Everyone is claiming that the landslide election of Hamas by the people of Palestine is a bad thing. Personally, even though I remain a committed pacifist, I disagree. I think it is a good thing: good for the world, good for peace prospects in the Middle East and the only logical choice right now for the Palestinian people.
Let's explore that, shall we?
I refer you to an excellent article by Robert Dreyfuss, End Of The Road Map. Dreyfuss is a left-wing columnist and author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam - he's a good man and he knows what he is talking about. But even he calls Hamas' victory "a disaster".
Dreyfuss' main argument lies in the following analysis:
The most obvious effect of the Hamas win will be its aftershock in Israel, which goes to the polls in March. The victory by Hamas will strengthen the Israeli far-right, weaken pro-peace centrists and put the Israeli left and the Labour Party on the defensive. The most likely beneficiary in Israel will be Richard Perle’s favorite Israeli politician, Bibi Netanyahu, whose Likud bloc is likely to gain. The Ariel Sharon-founded centrist bloc will be pulled to the right, and most Israeli voters will react to Hamas’ victory by seeking the protection of strongmen, not peaceniks. So polarization will intensify dramatically between Israel and the PA. The consequences are incalculable. And they will be regional, not confined to Palestine and Israel. Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and beyond will feel the effects of the Hamas earthquake.Now maybe that is true, maybe it's not. Maybe that horror scenario is how things will play out, or maybe things will somehow change between now and March. But in any case, from a Palestinian point of view, what is the bloody difference?
The bogus US-sponsored "road to peace" is most certainly at an end (thank God: no more fake headlines, please!). Sharon is enjoying a well-deserved coma. Netanyahu is cruising towards power again, with or without Hamas. The Israeli hard-liners are as entrenched as ever, and the Israelis have no-one stepping forward as a serious peace candidate (or if they do, the media sure aren't talking about it).
Meanwhile, as Dreyfuss points out, Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority has "failed to deliver social and economic benefits or to make progress toward peace", is "divided and rudderless" if not "hopelessly corrupt."
So now put yourself in the shoes of the average Palestinian, eking out a living as a second-class citizen in a violence-racked police state, watching your children suffer day after day, listening to your parents' familiar tales of woe, watching people fight and suffer and die all around you while the international community mouths endless platitudes and does absolutely nothing. Who are YOU going to vote for?
The Hamas victory is in fact a true, Democratic reflection of the Palestinian people's sad predicament. Like the frustrated bombers who feel so hopelessly disenfranchised and lacking in alternatives that they actually blow themselves up, Palestinians today cannot see any more constructive and optimistic option than to vote for Hamas. Sad but true.
Who is to blame for this situation? Let's go back to Dreyfuss:
Israel has only itself to blame for the emergence of Hamas. After 1967, when Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank, the Israeli authorities encouraged the growth of Islamism as a counter to Palestinian nationalism and the PLO. In 1967, Israel freed Ahmed Yassin, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who founded Hamas in 1978-88, and they encouraged the Islamic right and the Brotherhood to take control of mosques and student groups. In 1977-78, the Israeli government of Menachem Begin’s Likud officially licensed Yassin’s Islamic movement and gave it official Israeli blessing. Throughout the 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood fought pitched battles against the PLO. In an interview not long before he died, Arafat said: “Hamas is a creature of Israel,” and he quoted slain Israeli Prime Minister Rabin as having told him that Israeli support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood was a “fatal error.” Several U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials told me about Israel’s support for Yassin and the Brotherhood, and Chas Freeman, the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told me bluntly: “Israel started Hamas.”So Hamas is to Israeli hard-liners what Osama bin Laden's Al Quaeda is to the US Conservatives: a "deformed offspring" whose radical ideology provides the perfect counterpoint to the equally radical ideology of its creators. This duality creates what is by now an all-too-familiar feeding frenzy of violence. As the twin monsters of extremism feed off each other, they paradoxically strengthen each other. And always, always, it is the innocent citizens stuck in the middle, most notably the Iraqi and Palestinian children, who must suffer the consequences.
As Dreyfuss admits, the Hamas victory is hardly surprising. It fits a pattern of increased Islamic radicalisation which has been spreading across the Middle East for a long time now. The question is, how do we stop it? Obviously, the Bush administration's bogus "war on terror" is only feeding the fires, while their invasion of Iraq poured kerosene on the problem. We need real solutions, not rhetoric. To quote Dreyfuss one last tine:
President Bush must tread carefully. After initial bluster about never meeting or dealing with Hamas, both the United States and Israel will have to deal with the unsettling new reality on the ground. Just as most Arabs eventually came to grips with the notion that Israel exists, the Israelis (and the United States) have no choice other than to recognize the reality of Hamas. It is in the American interests, the Israeli interest, and the interests of the Palestinians themselves that Hamas be weakened. Yet that can only come not via confrontation but by lowering the political temperature and choosing dialogue over war.So I rest my case: if the election of Hamas is what it takes for us to realise that further violence will not solve anything, then it is surely not a bad thing.
UPDATE: Damning pre-vote criticism from Bush's Saudi mates:
By failing to strengthen Abbas's position, the U.S. has paved the way for a Hamas victory... Moreover, the U.S administration's faith in the power of elections to transform people makes it oblivious to the possibility that the democratic process is often a double-edged sword which can have unintended consequences... the Palestinians face dire social welfare needs not addressed by the current government... This situation has created an opportunity that Hamas has been able to exploit... almost 75 percent of Palestinians live below the poverty line.