Friday, January 27, 2006
ELECTION IN PALESTINE: SOME ANALYSIS
The overwhelming victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections is in reality only the latest in decades of "dramatic" events that "change everything." While most everyone is concentrating on the impact on the peace process, few are asking how it will effect the everyday life of the Palestinian people. The ideology of Hamas is not far removed from the clerics who run Iran. The Palestinians are used to a more, dare we say, secular way of life. What, for example, will Hamas in charge, mean to women. Who knows?
And don't forget Israeli elections are just around the corner. Which direction will the Hamas victory push the Israeli electorate? What if Binyamin Netanyahu gets himself elected? Again, who knows?
What follows is some analysis of what the hell it all means (but you have to ask yourself, when was the last time anyone correctly analyzed anything going on with the Israelis and the Palestinians). Put on your reading hat, there is a lot here.
Jerusalem Times: Opinion
January 27, 2006
This week in Palestine….. Behind the news with Hanna Siniora
In one day this January 25th, 2006, for the first time in the modern history of the Arab world, change took place through the ballot box and it caused a political earthquake. The Fateh administration was voted out of office not by tanks, not through a coup d’etat, not through violence, but through the will of the people asking for drastic change, the result was simply Fateh out Hamas in.
As usual the pollsters were wrong. The team at Bir Zeit University and Dr. Khalil Shikaki’s PSR organization both wrongly predicted a Fateh victory using a sample of exit votes. Bir Zeit predicted that Fateh will get 63 seats to Hamas 58, Shikaki predicted Fateh getting 58 while Hamas getting 53. Palestinians and the media that night went to bed believing that Fateh scored a narrow victory.
When the next morning the official results became known, it fell like a bombshell on Palestinians, Israelis, the USA and the EU. By night fall of the 26 of January the official results were announced and everybody saw how extensive the Hamas victory was. The election took place using the two parallel systems, the proportional part for 66 seats resulted in Hamas wining 30, Fateh 27, the PFLP 3, the Alternative list 2, the Independent Palestine List of Dr. Mustafa Barghouti 2, and the Third Way List of formal Finance Minister Salam Fayyad and Hanan Ashrawi 2. In the 16 local districts Hamas received 46 seats, Fateh 16, and 4 for independents. Fateh was soundly trounced, and the people wished for change became quite clear.
1.3 million Palestinians had the right to vote, 77.6% participated and for the first time in East Jerusalem, Jerusalemites in great numbers exercised their right to vote to the tone of nearly 50%, the highest percentage since the occupation started. The Palestinian Central Election Committee in the post polling had to extend the voting and additional 2 hours.
Prominent Fateh leaders in Hebron like Head of PA National Security Advisor lost, in East Jerusalem Fateh lost all Muslim 4 seats, the same happened elsewhere in Ramallah, in Nablus and other West Bank cities, the route was almost complete in the Gaza Strip, with the exception of Mohammad Dahlan who got elected. In the 16 districts Fateh managed to salvage 16 seats out of 66 seats a very poor showing.
Blame can assigned for this poor showing to all the Fateh rank and file. President Mahmoud Abbas who conducted fair and square elections is to be blamed for not putting his house in order. Abbas and the Fateh leadership had postponed the date of the elections from July 2005 to January 2006 to gain time to reorganize Fateh. They are to be blamed for postponing the Fateh conference until after the elections which should have been held before the parliamentary elections. Abbas introduced the primary system to choose candidates; Fateh toyed with it, instead of free and clean primaries to choose candidates, fraud and force took place openly in a way an accentuating the corruption charge hanging over Fateh. Additionally, Fateh fielded in the local districts official and non-official candidates, for example in the Jerusalem district Hamas nominated 4 candidates for the 4 Muslim seats while Fateh had 30 candidates. This spread and diluted the Fateh vote and led to the sound defeat in every district in the West Bank. Out of the 16 seats Fateh won in the districts, 5 safe seats were assigned to the Christian Palestinian quota, those seats Hamas did not contest.
In Palestine, those who felt the deep desire of the Palestinian electorate for change estimated a narrow Fateh victory, maybe a tide elections, few if any expected Hamas to emerge in full control of the PLC. The people heard Israel, the USA, and even the EU statements of dire consequences if Hamas became part of the next government. The people in their quest for change took the risk of losing economic and political support in order to punish Fateh for its corruption. Fateh’s mismanagement and flouting the rule of law, the people desired change after 12 years of Fateh rule.
For Hamas in opposition it was always easy to criticize. Now Hamas has a heavy of load of responsibility and duties to shoulder, on one hand they have to steer the ship of state to safety and to independence. As a religious fundamentalist movement they have to negotiate with Israel and be accepted by the West. Is Hamas able to modify its ideology? or Are they going to stick rigidly to its platform?
In the election campaign, Hamas managed to send signals of flexibility, they discarded the slogan calling for the destruction of Israel, Hamas announced its readiness to negotiate directly with Israel. They entered the democratic process of elections based on the Oslo agreements, while declaring that Oslo is dead. But what was important, tangible and real, and they continue to adhere the ceasefire.
Hamas, in a similar manner to the PLO before it is undergoing a process of transformation, history is repeating itself. Hamas is obliged to uphold its promises and pledges to its public to steer the ship of state to safety, to reexamine its platform, this is not going to happen overnight. In this process, it is a do or die situation, they have the responsibility of delivering the people form the burden of occupation as well as implementing their social and economic program. Militancy and armed confrontation of the occupation are not the tools of Hamas at the head of the PA they have also to change otherwise they will be isolated. The EU have to again be the vehicle in a similar role they played in the past with the PLO, the EU started it with the Venice declaration of 1980, the USA followed suite in the waning days of the Regan administration and Israel through the Oslo Accords. Hamas also must reciprocate otherwise it will be ostracized and isolated. It is Hamas’ turn to demonstrate flexibility and responsibility. Israel too can play an important role and profit from Hamas emerging as the leading power in the Palestinian political system. Israel has the ability to accelerate the Hamas movement towards moderation by adopting reciprocal and not unilateral steps. Israel by its actions can either drive Hamas deeper into the jungle or thus explode the fragile ceasefire or Israel and Hamas together can exploit the new situation to lead toward and political settlement.
Hamas, Israel and the International Community, can together play a constructive role first to stabilize the region, start the road to a political settlement or God forbid neglect the region allow the situation to deteriorate and thus intensify the conflict. The region and the world waited for the results of the Palestinian elections and the emergence of new Palestinian leaders, again the region is also waiting on March 28 for the Israeli Knesset elections and the emergence of new Israeli leader post the Sharon era.
Grounds for Hope and Fear Abound
Those who shortly will be in power in Israel and Palestine must understand the peoples of the region are fed up with the violence and instability and are looking forward for change but for the better, this should by the guideline and the goal for the new leaders.
A Personal Note
I ran as an independent for the seat in the PLC from the Jerusalem district, and I lost. I thank those who supported me, I congratulate those who have won and I will continue to work from outside the PLC for the two-state solution.
Hope will have to visit on another day
This is an immediate reaction and analysis of the Hamas victory in Palestine and its possible impact on the region. This kind of piece will require review and re-analysis after some time has passed. I take the liberty to write this piece now because of the many requests that I have received to provide some analysis. I apologize in advance for being so pessimistic.
January 26, 2006
The Palestinian people have spoken and their voice has been heard. No, the results did not surprise me; I have been speaking about a 55% Hamas victory for several weeks. The handwriting was on the walls, but the pollsters and the analysts failed to see it. The majority of Palestinians chose Hamas not only as a protest vote against the corruption of Fateh and the PA, as many Palestinians will tell us. The people also voted for Hamas because of its political agenda, and the Hamas won because most Palestinians share the belief that the negotiated process based on Oslo was not only bad for Israel, it was perhaps, even worse for Palestinians.
The al Aqsa intifada received wide public support at its outset from a public that was deeply influenced by the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. In the eyes of Palestinians, 2000 Hizballah guerillas forced the great and mighty army of Israel to run from southern Lebanon with its tail between its legs. Likewise, in the eyes of a large majority of Palestinians, Israel evacuated Gaza to the last grain of sand as a result of Hamas’ hitting of Israel inside and outside of Gaza. Israel left Gaza not as a result of a peace process, not as a result of negotiations, not as part of a decision to empower Mahmoud Abbas and his moderate regime. The rise of Hamas is the result of the faulty policies of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The election of Hamas put the final nail in the coffin of the peace process. The only remaining elements of the peace process – the Paris economic protocol under which Israel collects VAT and Customs tariffs and transfers them to the PA treasury will now end. The Israeli transfers to the PA coffers account for about 50% of the PA budget. The Government of Israel will not pay anything into the government of Hamas. The Road Map for peace is also dead. Phase I of the Road Map demands from the Palestinians to disarm the terrorist groups and the militia. Will Hamas disarm itself? Will the Hamas run Ministry of Education introduce peace education text books in the schools responding to the international call to end incitement? Will the Hamas end the policy of naming public squares, streets and buildings in the name of suicide bombers?
Many people are suggesting that Hamas will go through a period of reform and change (as the name of the political party under which they ran suggests). There is no doubt that some moderate voices have been heard in the past weeks of the election campaign. There are some people who quote Ariel Sharon when he said “what you see from here (the Prime Minister’s chair) is not the same things you see from there (meaning the opposition). It is true that Hamas may become more moderate and more practical. Hamas may eventually adopt a position that would allow it to enter into some kind of negotiations with Israel, however, I assess that this is a process that will take years, not days. Hamas may hold fast to some kind of ceasefire with Israel, even if it is not negotiated with Israel. But any attacks against Israel by Hamas or groups which identify themselves as Hamas or for that matter, by any Palestinian factions, the Hamas government will be held responsible by Israel. Mahmoud Abbas will be held responsible by Israel as President of Palestine and as Abbas cannot hold that responsibility, his days in government are numbered.
Some people claim that the realities of government and the need to provide bread to the people will lead Hamas into the direction of recognizing Israel and denouncing terrorism in order to regain the financial support of the United States and the European Union which will now end following the elections. Hamas is one step ahead of the United States and the EU. Last week Hamas leader in exile, Khaled Mashal met with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, they didn’t only discuss the rising costs of a barrel of oil, they also discussed how much of those windfall profits would be pumped into the Palestinian economy. The Hamas government of the Palestinian Authority will not be intimidated by US and EU threats to stop financial support. Iran’s millions of barrels of oil everyday being pumped and sold all over the world will provide the Palestinian Authority with the ability to withstand any international boycott.
Some Europeans, some Israelis and some others will pressure Israel into opening a new dialogue with the Hamas. There is no reason to believe that the Israeli requirements for entering into that dialogue will be any different than they were regarding dialogue with the PLO. Israel worked overtime to ensure that the United States and others would not bend to the demands in the 1980s to recognize the PLO. Those demands – recognizing Israel’s right to exist, denouncing terrorism and agreement to a negotiated process will remain the Israeli minimal conditions for recognizing the Hamas government of the Palestinian Authority.
The political time clock has been forced back some 30 years due to the choice of the Palestinian people that was influenced by the failures of both sides. The main problem is that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was obvious 30 years ago (although not obvious to most Israelis and most Palestinians then), namely the two-states for two people formula will not remain an option even 10 years from now. The acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the new Israeli foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, both stated in their speeches in the Herzliya conference this week that the ultimate fulfillment of Israel’s national strategic vision today is the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel. They both recognize that the only way to reach the end of the conflict is through a negotiated process, but today, it is clear that there is no partner for negotiations on the other side. Some may say that this has been the clear strategy of Israel for years, to create a situation where there really is no partner. I don’t believe that this was the real intention, but whether or not Israel wanted Hamas to come to power is not relevant today – Hamas is in power and the fate of Israelis and Palestinians alike is affected by the results of the democratic process in Palestine.
Israel will retain its strategic options for additional unilateralism. Israel will probably continue to act to determine its borders with the Palestinians without negotiations. The decisions that Israel will make will be far reaching, even more dramatic than what the next Prime Minister probably has in his mind right now – some kind of limited disengagement while holding onto the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank. Israel will not be able to sustain a limited withdrawal and will probably come to the conclusion that it must unilaterally end the occupation. This will require a withdrawal of some 90%+ of the West Bank. In my assessment Israel will also decide to remove the settlements in the Jordan Valley, but will maintain a military presence there in full agreement with the Government of Jordan. Israel will seek to withdraw behind the security barrier and to lock the door on what they will call “Hamastan”. Israel will not seek any cooperation and will take every step possible to limit economic cooperation and all other forms of interaction with the Palestinian Authority. Israel will say to the international community that the occupation has ended, that Israel is no longer in control of the Palestinian population and that it bears no responsibility for its welfare. The responsibility for the welfare and well being of the Palestinian people, Israel will say, is on the shoulders of the Hamas government of the Palestinian Authority.
The Government of Israel and the Government of Jordan will want to squeeze the Palestinians in the West Bank with the hope that Hamas’ influence can be contained. Israel will fear seepage into the one million strong Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jordan will fear seepage of Islamic extremism over the Jordan River. There will be more seepage eastward than westward. Palestinians in Israel are much better equipped to understand what they have to lose than the Palestinian majority of Jordan. The Government of Jordan will therefore, also limit its contacts and cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.
There is a chance that forces within Palestine will seek to take action against their new government. Fateh armed groups and perhaps Palestinian policemen who have been loyal to the Palestinian Authority may find themselves being replaced by Hamas activists. Palestinian warlords who had a free reign under the past government may be threatened by the new one. These forces may combine their efforts together to destabilize the situation that Hamas will seek to create. While this scenario is not immediately likely, it is one that may develop over time.
One interesting point to raise is the fact that the elections took place under a sense of complete law and order. The chaos and the violence of the past weeks disappeared on Election Day. There was a real festival of democracy. I visited polling places in the south of the West Bank and I was truly impressed by what I saw. Today, the streets of Palestine are filled with parades of cars with the green hamas flags flying high and the mosques loudspeakers praising the victory of Islam. These were by far the most democratic elections that have been held anywhere in the entire Arab world ever. Was the calm and law and order of yesterday possible before yesterday? Could Mahmoud Abbas have asserted himself and the rule of law from the beginning of his Presidency a year ago? I believe that he could have. He did not lack the legitimacy then and had taken action then, we probably would not be in the same situation today. (Spilled milk).
Will the outcome of the Hamas elections affect the outcome of the Israeli elections? Some people suggest that the Israeli public will respond by turning to the right. I don’t share that assessment. The Israeli public will increase its support for Kadima and for Olmert. The Israeli public understands that it is futile to put demands and conditions on the Palestinians under the Hamas leadership. The Likud and Benyamin Netanyahu represent freezing the status quo. Those conditions cannot be met and why entrap ourselves into maintaining an unsustainable status quo because of what the Palestinian people have decided. The Israeli public’s determination to support unilateral steps that will strengthen Israel’s defensive position and further increase international support for Israel will strengthen the support for Kadima. The Israel stock market will respond initially badly to the Hamas victory, and some of the international money markets may speak about lowering Israel’s credit rating, but these will bounce back quickly when it becomes clear that Israel is determined to take the steps necessary to protect itself through continued disengagement. Hamas may try to transport its Qassam rocket war to the West Bank and may even improve the technology of this low-tech non-strategic weapon. Israel will respond to this threat and will have the support of the international community. Without full physical control of the West Bank and Gaza it will be difficult for Israel to prevent a possible ballistic intifada. If this scenario emerges, we may see in the coming years a call for the international community to impose a foreign trusteeship over Palestine in place of the Hamas government. Israel will not be hasty in reoccupying all of Palestine.
From my seat as the Co-CEO of an Israeli-Palestinian institution trying to build bridges of understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, there is a real dilemma. Do we try to build bridges between Israel and the Hamas or do we try to maintain communications and cooperation between the Palestinian opposition to Hamas and to Israel and the Israeli government? It is clear that we cannot do both. Personally, I will not engage in dialogue or try to engage in dialogue with someone who does not recognize my right to live and my right for self determination. I will not sit with someone who wishes to kill me or to force me to leave this land. If I decide to try to find the cracks in the Hamas wall of non-recognition, it is not clear that there are people on the other side who want to talk to me. Yesterday’s elections in Palestine produced disastrous results – both for Palestine and for Israel. It is difficult for me, the perennial optimist to see anything positive about the outcome of this democratic process. I can only hope that I am wrong.
Why Did Hamas Win?
If Ariel Sharon had not been in a deep coma, he would have jumped out of his bed for joy. The Hamas victory fulfils his most ardent hopes.
For a whole year now, he did everything possible to undermine Mahmoud Abbas. His logic was quite obvious: The Americans wanted him to negotiate with Abbas. Such negotiations would inevitably have lead to a situation that would have compelled him to give up almost all of the West Bank. Sharon had no intention of doing so. He wanted to annex about half of the territory. So he had to get rid of Abbas and his moderate image.
During the last year, the situation of the Palestinians got worse from day to day. The actions of the occupation made normal life and commerce impossible. The West Bank settlements were continuously enlarging. The Wall which cuts off about 10% of the West Bank was nearing completion. No important prisoners were released. The aim was to impress on the Palestinians that Abbas is weak ("a chicken without feathers", as Sharon put it), that he cannot achieve anything, that offering peace and observing a cease-fire leads nowhere.
The message to the Palestinians was clear: "Israel understands only the language of force."
Now the Palestinians have put in power a party that speaks this language.
Why did Hamas win?
Palestinian elections, like German ones, consist of two parts. Half the members of parliament are elected on straight party lists (like in Israel), the other half are elected individually in their districts. This gave Hamas a huge advantage.
In the party lists elections, Hamas won with only a slight majority. This would suggest that as far as the general political line is concerned, the majority is not far from Fatah - two states, peace with Israel.
Many of the votes given to Hamas had nothing to do with peace, religion and fundamentalism, but with protest. The Palestinian administration, run almost exclusively by Fatah, is tainted with corruption. The "man in the street" felt that the people on top don't care about him. Fatah was also blamed for the terrible situation created by the occupation.
Also, the glory of the martyrs and the indomitable fight against the immensely superior Israeli army added to the popularity of Hamas.
In the personal-regional elections, the situation of Hamas was even better. Hamas had more creditable candidates, untainted by corruption. Its party machine was far superior, its members far more disciplined. In every district, there were several Fatah candidates competing with each other. After the death of Yasser Arafat, there is no strong leader capable of imposing unity. Marwan Barghouti, who could perhaps have done the job, is held in an Israeli prison - another big Israeli gift for Hamas.
People who believe in conspiracy theories can assert that it is all part of a devious Israeli plan.
Some people even believe that Hamas was an Israeli invention right from the beginning. That is, of course, a wild exaggeration. But it is indeed the case that in the years before the first Intifada, the Islamic organization was the only Palestinian group that had practically a free run in the occupied territories.
The logic went like this: Our enemy is the PLO. The Islamists hate the secular PLO and Yasser Arafat. So we can use them against the PLO.
Moreover, while all political institutions were banned, and even Palestinians who worked for peace were arrested for carrying out illegal political activity, no one could control what was happening in the mosques. "As long as they are praying, they are not shooting," was the innocent opinion in the Israeli military government.
When the first Intifada broke out at the end of 1987, this was proved wrong. Hamas was formed, partly in order to compete with the Islamic Jihad fighters. Within a short time, Hamas became the core of the armed uprising. But for almost a year, the Israeli Security Service did not act against them. Then policy changed and Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader, was arrested.
All this happened more through stupidity than design. Now the Israeli government is faced with a Hamas leadership that was democratically elected by the people.
What now? Well, a strong feeling of deja vu.
In the 70s and 80s, the Israeli government declared that it would never ever negotiate with the PLO. They are terrorists. They have a charter that calls for the destruction of Israel. Arafat is a monster, a second Hitler. So, never, never, never...
In the end, after much bloodshed, Israel and the PLO recognized each other and the Oslo agreement was signed.
Now we are hearing the same tune again. Terrorists. Murderers. The Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel. We shall never, never, never negotiate with them.
All this is very welcome to Sharon's Kadima party, which openly calls for the unilateral annexation of territory ("Fixing the borders of Israel unilaterally"). It will help the Likud and the Labor party hawks whose mantra is "We have no partner for peace", meaning - to hell with peace.
Gradually, the tone will change. Both sides, and the Americans, too, will climb down from the tall tree. Hamas will state that it is ready for negotiations and find some religious basis for this. The Israeli government (probably headed by Ehud Olmert) will bow to reality and American pressure. Europe will forget its ridiculous slogans.
In the end, everybody will agree that a peace, in which Hamas is a partner, is better than a peace with Fatah alone.
Let's pray that not too much blood is spilled before that point is reached.
-A regular contributor to PalestineChronicle.com, Avnery is an Israeli author and activist. He is the head of the Israeli peace group, "Gush Shalom".
Palestinians vote for resistance
RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian anti-occupation organization, Hamas, (in Arabic, an acronym for "Harakat Al-Muqawama Al-Islamia" -- Islamic Resistance Movement -- and a word meaning courage and bravery), swept to victory over the ruling Fatah party in Palestinian parliamentary polls, winning an overwhelming majority in the 132-seat legislature.
It took 76 seats to Fatah' 43 in Wednesday's election, the official vote count showed, which gives the Islamic movement the right to form the next government, sweeping away decades of Fatah political ascendancy in the Palestinian territories, Al Jazeera reported.
The group’s surprising victory in the elections sent strong reverberations throughout the Middle East and the West and left officials from Jerusalem to the U.S. scrambling to adjust to the prospect of a strong anti-Israeli organization governing the Palestinian territories.
The polls’ results expressed the true will of the Palestinian people- as described by international observers, led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the elections were "completely honest, completely fair, completely safe and without violence". This forced the old Fatah government, led by Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, to resign.
"This is the choice of the people," and "should be respected," Qureia said.
Contrary to what the Israel's Likud leader, Binyamin Netanyahu believes to be "the birth of Hamastan, some see in Hamas' victory a positive step that might bring the Middle East closer to peace. According to an article published earlier on The Herald, Hamas' victory ''was a thumping popular vote against the endemic corruption and paralyzed inefficiency of the old Fatah regime.''
However, the U.S. President George W. Bush and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair continue to refuse negotiating or dealing with Hamas, an organization they labeled as “terrorist” despite its long history of serving the Palestinian population. The group’s influence is felt in all aspects of the Palestinians’ daily life. Hamas has been conducting social activity in mosques that mainly serve the Palestinian immigrant population. The movement's ideology attributes great importance to the giving of charity.
Bush, with his so-called, divine mission to install democratic states in the Middle East, is now obliged to accept the Palestinians’ will expressed in the polls, the results of which don't suit him.
Both threats and pressure exerted by the U.S. and the EU to stop foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas participated in the elections placed the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in a political tangle. Abu Mazen thought that Hamas' participation in the elections will ease his goal of disarming the movement, as necessitated by the "Road Map". But on the other hand, he feared that the organization’s involvement would likely result in the curbing of foreign aid.
Bearing in mind the extent of poverty the Palestinian population suffers under the Palestinian Authority, and the tendency of the Palestinian public to blame the incumbent regime, Abu Mazen didn’t want to risk losing the financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority from foreign sources.
However, he failed to prevent Hamas from participating in the political process. But also he didn’t show any sign of a confrontation with the movement-even at the cost of losing foreign aid. The question now is does Hamas' victory mean redrawing the so-called Middle east road map peace process in a way that makes real progress possible in the long standing struggle to liberate the Palestinian lands?
Hamas’ participation and victory in the Palestinian elections doesn’t in any way point to a change in policy or an abandonment of the armed struggle against the Israeli occupation.
"Hamas is not interested in gaining power or profits, but rather it is interested in serving the Palestinian nation."
Khalid Mash'al, head of the political office of the groups was once quoted as saying. Last month, and during an interview with the Hezbollah satellite television network Al-Manar, Khalid Mash'al declared that "there is no other option that will bring about a cessation of the Zionist aggression, an end to the occupation, the return of Palestinian national rights, and the release of prisoners other than the path of (military) resistance. The resistance is a strategy that is not subject to change, no matter what takes place in the Palestinian theater following the elections… Hamas simultaneously carries the reform and anti-corruption slogan as well as the resistance to occupation."
Iran hails Hamas win
Iran congratulated Hamas on Thursday for its election victory and praised voters for choosing "to continue the struggle and resistance against occupation".
"The Islamic Republic of Iran congratulates Hamas and all the Palestinian soldiers and the great Islamic people," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in a statement faxed to AFP.
"The Palestinians have voted for the resistance and have shown their loyalty," Asefi said, telling "the allies of the Zionist regime to closely examine the evolution of the region and open their eyes to the undisputable realities of the Middle East.
"The result of these elections will reinforce the unity of the Palestinian people in defending their rights. The massive participation of the Palestinians shows their will to continue the struggle and resistance against occupation."
From the Daily Star (Lebanon)
A predictable victory in a failed Palestinian state
By Shlomo Avineri
The victory of the fundamentalist Hamas in the Palestinian elections will have far-reaching consequences for the region, some totally unexpected. Two aspects, however, are already visible.
The Hamas victory is, first and foremost, an indication of the total failure of the traditional Palestinian leadership to create a body politic. Palestine is not yet a state, but it is already a failed one. Since the Oslo Accords of l993 between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Palestinians have enjoyed limited transitional autonomy. To be sure, the new Palestinian Authority (PA) took power under difficult conditions, but which new liberation movement does not face serious challenges when it finally must govern?
The PA had an opportunity to lay the institutional foundations for a functioning state. But instead of supplying the population with the necessary infrastructure - economic development, education, welfare, medical services, housing, and refugee rehabilitation - Yasser Arafat's Fatah-led PA spent more than 70 percent of its meager budget on a dozen competing security and intelligence services, neglecting all other spheres of activity. It created a security state, very much like what is prevalent in almost all Arab countries - Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia - republics and monarchies alike.
The vacuum that the PA left elsewhere, including the social sphere, was filled by Hamas. Indeed, its popularity is due not only to its fundamentalist Islamic ideology and its commitment to the destruction of Israel. The high esteem in which Palestinians hold Hamas also grew out of what Hamas actually did for them while the PA squandered its resources.
It was not only the endemic corruption of the official Palestinian leadership that turned so many Palestinians from it. Hamas set up better schools, kindergartens, nurseries, medical centers, welfare services, and programs for youth and women - all of this in addition to giving grants to the families of suicide bombers. In the elections, Hamas received its dividend for doing what the Fatah-led PA failed to do.
It is still an open question whether Hamas in government will become more pragmatic and less committed to terrorism: it certainly is a possibility, and one should not prejudge the outcome. But nor, on the other hand, is it clear that the existing organs of the PA - especially the security services at its disposal - will allow a peaceful transfer of power. Indeed, no such precedent exists: there has almost never been a peaceful transfer of power in any of the Arab League's 22 member states.
Israel's response to Hamas' victory will obviously be complicated by its own elections on March 28, and by a government headed by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, owing to Sharon's incapacitation just weeks after leaving Likud and founding Kadima. Despite Sharon's absence, Kadima maintains its lead in public opinion polls - the most recent one giving it 44 of the Knesset's 120 seats, compared to 21 for Labor and 14 for the right-wing rump-Likud, under Benjamin Netanyahu. Kadima's success is due to Sharon's main innovation in Israeli politics: the successful unilateral disengagement from Gaza.
That withdrawal was based on the conviction that the gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian positions are too wide to enable meaningful negotiations. Hence, Israel must start deciding the future boundaries of the country unilaterally, hoping for eventual negotiations at a later stage.
This is also the line adopted by Olmert. But Hamas' victory suggests that the gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian sides will grow even wider, and that the chances for a negotiated settlement will recede even farther into the future. This leaves further unilateral Israeli moves - such as partial withdrawals from selected areas in the West Bank - as the only feasible option. Realistic conflict management will replace utopian hopes for conflict resolution.
In a region full of paradoxes, the Hamas victory may have added another one: usually, when extremists on one side become stronger, it plays into the hands of extremists on the other side, producing a dangerous spiral effect. In this case, however, the victory of the extremist Hamas may strengthen not the extremists of Likud, but, surprisingly, the more moderate centrists of Kadima. One cannot be certain of such an outcome, of course, but it is now the best that one can realistically hope for.
Shlomo Avineri is a professor of political science at the Hebrew University and former director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org).
Hamas Victory; Sow Wind, Reap Whirlwind
By Ben White
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
The Palestinian people have made their choice, and Hamas has completed a journey from first Intifada newcomers to sitting in power in the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Detailed analysis of what the election results will mean for internal Palestinian politics may be pre-emptive at such an early stage, but a few observations can be made about the nature of Hamas’ victory and the international response.
First of all, it is worth clarifying the factors behind Hamas’ success. On the most basic level, Hamas has proved itself adept at the kind of organization and tactics that any party requires in an election campaign. Building on its established reputation, it campaigned on the issues most important to the electorate; reform, change, and resistance. Its candidates came from diverse backgrounds, even including the Christian community.
A vote for Hamas was a vote against the Fatah-led years of institutional stagnation, corruption, and ‘peace process’ failure. Uncontested dominance and international flattery led Fatah to arrogance and dishonesty during the Oslo years, and yesterday they paid the price. However, a vote for Hamas was also a show of defiance to Israel, the US, and the so-called ‘international community’, all of whom now work themselves into contortions over how to least hypocritically applaud the democratic process and preserve the ‘anti-terror’ rhetoric.
Hamas’ support throughout the 1990s was contingent on the state of negotiations with Israel. When peace appeared within reach, their popularity decreased, and when the naked force of the occupation was unleashed, their base grew. All the while, the network of welfare and social work extended, providing services to a people stripped of dignity and self-determination.
In the first few months of the second Intifada, as the Israeli military met stones with bullets, Hamas was ready to fight fire with fire. As the American-funded F16s reduced to rubble Palestinian Authority buildings and government infrastructure, Hamas both offered the opportunity for revenge, and filled the vacuum left by the enfeebled Fatah-dominated PA.
The Palestinian people live in circumstances they feel powerless to change. The full military and state apparatus of a developed nation operate to keep them occupied and subjugated; everyday life from attending a wedding to buying property is subject to interference by the Israeli occupation. Thus the election, in providing an opportunity to briefly taste empowerment individually and collectively, was used to communicate the anger of a people torn between despair and steadfastness.
The reactions to Hamas’ victory have been as hypocritical as they have been expected.
The British Prime Minister Tony Blair chimed in with the observation that Hamas must now “decide between a path of democracy or a path of violence”, and this from a man who has gone to war at least as many times as he has won elections. President Bush pointed out that “you can’t be a partner in peace if your party has got an armed wing”, unfortunately invalidating the Israeli government’s participation in peace talks, as well as most of the political parties he is keen to hand power over to in Iraq.
On the flagship BBC Radio 4 rush hour news program ‘PM’, the presenter quizzed Israelis about whether Israel will ‘speak’ to Hamas. I am yet to hear a Palestinian being asked whether or not they are feeling magnanimous enough to ‘speak’ to Israelis, but of course, the colonized must be told who they can, and can not, choose as their representatives.
Hamas will face numerous and significant challenges, as it adapts to the accountability of power. Policy decisions are trickier than critique from the outside, and inner tensions within the movement will need resolving. Moreover, some secular-minded Muslims, and Christian Palestinians, might harbor anxieties towards an Islamist trend in society powered by the ruling faction. All these issues will take time to play out, and there are no easy answers.
Those responsible for pushing a people into a strategy of armed resistance should choose silence faced with the will of the Palestinian electorate; those punished for years of negligent rule should choose humility faced with the judgment of their people. This apparent political ‘earthquake’ has left many things unchanged; the intransigence of the occupation, continued Israeli land seizure, a traumatized Palestinian society. The newly elected Palestinian representatives have much to do.
Analysts: Win rocks political landscape
By Laila El-Haddad & Motasem Dalloul in Gaza
The election sweep by the Islamic resistance group Hamas dramatically alters the Middle East's political landscape and will have major repercussions both regionally and internationally, analysts say.
The Hamas victory, says Gaza analyst Talal Awkal, represents a true upheaval in the Palestinian political system, long dominated by solely by the Fatah party.
"Everything is going to be changed. We are in a new period. We are rebuilding the regime, we are rebuilding the Palestinian policy, we are rebuilding the mechanisms of national relations, and our way of dealing with our people," Awkal told Aljazeera.net on Thursday.
"We now have a vibrant democracy and contradictions in national relations that will bring the Palestinians to a new stage. I think these elections have strategic direct and indirect consequences on Palestinian and regional and international circumstances."
Western governments have largely shunned the Hamas victory, threatening to cut aid and saying they will not accept a government with the Islamic group in power, while celebrating the democratic process that put it there.
Burden of governance
Fatah leaders have applauded the results of what they referred to as a "democratic wedding" while warning with bitterness that the burden of governance now rests on Hamas's shoulders, saying they will not take part in any Hamas coalition.
Analysts have said that Hamas will have to take some critical decisions about their political programme in the coming days as it becomes answerable to a population desperate for real change.
Awkal believes given the political realities, those changes are inevitable.
"Hamas realises it has responsibilities inside the new regime. I think they are ready to change," he said.
"I think all the Palestinians know that change of the position for Hamas and the others will push them to think in a new way because they are now responsible inside the regime for internal Palestinian problems but and are equal with others in responsibilities."
Runners-up like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine's Mustafa Abu Ali List and former presidential hopeful Mustafa Barghouthi's Independent Palestine, once thought to be major balancing powers, are no long relevant, says lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi.
"Had there been an equal balance stand up between Hamas and Fatah, then yes, then you would say these smaller blocs would tip the balance. But very clearly Hamas is getting a distinct majority," Ashrawi said.
Ashrawi, who won one of two seats in the parliament under the Third Way List, says she doubts she will agree to join a coalition government with Hamas if offered the opportunity, saying she does not believe "religion should be the basis of good governance".
"I believe in a society that is open and tolerant and respects plurality. I don't want to see a a theocracy and hope Hamas doesn' work out a theocracy," said Ashrawi.
According to the veteran legislator, Hamas' victory was the result of an array of factors across the voting spectrum.
"Fatah was hogging power and not responding to people's needs and rights," she said.
"Hamas responded by getting the angry vote and the rejection and revenge vote and the protest vote and of course the reform vote, and not necessarily all the ideological vote. Part of Hamas' victory was made by Fatah."
Ashrawi also believes it is not in the former ruling party's interest to join forces with Hamas just now.
"Fatah needs to be in the opposition if they want to be distinct and put their own house in order," Ashrawi said.
"If they enter with Hamas it will be opportunistic."
Nevertheless, she says there are opportunities for coalition building with some of the other parties, something Hamas is likely to do.
"The different groups are not monolithic, I'm sure some of them will enter into an alliance [with Hamas] and others will not."
The election result is also expected to have a major impact on the Israeli political scene.
According to Arnon Regular, an Israeli political analyst and Haaretz correspondent, the Hamas victory will have a direct impact on who gets voted into power in upcoming Israeli elections.
Coming in the middle of what he calls "the Israeli electoral war" he expects the shockwaves from the Hamas win to have a major impact on the Israeli poll scheduled for March 28.
"The right wing will become more powerful than Kadima and Kadima will not survive for long as the right wing accuses Kadima and those who supported the withdrawal for the victory of Hamas," he said.
"They will accuse them with the building of what is called ''Hamasistan'."
Burden of power
Regular says the burden of the sudden and overwhelming responsibility for running a state and answering to their constituents' long and varied list of demands will oblige Hamas, who was surprised as anyone by the sweep, to make clear political decisions.
"In the beginning of the intifada, something called Hamasisation happened with Fatah, they became like Hamas; and now Fatahisation will happen to Hamas"
"Hamas was not ready for a victory. For now there is a kind of political caution and waiting," Regular said.
"Hamas must look for technocratic professionals to form the government in order to succeed," he added.
"In the coming days, Hamas will be obliged take important and clear political decisions: whether to go towards openness as the ruling Islamic party in Turkey, or the Talibani norm in Afghanistan," he said, adding he expect them to take the former route.
Regular expects there to be a change in the stance of Hamas, even if not in the near future.
"It will take a long time. It will happen with them as what happened with Fatah. In the beginning of the intifada, something called Hamasisation happened with Fatah, they became like Hamas; and now Fatahisation will happen to Hamas."