas victory in last month's parliamentary elections is to look at Bethlehem. Western tourists who remember Manger Square with its clogged churches and bustling vendors will find it much changed.

About 12 years ago the city of Jesus' birth had a population under 100,000 that was roughly 60 percent Christian. Unemployment, thanks to commerce with nearby Jerusalem and a steady tourist trade, rested at just 2 percent. That changed after Israel signed on to the Oslo accords in 1993 and began turning over towns in Gaza and the West Bank to then-Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat.

In 1994 Mr. Arafat redrew Bethlehem's municipal boundaries to incorporate three Palestinian refugee camps—adding 30,000 Muslims to the city's roster. Mr. Arafat championed Muslim immigration to Bethlehem from nearby Hebron, a city also newly given to his control.


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