Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas in power

Anyone who has seen the news today will know that Hamas has apparently won a resounding victory in yesterday’s Palestinian elections. There seems to be a lot of justifiable hand-wringing over this regrettable result. Nonetheless I feel it is not as tragic as people make out. This is not to say that Hamas is in any way acceptable to me, but I do feel increased democracy is still a step in the right direction. That said, it should be noted that Hamas is a despicable Islamist terrorist organization, which advocates Israel’s destruction outright. Meryl Yourish highlights their repeatedly and explicitly stated contemptible positions.
The White House has indicated its unwillingness (link requires subs.) to deal with them:
President Bush said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal Wednesday that he won't deal with any Hamas leaders until the organization renounces its call for the elimination of Israel. Whether Hamas is democratically elected or not, Mr. Bush said, the U.S. won't deal with the group. Hamas has claimed responsibility for many attacks on Israel over the years and continues to deny its right to exist.
"A political party, in order to be viable, is one that professes peace, in my judgment, in order that it will keep the peace," Mr. Bush said. "And so you're getting a sense of how I'm going to deal with Hamas if they end up in positions of responsibility. And the answer is: Not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you," he said.
There is even talk of an interruption of US aid to the Palestinians:
McCormack also would not say whether the United States would withhold aid to the Palestinians if Hamas is in the government, although other U.S. officials have indicated that could happen.
Clearly dealing with the new Palestinian leadership will be tricky, particularly for Israeli Prime Minsiter Ehud Olmert. However I think one should not underestimate the effect that reaching power can have on what has until now been a "rebel." Hopefully their aura in the eyes of the Palestinians will quickly tarnish when faced with practical everyday concerns and failures. Additionally the organization itself is liable to inch towards "mainstream" at least to some extent simply as a result of coming to power. This will no doubt be a slow process, but for it to have even a slight chance of success Hamas must have a strong sense that it won’t get anywhere on the international scene as long as it does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounces armed conflict.
Until (or while) this happens Israel needs to do two important things, which will be difficult to pull off simultaneously.
  • It needs to respond militarily to attacks from the Palestinians, and in particular to institutional terrorism from Hamas, giving the strongest signals possible that it will not tolerate any escalation of violence.
  • At the same time, upon completion of the security fence (which was an excellent idea) next year, Israel needs to withdraw from most of the West Bank unilaterally, whilst keeping hold of Jerusalem, which is something that – it seems – is already in the cards.
Meticulously applying these policies, coupled with intransigence from the international community in the face of the current goals and methods of Hamas (which, as far as the EU is concerned, unfortunately cannot be counted on as much as one would wish), in addition to the continued democratization and increased transparency in the Palestinian leadership (which is to be welcomed no matter what the electoral results), will hopefully augur an improved situation in that part of the world.

Post Scriptum:
Harry's Place and OxBlog, who is in Gaza at the moment (via Instapundit) make some interesting points:
It's not clear anyone wanted this, least of all Hamas, who in assuming the administration of the Palestinian national authority's creaking and often corrupt bureaucracy single-handed in a moment when its sole lifeline of European and other international support appears threatened, may just have stumbled into the biggest molasses patch the Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah has ever faced. Unlike the Lib Dems of 1985, Hamas did not go to its constituencies to prepare for government. It had prepared for a coalition, or possibly pristine opposition, but not this.
The mood here, so recently jubilant, suddenly is somber. In Ramallah we are promised a press conference at 7, with final results, and Hamas has said it will declare its intentions after. Does Hamas continue to moderate in its now desperate need to keep foreign aid flowing? It may still yet form a coalition, to provide internationally palatable, unbearded, faces for Europeans and Americans to talk to. Khaled Mashaal has telephoned Abu Mazen to offer a coalition partnership; while Saeb Erekat indicated Fateh would go into opposition, Nabil Sha'ath said Fateh leaders would meet at 5 to determine their future. Watch this space.
We certainly will.

No comments: