UPDATE: Obsidian Wings says it so much better.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of this one, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Touching on this one is guaranteed to piss people off, and I guarantee that my thoughts will not make everyone happy, so let’s try and keep it civil.
It’s entirely logical that the Palestinian election should have turned out this way; no one should be surprised. Fatah was deeply corrupt and their leadership was weak. Of all the reasons that political parties fall, this is one of the most common. Hamas ran on a promise of clean government and a committment to change the status quo, and was elected by a population that has been abused, disenfranchised and volleyed around as political pawns by nearly every surrounding nation. I’d want to shake things up, too.
Naturally, Israel is worried and U.S. is squirming, because Palestine effectively elected a terrorist group to lead them. And the stand-in Israeli PM has already stated that Israel won’t negotiate with a group whose platform calls for Israel’s destruction. If anything, it’s a good lesson in democracy for a lot of us in the west: Just because you encourage free elections doesn’t mean you’ll get the results you want. Western nations poured money into this election, and now they’re panicking because this throws a pretty big wrench into the peace process.
Mr. Kuttab said that those who had preached democracy, from the Bush administration to the Israeli right, would have to decide if their values trumped their interests. “If Hamas respects the rules of the democratic game, we have to let the winners win,” he said. “But now Hamas will have to face reality, and part of reality means dealing with Israel.”
I also suspect that this election will amount to a huge disappointment for the Palestinian people. They’ve brought about a massive change, ousting the government that has been in power for more than 40 years, and I think they’re probably expecting immediate positive results. That just isn’t going to happen. I think we’ll end up seeing a re-creation of what we’ve been witnessing in Latin America for the past two decades: Lots of big promises of change, growth and development; tenuous U.S. support which inevitably morphs into self-serving exploitation; and a total lack of resources and internal structures to bring about the promised change, growth and development.
Israel is demanding that Hamas recognize the Israeli right to exist, and that they disavow terror as a tactic. Sounds reasonable enough to me. Except that it also seems that Israeli politicians have such a distrust of Hamas that they’re digging their heels in already. Which is pretty reasonable. But it doesn’t bode well for the future peace process.
The Palestinian Authority as a serious negotiating partner no longer exists for Israel, Mr. Halevi said. “Now the era of the pretend peace process is also over,” he said, and Israel will continue to act unilaterally to set its own borders, build the separation barrier between itself and the Palestinians and, in time, continue the process of unilateral withdrawal from more West Bank settlements — so long as it can ensure that a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority will not use that territory to launch rocket or other attacks on Israel.
“There is now a broad consensus, that Israel will go ahead and build our borders to preserve Israel as a democratic Jewish state,” said Ami Ayalon, a former director of Shin Bet now running for a seat with the Labor Party.
Calling “game over” and going back to the same failed model isn’t going to solve anything. Hamas leaders have said they would consider a “truce” if Israel returns to its 1967 borders. Now, I strongly believe in the right of Palestinians to have the occupied lands returned to them. I think extending Israeli settlements into Gaza and the West Bank was a huge mistake for Israel, as it turned them from a nation with a strong moral conscience into an occupying bully. I also believe in Israel’s basic right to exist, and to defend itself and its people (although I’m not sure how bulldozing homes and shooting at kids throwing stones really qualifies as fair defense). But Hamas saying that it will consider a truce just isn’t good enough, particularly when the destruction of Israel is central to their platform.
I think it’s important to stress that even conservative commentators on this issue have been quick to point out that this vote appears to be more a rebuke of Fatah than an expression of hope that Israel will be wiped off the map. But whatever the motivations of the voters, Hamas now has to deal with the reality of being in power, and it has to make strategic choices. As the New York Times lead editorial says today,
Hamas has a choice between governing and terror. Is the party more interested in making sure that the electricity and water stay on, that Palestinian boys and girls make it to school, and that these battered people finally get a state of their own? Or is it more interested in continuing its campaign to destroy Israel? If Hamas chooses the latter, it’s more than likely that it will not be around for long, and rightly so.
UPDATE: My friend Julie sent out an email to a few friends about this, and I thought what she had to say was very eloquent and to the point, so I’ve asked her if I could reproduce it here. She wanted me to make it clear that she isn’t an expert about any of this stuff and that she isn’t, in her words, “qualified to blog” (ha… as if anyone is). But what she has to say really captures a lot of the feelings held by many progressives who want to see peace, who support a democratic and stable Israel as well as Palestinian statehood, and who are balancing all of that with their Jewish faith.
I need to vent. Lucky for you. I imagine most of us have been pondering and struggling with Hamas’ victory on Wednesday, and I personally have passed through various phases of fear, bitterness, anger, frustration, etc. My initial reaction was: “The Israelis have just made arguably the most painful concession in their history by pulling out of Gaza, and this is how the Palestinians thank them???” I just read an article from the Wall Street Journal, an editorial from this morning’s paper that, if nothing else, helps me think about it from an un-emotional perspective. And it does, in some way, make me feel better. Let’s just bear in mind that Sharon himself did a political 180. 5 years ago I probably would have called him a terrorist. And then he made the most courageous step towards Arab-Israeli peace we’ve ever seen. In fact, I was reading something about him a while ago, and he said something like “you see things very differently from up here” about the reasons for his political conversion after assuming the premiership. I wish I could remember the exact quote – or where I read it – but you get the idea. And so while it’s no doubt hard to accept a ruling party bent on Israel’s destruction as a matter of policy, maybe there’s hope. Or maybe not. I mean, who knows. I think if nothing else, this new political atmosphere will upset the status quo and maybe make Israel and the US confront their own mistakes and culpabilities, because they are numerous. A whole new approach to Mid East politics is – maybe – just what we need. Ok, I’m going to shut up now and let you read what people who actually know what they are talking about have to say:
The WSJ article is here:
The sweeping victory of the Islamist Hamas party in Wednesday’s Palestinian legislative elections can hardly be considered good news. But neither is it surprising, and it may even have the long-run benefit of educating Palestinians about the terrible cost of their political choices.
The ruling Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas governed corruptly, ineffectually, and until the death in 2004 of founder Yasser Arafat, dictatorially. So it is understandable that Palestinians wanted an alternative. That they went for the only other major choice on offer is not necessarily an indication that they share Hamas’s goal of destroying Israel and all its citizens. The vote might even turn out to be clarifying — in the sense of showing the world that no Israeli-Palestinian peace is possible until the Palestinians have leaders who really want to live in peace with Israel.
Of course, there’s no sugar-coating what this vote for the party of suicide bombers and social welfare says about the state of Palestinian politics. Partly this is the fault of the losing Fatah faction itself. Ever since its return to the Palestinian territories in the mid-1990s following the Oslo “Peace” Accords, Fatah has fed Palestinians on a diet of extremist, anti-Semitic propaganda. Its military wing assassinated “moderate” Palestinians, while allowing Hamas to flourish as a terror weapon — both to kill Israelis, and to scare Fatah’s American and European patrons about the possible alternatives to its rule.
It should never be forgotten that in 2002 — under Arafat’s iron fist — Palestinian terrorists were allowed to murder 452 Israelis. That figure later dropped not because of any change of heart on Fatah’s part but because Israel and the United States finally gave up on Arafat as a credible peace partner and turned to a strategy of unilateral separation (the infamous “wall”) and military strikes.
Partly, too, Israel and the West must own up to their culpability for Wednesday’s outcome. Foreign policy critics of the so-called “realist” school will no doubt be tempted to trumpet the vote as a setback for President Bush’s strategy of democratizing the Middle East. But it’s more accurate to say that Hamas’s win only highlights the damage done by decades of realist support for “strongmen” and “stability.”
The calculation at the heart of Oslo was that Arafat and Fatah would impose a dictatorial order on Palestinians that outsiders never could. The late Yitzhak Rabin put it most clearly when he said the point of recognizing Arafat in 1993 was not to give the Palestinians their freedom. It was because Arafat could deal with Hamas and other troublemakers without interference from “the Supreme Court and [the human rights organization] B’Tselem.”
Rabin was right that Arafat would have scant regard for the rights of Palestinians. But he was wrong that Arafat would crack down on Hamas. Like every other strongman, Arafat didn’t crack down on extremists but used them to his advantage where he could. Palestinians could see that the U.S. was coddling a man who oppressed them, breeding cynicism about U.S. motives and making it hard for democratic movements to flourish. The Bush Administration is working hard to change those perceptions and build a Palestinian civil society, but this will take years.
So far the White House — which pushed the Palestinian Authority to hold these elections — has struck the right notes in response to the Hamas victory. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the vote for being peaceful and “by all accounts fair.” At the same time she stated that “you cannot have one foot in politics and another in terror.” President Bush rightly said Hamas should expect no relations with the United States until it stops calling for Israel’s destruction.
The White House will have to resist the temptation, no doubt encouraged by Europe, to pressure Israel to deal with Hamas as it once was pressed to deal with Arafat. But given Hamas’s history and declared goals, the onus is on its leaders to show that they have an agenda beyond terror. If Hamas begins to use Gaza as a base to import weapons and attack Israel, the Jewish state will have every right to strike back in self-defense. And the U.S. should support it in doing so.
It’s always possible that the burden of responsibility will over time make Hamas a less radical movement. If it remains rejectionist and bent only on war with Israel, then the Palestinians will sour on its rule in any case. Perhaps then average Palestinians will conclude they have no choice but to co-exist with Israel if they want a better life. The obligation of the U.S. is to make it clear to Hamas, and to all Palestinians, that there is no future in terror.