Thursday, January 26, 2006

So Hamas appears to have won the Palestinian elections. Danny Yatom, the former head of Mossad who is one of the politicians whom I heard analyzing Israeli-Palestinian politics the other day, made it clear that with a Hamas government in power on the other side Israel will never conduct serious negotiations on final-status agreements. No matter what party will lead the Israeli government after March 28th, steps taken by Israel will be mostly unilateral, which will lead to disengagement, though not to a Palestinian state. While it is yet too early to decide on such steps ( just as it was premature for the US or Israel to say that they will not negotiate or cooperate with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas ), we can be pretty sure that unilateral disengagement will be a central item in the coming Israeli elections. Israel's rightwingers blame the Left, Olmert and Kadimah ( they do their best not to mention the comatose Sharon ) for the Hamas victory. What could we expect? More interestingly, what will Likud propose as an alternative to unilateral disengagement? Will the victory of Hamas cause Israelis to turn to extreme rightwing parties, or will it strengthen Kadimah, which is being identified with disengagement? The elections seem to have been very democratic, with few irregularities and a high turnout. That leads us to several conclusions as far as the will of the Palestinian people is concerned.
  • Understandably Palestinians were really fed up with the corruption and infighting of the Fatah-related factions. Like other Islamist political parties, Hamas has a reputation of honesty and modesty.
  • One could seriously start to wonder whether a majority of Palestinians wants/believes in a peaceful, negotiated solution of the conflict with Israel. For decades support, among the Palestinian population, for the various ( terror ) organizations that make up the political spectrum in the territories has been linked directly to those organizations' success in their 'struggle' against Israel, i.e. the more Jews an organization managed to murder and maim, the more respect and popular support it has received. Hamas is the organization that - by turning suicide terrorism into a byword for the Palestinian nationalist struggle - has been the most 'successful' in that struggle. Although the organization has tried to present itself abroad as pragmatic, few Palestinians voted for it because they believed in pragmatism and some sort of peaceful coexistence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
  • The assumption on which Oslo was based ( as soon as the Palestinians understand that peace is in their own interest - only through peaceful coexistence alongside and economic cooperation with Israel will they be able to improve their lives - they will give up terror ) was faulty, to say the least. Like the extreme and not so extreme rightwing Israelis, Palestinian voters made clear that they believe only in absolute solutions: their right exludes the right of the other side. If - and this is a big if - Israeli policy planners ever took the Palestinians' wellbeing into account ( assuming that their wellbeing is Israel's interest ), they can stop pretending to do so from now on, and make their plans and carry out their policies based on one consideration only: Israel's wellbeing and security interests.

In diverse media I heard people say that once in power Hamas will become more realistic and less fanatic, but I find that hard to believe. True, the Muslim Brotherhood - which, one could say, inspired the founders of Hamas - has participated peacefully and democratically in Egyptian and Jordanian politics, but in neither country that Islamist organization ever had an absolute majority, and terror has never been the Brotherhood's raison-d'etre. While I do not believe in historical comparisons I could not help thinking that in the 1930s some people believed that being in power would soften the Nazis' anti-Semitism and other radical ideas. On the contrary, their hatred only intensified, with one big difference: now they had all the means to implement their promises.

PA officials blamed Israel and the US for the Hamas victory. Such claims are not entirely baseless, of course, but Fatah officials - and most of all their late leader, Arafat - are also to blame. If they had put their people's interests before their own, if they had fought terror instead of allowing and encouraging it, if the US had not remained on the sidelines for the last five years or so, if Israel had realized sooner that the occupation hurts 'us' as much as or even more than it hurts 'them', if..., if..., if... As Matan Vilnai said to the Dutch journalist whom I accompanied, there are too many ifs, we have to wait and see, and deal with reality. While that reality has become clearer now, it also has become more complicated, and based on common sense I would say that both a Palestinian state and some kind of a peaceful solution/end to the conflict have become less feasible now than ever. On the other hand, based on common sense I would say that this whole conflict is unnecessary and absurd. Apparently common sense was not invented and has never really taken root in the Middle East.

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