Saturday, January 28, 2006

On Palestine

Since most Americans have now gotten over their initial shock and outrage at the outcome of the Palestinian elections, I feel it is safe to write about it now. Given that democracy in the Arab world is my field, it was difficult for me to not write a bit about it, especially in light of the fact that so many Americans, even many on the left, considered the vote for Hamas as a vote "for terror." Some of the things I have seen written over the past two days have shown a willful ignorance and incredible lack of understanding of the situation. I suppose that is to be expected, as even Israelis and Palestinians are trying to figure out what the consequences of this will be. The first reactions I received were from the two co-CEOs of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a non-profit center dedicated to the peace process. Gershon Baskin, an Israeli, was gravely pessimistic, saying "The election of Hamas put the final nail in the coffin of the peace process...The people also voted for Hamas because of its political agenda." I am more inclined to agree with the Palestinian co-CEO, Hanna Sinora. His piece in the Jerusalem Post is optimistic. He says:
"The Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections may be a blessing in disguise. Now that they are in power, Hamas will have to take responsibility for the future. They will have to become more moderate. Now they are part of the democratic game and they will have to play by the democratic rules."
There are several reasons why he is right. The first is history. The West freaked out when Turkey elected the AKP in 2002. Reactionaries were running around screaming that Turkey was going to become an Islamic fundamentalist state. Now, Turkey is not without it's problems, but PM Erdogen is a buddy of the American right, and the AKP has proven a moderate force in the country. Granted, AKP does not have the history of violence that Hamas does (although there is something to be said for their oppression of Kurds in the east,) but the "Islamic threat" that terrified Americans turned out to be no threat at all. A second piece of history to examine is Northern Ireland. Again, Ulster is not without its problems, but something that resembles peace has enshrouded the region since Easter 1998, Omagh being the notable exception.

The more important point is to make the distinction between a vote for Hamas and a vote against Fatah. Palestinians did not vote for terror. They voted Fatah out of power because it was corrupt and couldn't get anything done. Hamas ran under the slogan "Reform and Change." Palestinians are sick of living in third world conditions, and most of them have resigned to the fact that they are never going to get their land back and that Israel is there to stay, so they have to make it work. They want a functional economy. They want jobs. They want a place to live where they can be sure it won't be bulldozed to the ground.

Hamas itself has been forced into moderation, and will become more moderate in power. They were responsible for the cease-fire and were in better control of their people than Fatah, and face it, Fatah has its own militant terrorist group who isn't any better. Leaving Hamas out of the political process can only make them more radical. After all, terrorism is a product of exclusion. When the Muslim Brotherhood was persecuted in Egypt, they resorted to violence. When Israel was created, those who resisted occupation turned to violence. Exclusion is what causes the violence - it's that simple.

If any bad comes out of this, it will be at the hands of Israel, who is characteristically reactionary and paranoid. I'm not saying it doesn't have the right to be, but if it refuses to talk to Hamas, it is going to make happen what it says will happen, and peace will be dead. Only Israel can kill the peace process.

For the record, anyone who was shocked by the outcome of the elections hasn't been paying attention. Everyone who knows anything about Palestine knew this was a strong possibility, so those in shock obviously don't know what they're talking about.

No, righties, I am not happy that Hamas won. I just don't think it is the end of the world. All I'm saying is give it a chance.

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