Hamas’ Electoral Victory, Five Views

I laughed when Hamas swept the Palestinian elections. After all, President Bush and his gang of neoconservative ideologues have been preaching that democracy in the Middle East will lead to peace.

Oops. Now the president will once more have to expose himself as the hypocrite he is. Democracy is good, in Mr. Bush’s view, only if it elects the people he wants in office. The choice of the Palestinian majority, expressed in what all the observers said was a free and fair election, is not acceptable to Mr. Bush.

Hamas, you should know, has been around for a long time, and for most of that time, the United States did not label it a terrorist organization. Hamas has a military wing, but the majority of its efforts have been in providing welfare, medical care and education to dirt-poor Palestinians who would have to do without but for Hamas. Unlike the corrupt Fatah, the Palestinian party Mr. Bush apparently wanted to win, Hamas has a reputation for being honest.

If there is anything American politicians fear, it is an honest man. More than one is even worse. How can the Bush administration bribe the Palestinian Authority into keeping quiet while Israel unilaterally consolidates its position if the elected people won’t accept bribes for selling out their constituents? No wonder the Bush White House is worried.

If I were the leader of Hamas, I would send President Bush a message that said essentially this: “Don’t worry about not talking to us. We have no desire to talk to you. For 39 years you Americans have talked about peace processes and we have not recovered one square centimeter of Palestinian land. On the contrary, Israel has expanded into Palestinian territory while you prevented the United Nations from taking any action to stop it.

“The conflict in Palestine is quite simple. In 1967, Israel invaded and has since occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We lack the military power to eject the Israelis and therefore have zero influence on them. You, who have given Israel more than $90 billion, do have influence. So, instead of talking to us, talk to the Israelis. As soon as the Israeli occupation is ended, the problem in Palestine will go away. In the meantime, we have a lot of domestic problems to solve, which was the platform we ran on anyway.”

As for the suicide bombings Hamas has carried out, I have said before that the method of delivery is irrelevant. We and the Israelis deliver our bombs from airplanes, helicopters and artillery tubes. Since the Palestinians are denied modern weapons, they have to walk or drive their bombs to the targets. Morally, there is no difference whatsoever between bombs delivered by air or by foot. It is an undeniable fact that we have killed a thousand times more civilians in Iraq, Panama, Libya, Serbia, Grenada and Vietnam than Hamas has killed Israelis. Naturally, we dismiss the civilians we kill as “collateral damage.”

The death toll in the latest intifada, by the way, is 1,084 Israelis killed by Palestinians and 3,786 Palestinians killed by Israelis. Not all of those Israelis were killed by Hamas. Fatah also has a military wing, and there are other resistance organizations.

But back to the president’s strategic blunder. He should have read my column. I’ve said over and over that the largest group of people in the Middle East pushing for democracy is the Islamic parties, and the only “friends” we have in the Middle East are the rulers we pay to be our friends. You will notice that Egypt, Jordan and the Saudis, all on our payroll in one way or another, were the first to call on Hamas to moderate its stand.

I doubt Hamas will do so. That’s the trouble with honest people of sincere faith. They believe they must answer to a higher authority, and their loyalty is not for sale. Palestinians, like everyone else on Earth, have an inalienable right to resist occupation of their homeland. It is to our shame and disgrace that we side with the occupiers. At any rate, Mr. Bush and the neocons had better be more careful about what they wish for.

Charley Reese is a nationally syndicated columnist. This column first appeared Feb. 10, 2006. Copyright ©2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

De-Demonize Hamas and Support Democracy

John V. Whitbeck

Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniya waves to reporters before a Feb. 26 meeting in Gaza City with Abdallah Alhorane, chief of the National Center for Studies and Documentation (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed).


IF ONE views the world through the eyes of Israeli and Western governments and media, one is likely to believe that the primary obstacle to Middle East peace has for the past several years been Fatah’s failure to “dismantle the infrastructure of terror” and has now become Hamas’ desire for the “destruction of Israel.”

A greater obstacle may be the failure to question what, if anything, such catch phrases actually mean and to move beyond them to rational thought.

What does “dismantling the infrastructure of terror” mean? What “infrastructure”? Roads? Bridges? Office buildings? Given the distinctly personal and low-tech nature of the acts characterized as “terror” in the Palestinian context, “dismantling the infrastructure of terror” sounds rather like tearing arms and legs off people.

It was not surprising that Israel and the West never sought to be precise about what they had in mind, since the objective of insisting that negotiations could not be resumed until the “infrastructure of terror” was dismantled was never to stimulate any conceivable action on the Palestinian side but, rather, to justify inaction on the Israeli side—the avoidance of negotiations, which Ariel Sharon, with his unilateralist proclivities, was determined to avoid while building walls and fixing “permanent borders” as he saw fit.

What was surprising was that the former Palestinian leadership did not point out the absurdity of this demand, choosing instead to issue public assurances that it would love to do so and would when it could, thereby implicitly accepting the Israeli and Western argument that the Palestinians, uniquely, have no right to resist occupation—reason enough (even if there were no others) for them to be voted out of office.

Now that Hamas’ smashing election victory has rendered “dismantling the infrastructure of terror” moot, it appears that the “destruction of Israel” (already recited in the Western media virtually as though it formed part of Hamas’ name) will become the new catch phrase used to justify avoiding negotiations or even “talks,” as well as Israel’s withholding of Palestinian customs revenues, the West’s withholding of financial aid for Palestinian subsistence under occupation and a concerted effort to make the Palestinian people regret their flirtation with democracy and starve them into submission.

It is therefore worth asking, early on, what wishing for the “destruction of Israel” actually means. The country’s land surface sinking beneath the waters of the Mediterranean? Not likely. All Israelis being “pushed into the sea”? Neither likely nor practical. The end of the current settler-colonial state structure, which discriminates, both in law and in practice, in favor of the immigrant ethnic group and against those members of the indigenous population who have not already been ethnically cleansed?

People may in good faith believe that such state structures are a good thing and deserve to endure (or, uniquely, to endure in this one instance), but is it really “beyond the pale” to believe otherwise—particularly if one belongs to the people whose homeland has been conquered and occupied? Is anyone who believes that the transformation of the Arab land of Palestine into the Jewish state of Israel, necessarily involving the dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people, represents a great injustice that should be rectified, by virtue of so believing, so morally debased that they should not even be spoken with?

When the South African liberation movement called for the replacement of their country’s settler-colonial, white-supremicist state structure by a fully democratic state, free of any form of discrimination based on race, religion or national origin and with equal rights for all who live there, this was not characterized as advocating the “destruction of South Africa”—except by the apartheid regime itself. The peaceful transformation of that race-based state into a fully democratic one has been the most inspirational event in human and international relations in recent decades.

Concepts and aspirations may be formulated in positive or negative ways. The “destruction of Israel” is clearly a negative formulation. The “creation of a fully democratic state with equal rights for all” in all of Israel/Palestine could be a positive reformulation which would be recognized by the world as just and offer genuine hope for peace and reconciliation.

Israel and the West appear to be gearing up to punish the Palestinian people for having achieved the Arab world’s first peaceful change of government through a genuinely democratic election (a truly breathtaking achievement), recycling the old mantra that “we will never talk with terrorists” (“never” having historically meant “until we wish to do so”).

If Israel and the West were genuinely interested in peace, it would surely be wiser and more constructive to pre-emptively de-demonize Hamas (as the PLO was de-demonized when finally deemed convenient), to draw some enlightening conclusions from its election victory and to try, through engagement, to encourage it to adapt its aspirations and its quest for justice in a more positive and universally acceptable direction.

John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is author of The World According to Whitbeck, available from the AET Book Club.

Now Comes Power—With Responsibility?

By John Gee

Shortly after the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987, I witnessed a confrontation between an angry Palestinian exile and Yasser Arafat, head of the Fatah movement and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The man was from Jerusalem, and had been a child when the Israeli occupation of the eastern part of the city began in 1967. Catching Arafat as he left a conference hall, he told him that he used to listen to his speeches about liberating the whole of Palestine through armed struggle and they gave him hope and inspiration, but now he was making concession after concession in response to American and Israeli demands and international pressure.

“What happened to you?” he asked.

Arafat leaned toward him, put his hand on his arm, and said, “In those days, I was the leader of Fatah. Now, I am the leader of the Palestinian people.”

Without another word, Arafat walked on, leaving his questioner temporarily rooted to the spot and speechless.

I am reminded of that moment by the success of Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. At last, it has come to a point where it will be forced to make some hard choices about its policies—not in response to foreign demands so much as to those of the people who it will govern.

Until now, Hamas has had power without responsibility. It had a strong armed wing, and could mobilize tens of thousands for its street protests. It represented a minority politically, but a very substantial one. It was in a position to criticize all the failings and mistakes of the established Palestinian leadership without having to prove that it could do better. Those times are over.

Following the elections, Hamas could simply stand by its past policy of refusing to negotiate with Israel, on the grounds that to do so would confer legitimacy upon it; it could insist that there is nothing to discuss and that Israel must leave every inch of the occupied West Bank in return for a long-term truce, without negotiation. In that case, it would face problems with its own electorate, which certainly wants a complete end to the occupation, but also wants peace, order and economic development—all unattainable if Hamas chooses to leave no road open but that of violent confrontation.

A more likely alternative is that Hamas will look for a formula that would allow negotiations with Israel to resume. This would include a long-term extension of the cease-fire that it has observed during the election campaign and the enforcement of the cease-fire upon other Palestinian organizations—a condition that Hamas, unlike the outgoing leadership, is in a position to fulfill. The negotiating position of a Hamas-dominated Palestinian National Authority would be more uncompromising than the former leadership’s on the surface, but beneath differences in language and approach, both are bound by a popular consensus among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that they are ready to agree to co-exist peacefully with Israel on the condition that it fully withdraws from the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip.

Whether there will be a peace process at all does not only depend on Palestinian decisions. If the USA and Israel refuse to negotiate with it, or try to insist upon conditions that it is unable to meet at present, then the initiative will pass to those on both sides who profit from a continuing conflict. Matters are complicated by the Israeli elections: neither the center-right Kadima party, the present front-runner, nor the Labor Party will want to make themselves vulnerable to attacks from Likud and other rightists by appearing to be conciliatory toward the party whose armed wing carried out the worst bomb attacks on unarmed Israeli civilians.

The outside world has some thinking to do. For years, fervent opponents of any Israeli compromise with the Palestinians subjected the Palestinian National Authority (established as a result of the 1993 Israel-PLO agreement) to unremitting attacks in order to undermine its status and marginalize it. They highlighted its corruption, ignoring the fact that Israel colluded in it; they attacked it as undemocratic, although both Arafat and the Palestinian Legislative Council had been elected. There was a lot wrong with the PNA, but these critics wanted to kill it, not cure it, so that the occupation could continue, in the absence of a peace settlement. They have been quite successful, and that is one reason why Hamas holds the power it does today. When such people say that Israel wants peace, but has no one on the Palestinian side to talk with, it ought to be remembered how hard they exerted themselves to try to make that true.

For decades, one myth propagated by some commentators on the Middle East was that Arafat and the Fatah leadership represented Palestinian extremism. Most Palestinians, on the contrary, saw them as making one concession after another in response to American and Israeli demands. Every time that Arafat and the PNA accepted one of those demands, they undermined their own popular support and ultimately weakened their own ability to agree to terms for an enduring peace settlement. They understood what was happening, but believed that they had no choice; they clung to the hope that the USA would one day reward their sacrifices by pressing Israel to end the occupation, and then their policies would be seen by their people as having been vindicated. It did not happen: even Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last year was declared a unilateral measure, for which the PNA was not to be allowed to take the slightest credit.

The Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip did not turn to Hamas in this election chiefly because of PNA corruption and mismanagement, though they were certainly significant issues; nor did they do so because they saw Fatah as extreme. They did not vote for Hamas out of support for terrorism or for continuing warfare. The main reason they backed Hamas was that they saw it as a more determined and effective defender of Palestinian rights and interests. Most are not interested in the details of its ideology. They value the pluralistic and generally tolerant character of Palestinian society; they want more democracy, not less. The more sophisticated Hamas leaders understand this and it now has to be seen whether they will act as a faction out to impose its own beliefs on Palestinian society or embrace the responsibility of being a representative government.

John Gee is a free-lance journalist based in Singapore and author of Unequal Conflict: The Palestinians and Israel, available from the AET Book Club. This article first appeared in the Straits Times Jan. 28, 2006. Copyright 2006 the Straits Times. Reprinted with permission.

Hamas Poll Victory Tears at a Key Bush Alliance

Paul Richter

The election victory of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, which has sent tremors throughout the Middle East, is also opening cracks in an edifice of American politics: the alliance between the Bush administration and staunch supporters of Israel.

Since Hamas was thrust into control of the Palestinian legislature in balloting last month, pro-Israel groups in the United States have openly questioned the administration’s decision to push for an on-time vote despite fears that Hamas would make a strong showing. And they are parting company with the White House over how to deal with a new Palestinian government led by Hamas, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist group. The organizations are seeking legislation that would tighten restrictions on U.S. contacts and aid, while the administration is trying to keep its options open.

The divisions are one more complication for the White House as it seeks to make political progress in the Middle East.

Though the tension with pro-Israel groups could evaporate, it also could escalate if the administration tries to build a working relationship with a Hamas-dominated government, as America’s European and Arab allies may urge it to do.

“We should not deal with a regime that is dominated and run in any way by a terrorist organization,” said Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, which has generally supported President Bush’s policy on Israel.

Pro-Israel groups have been a key part of Bush’s political coalition since he ran for president in 2000. After taking office, Bush forged a close relationship with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and has usually sided with the Israeli leadership in disputes. Bush has avoided mediating disputes, preferring that the Israelis take the lead on issues with the Palestinians.

The groups consider their ties to the White House a major asset and have generally avoided airing their differences with the administration. But in their dismay at the Palestinian election results, some are choosing to speak out.

Leaders of many Jewish organizations were upset that U.S. officials pushed hard for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to hold the parliamentary elections on schedule even though Israelis were worried about how much power Hamas might garner.

“In retrospect, it was clear that this was an American foreign policy mistake,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “We woke up with a catastrophe.”

The administration has focused on halting terrorism and pursuing democracy, Foxman noted. But terrorism should have been stopped first, he said, and trying to do both at once through the elections was counterproductive, he said.

“Democracy is not a quick fix, and you need to have civil society in place for [elections] to work,” Foxman said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t. It backfired.”

He insisted that the ties between the White House and the pro-Israel groups remained firm, but acknowledged that the elections had produced a “blip” in the relationship.

The leader of one prominent group, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity, said that many pro-Israel activists see the rise of Hamas as a major setback to their relationship with Bush.

“There’s a distance now,” the official said. “We’re not used to it. It’s not a good thing.”

The skepticism about the administration’s democracy promotion effort comes at a time when conservative “realists,” among others, have become more critical. They point out that in recent months, Middle Eastern elections have not only handed power to Hamas and a hard-line anti-Israel leader in Iran, but also strengthened the position of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The potential rift has implications for Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Middle East, a central element of his foreign policy. If pro-Israel groups turn decisively against the effort, the broader coalition that has been backing him on the program “could begin to come apart,” said Nathan Brown, a specialist on Palestinian politics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Since the Palestinian elections, the administration and organized supporters of Israel have taken similar rhetorical positions on U.S. relations with the new government. There will be no dealings with Hamas unless it renounces violence, disarms and recognizes Israel, they say.

But within the administration, there are differing views on how to react to a Palestinian government dominated by Hamas, and U.S. officials remain undecided on how they might deal with the new leadership. For now, they want to leave open the option of working with the government if, for example, Abbas remains in his post along with other officials without ties to Hamas.

At a news conference last week with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was vague on the prospects for aid and official recognition. Livni, however, insisted that neither should be offered unless Hamas met all three conditions.

Rice declined to describe what types of U.S. aid might be provided to the Palestinians, saying that decision depended on events that were “changing and evolving.” She said American decisions “await the outcome of the government formation process, because that will tell the tale of what is possible.”

Leaders of pro-Israel groups say they hope Americans will remain firm with Hamas. But they are concerned the administration might bend under international pressure to continue aid and contact with the new government. After Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said Thursday he would invite Hamas leaders to the Kremlin, Rice obtained assurances that the Kremlin would continue to stress the need for Hamas to work peacefully with Israel, a State Department spokesman said.

U.S. officials say they are eager to hammer out a joint international position on the issue, believing that would hold the most sway with Hamas. American officials also say they understand that a rise in violence or a humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian territories would undermine other U.S. efforts in the region.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that although he believed the administration probably would hold a firm line, “there will always be some people who advocate taking a blind eye, or another naive approach.”

Many pro-Israel groups have lined up behind legislation proposed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) that would sharply limit aid to any government that included Hamas.

The bill says that only basic humanitarian aid can be provided if any member of a designated terrorist group leads or serves in any government office. It would bar U.S. contact with Hamas members and prohibit U.S. visas for members of the Palestinian government. The bill is designed to tighten restrictions under existing laws, which ban direct aid to groups officially listed as terrorist.

The legislation has the support of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading Jewish lobby group, as well as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which is also a key player on legislative issues.

Administration officials have sought to delay the legislation and write in exemptions that would give them more latitude. But the bill’s advocates have made it clear they want to restrict White House flexibility.

Ros-Lehtinen said that in this case, Congress should assert its role in setting U.S. foreign policy. “That’s our voice, and these are our [votes], and not the White House’s,” she said.

This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times Feb. 13, 2006. Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times. Reprinted with permission.

The Palestinian Elections: An Expression of Endurance and Hope

By Samah Jabr

Employees of the Palestinian Authority received their January salaries 10 days late. This is just the beginning of the financial troubles Palestinians are facing in the aftermath of the Jan. 26 legislative elections in which the Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, won the political high ground against its Fatahopponents, some of whom were financially and politically supported by the American administration.

Those who voted are knowledgeable, politicized people who have a true desire for democracy, and they made their choice in the face of the threatened American and European reaction to a potential Hamas government.

Despite reservations about holding elections under occupation and the exclusion of the Palestinians of the diaspora—unlike their Iraqi counterparts—the electoral process was a clean and unprecedented one in the Arab world, with 78 percent of Palestinians voting—a number much higher than in many Western countries, including the U.S. Hamas won throughout the Palestinian territories, even in cities with a significant Christian community, such as Bethlehem and Ramallah. The Palestinian Authority having proved incapable of effectively resisting Israeli aggression, people voted in the hope that Hamas can deliver an end to their occupation.

Israeli attempts to destroy Hamas, and American and European criminalization of it, failed to make it a less popular electoral choice in Palestine. Threats to stop aid and talks proved ineffective, because Palestinians know that the PLO’s acceptance of Israel and its willingness to cede 78 percent of Palestinian land resulted only in years of fruitless talks, with aid money used to corrupt officials and impose Israel’s political agenda. Palestinians voted against the sell-out of our national rights for our monthly salaries, against Israeli arrogance, Palestinian corruption and Western blackmailing and bribery.

And why was the Hamas victory such a surprise? Hamas, after all, is a movement that combines religious ideology with Palestinian nationalism—values well rooted in our society. Or are Palestinians expected to import their representatives and their values from abroad? Hamas is also perceived by many Palestinians as a grass-roots socialist movement capable of developing social welfare programs and delivering an honest, modest government and effective public services. According to some of its leaders, at the heart of Hamas is “alleviating the debilitative conditions of occupation, and not [creeating] an Islamic state.”

Israelis are working tirelessly to undermine Palestine’s government-to-be, not only by using diplomacy to incite the world against it, but also by out-and-out robbery of tax money that comes from the pockets of the occupied, impoverished Palestinians; by withholding the $54 million it collects monthly on behalf of the Palestinians as custom duty; and by preventing Palestinian farmers from selling their goods abroad, as our farmers’ vegetables and fruits now rot at the Israeli-controlled border.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, international unity against the Hamas-led government includes a few Palestinians who are keen to see the new government fail, lest the opening of files documenting corruption—the new government’s top priority—expose them or bring an end to their privileges.

The Western media have been very interested in the subject of Hamas and women, expressing concerns about women’s freedom and civil liberties under a Hamas-led government—as if the Palestinians are oppressed by men and religion, not by the Israeli occupation. This “concern” conveniently ignores the fact that Hamas has elected 15 female legislators to play a significant role in public life. Indeed, the newly elected legislature has more women representatives than did the previous one, when Western concern was not apparent. Similarly, it remains a Palestinian “secret” that Christians, too, not only voted for Hamas but ran as candidates on the Hamas list, a sign of the genuine and lasting relationships that have been forged.

Today, the West is united in demanding that, if it wants aid and talks to continue, Hamas must delete its charter’s opposition to Israel, recognize the occupier and renounce armed resistance (some of the very reasons the previous Fatah-led government was voted out). If they fail to respond to these threats, the Palestinians will be punished with a cessation of financial aid—
this despite European responsibility for the Israeli occupation of our land and Washington’s unceasing and massive economic and political aid enabling Israeli terror, intimidation and land confiscation in Palestine.

Although Israel continues to push further settlement in the West Bank in defiance of peace agreements, expand its annexation wall despite the opinion of the International Court of Justice, and commit extrajudicial assassination in violation of international law, it continues to receive aid. Why is aid to Israel not tied to adherence to the conditions of peace agreements it has signed?

With its demands on the Palestinians, the West dismisses international law, which clearly recognizes the right of armed self-defense against foreign occupation. Genuine international humanitarian aid to the Palestinians should begin with enforcing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which calls for equality and freedom for all peoples. In the eyes of Palestinians and many other observers, Western democracy stumbled the day Palestinians cast their ballots.

Peace between Palestinians and Israelis will not be achieved through prejudgments or preconditions, but with a fair and balanced policy regarding our struggle. Today we have a newly elected government that is steadfastly representing the Palestinian people and is more likely to stand behind the agreements it makes than a non-representative, imposed government. This is an opportunity the world should not pass up.

The new Palestinian government urgently needs effective alternative financial aid that does not come with any preconditions against Palestinian national rights. On the political level, the new government can make use of Hamas’s unique capacity to mobilize the populace against Israel’s illegal wall, checkpoints, settlements and siege, enforce local boycotts and campaign against regional normalization with Israel to maximize the momentum toward independence and peace. The wonderful words we are hearing about reform, social empowerment and pluralism should serve as an exemplary model of how Islamic ideology is compatible with democracy and human rights once they are put in practice.

As much as this is a time of hope for real progress and survival of Palestinian rights, it is also a time of uncertainty that we must endure honorably, as we have done in the past. Palestinians selected those who will be speaking in their name, and who now bear the heavy heritage of an authority without a free land, of unjust political agreements, a tenuous local economic and security situation, and an awful backdrop of corruption. Now we need to stand behind our choice and rally around our elected leaders to help them defend us and our rights. This is an important moment in Palestinian history, one which might herald the beginning of Palestinian independence and sovereignty. It should surprise no one that it is a difficult moment as well.

Samah Jabr, a native of Jerusalem, is a medical doctor currently studying in France