America’s policy of backing “land for peace” deals in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was supposed to stop Palestinian terrorism and culminate in a Palestinian state coexisting with Israel “side by side in peace and security.” But after years of Israeli concessions, and after American pleas to embrace “leaders uncompromised by terror,” the Palestinians chose Hamas — a terrorist group committed to destroying Israel and creating a totalitarian Islamic regime.

Washington proclaimed itself shocked at this development. But the ascendance of Hamas should have been expected; it is the logical product of America’s foreign policy.

The U.S.-endorsed “Road Map to Peace” — like the “Peace Process” and sundry initiatives before it — rested on the rationalization that Palestinian terrorism is primarily the result of a legitimate grievance: the Palestinians’ frustrated wish to establish their own civilized, peaceful state. The way to end Palestinian terrorism, then, is not for Israel to defeat its attackers, but to give them land and loot with which to fulfill their supposed aspirations.

But as has been proven repeatedly by their actions and by numerous polls — and now by the recent election — the overwhelming majority of Palestinians aspire not for a civilized state but to eradicate Israel and replace it with a brutal dictatorship. Because they embrace this vicious goal, hordes of Palestinians idolized arch terrorist Yasser Arafat for waging a terrorist war to wipe out Israel and establish a nationalist dictatorship. During Arafat’s brutal reign, they abetted his terrorism and celebrated his atrocities. They served as cheerleaders or recruits for terrorist groups.

Yet Washington, deluding itself that Palestinians seek legitimate goals, rationalized Palestinian barbarities as the lashing out of oppressed victims. And so, as they mounted more attacks, Washington urged ever more concessions to the Palestinians. It has urged Israel to respect, not punish, them. The United States forbade Israel from laying a finger on Arafat, and extended this tender solicitude to Hamas leaders, like Salah Shededah. When Israeli forces found this organizer of suicide bombings and assassinated him, President Bush condemned Israel for its “heavy-handed” measures. Washington actually whitewashed the blood-stained Arafat and his crony Abbas as peace-loving statesmen and invited them to the White House.

Even as Palestinian terrorism raged, in defiance of Palestinian obligations under successive “peace deals,” America continued to dole out rewards. It sent hundreds of millions in aid to the terrorist-sponsoring Palestinian Authority. When Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza strip, rendering itself more vulnerable to predations, America wholeheartedly approved — and insisted on further land concessions. Palestinians, who swiftly began rocket attacks from Gaza, were jubilant; they correctly saw themselves as the victors whose terrorist war had won our approval and forced Israel to retreat.

American policy teaches Palestinians that their goal of destroying Israel — and the terrorism they employ to achieve it — is legitimate and practical. The ascendance of Hamas therefore was predictable. It is by far the more consistent proponent of that murderous goal.

Hamas openly seeks the destruction of Israel; it righteously wages a war of rocket attacks and suicide bombings against Israel. The once-dominant Fatah has also long sought Israel’s destruction, but it never delivered final triumph over Israel. That failure — Hamas and many other Palestinians conclude — stems from lacking dedication to the goal. Fatah’s leadership, more interested in retaining power than in advancing the people’s cause, deviated from the path of war: it countenanced negotiating with and recognizing Israel.

Who is better able to fulfill the Palestinians’ wish to obliterate Israel? Fatah leaders who halfheartedly mouth a vague and withered ideal — to create a nationalist Palestinian homeland — or the ardent proponents of a deeply resonant moral ideal — to destroy the enemies of Allah? It is Hamas that can invoke a rousing moral justification for its violence. It is Hamas that, fully understanding its objective, can consistently embrace the means of accomplishing it. Compared with Fatah, the zealous murderers of Hamas stand out as being more consistent and therefore more efficacious in pursuit of the people’s wish: Israel’s destruction.

America’s policy of appeasement has encouraged Hamas, it has weakened a crucial ally, and it will cost us dearly. Like the Taliban, al Qaeda and Iran, Hamas marches under the banner of Islamic totalitarianism. Hamas’s political ascendance is a victory for the enemies of America — and will further encourage the worst religious militants throughout the world. America must stop evading the nature of the Palestinian cause and embrace the principle of self-defense. A first step would be to urge Israel to annihilate Hamas, smash its terrorist infrastructure, execute its leaders — and for America to proclaim that all Islamic totalitarians will meet with the same fate.