Hamas Electoral Victory: a Glimmer of Hope

“We are the only people on Earth asked to guarantee the security of our occupier … while Israel is the only country that calls for defense from its victims…”

Palestinian thinker Hanan Ashrawi, in a speech at the Hyatt Regency in Garden Grove on 23 August 2003

Palestinians Have Made Their Choice

Elections for the 132 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) were finally held in late January 2006. Scheduled for July 2005, the elections were delayed several times, mainly due to pressure from the Israeli government. The stigma of the absence of democracy on the Palestinian side, bemoaned loudly by Israel for decades, was most helpful in justifying all manner of atrocities committed against the Palestinians. It has to be said, though, that a corrupt, incompetent, and discredited Palestinian Authority did everything in its power to give the negative image some credence.

The PLC was one of the outcomes of the 1995 Oslo II agreement on the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel. Once elected the PLC under Fatah served for ten years instead of the four years specified in the agreement. The Palestinian Authority during that decade continued to rule with little concern about good, or even minimal, governance. Its members came to be known as the ‘Audi mafia’ (Sunday Times, 31 March 2002). See Events in the Middle East: The Silver Lining on this website.

About 1.34 million Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem were entitled to vote. There were special conditions for those living in East Jerusalem. On the other hand, four million Palestinians and their descendants who live as refugees in other countries were excluded. (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4549650.stm )

Stunning Election Results

Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement or Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya) won 76 of the 132 seats on the PLC. “The election results stunned U.S. and Israeli officials, who have repeatedly stated that they would not work with a Palestinian Authority that included Hamas, which both countries and the European Union have designated as a terrorist organization.” (Washington Post 27 January 2006)

Why these results came as a shock is baffling. The writing was on the wall for quite some time. Having lost most of its historic credibility, Fatah did not have good prospects to begin with. The arrival of compliant Mahmoud Abbas after the mysterious death of charismatic, but hardly competent, Yasser Arafat lengthened the odds further. The Palestinians, it was clear to most people with even a passing knowledge of the situation on the ground, were ready for change.

Hamas, ritually referred to as the radical group, was the only credible player on the field. It decisively won the contest. Equally unsurprising, the event galvanised the so-called world community into action. Leaders huffed and puffed about Hams terrorist intentions and demanded major concessions from Hamas before any contact with a Hamas-led cabinet could be made by the outside world.

There is considerable justification for the ‘radical’ and ‘terrorist’ tags. Hamas’s Charter makes no bones about the organisation’s intentions and methods. Hamas proclaims that all the disputed area; Gaza strip, West Bank, and Israel, belongs to the Palestinians (Article Eleven of the Charter). As all Israelis are required to undergo military training, Hamas believes they are all combatants that are legitimate targets.

A Long Time Coming

Hamas came into being as late as 1987; several decades after the creation of the state of Israel. World leaders, by which one must single out successive American and European administrations, were determinedly unwilling to find a way to meet some if not all the Palestinians’ abundantly legitimate grievances. It would seem that a decision was taken that the Palestinians should be made to suffer in atonement for centuries of persecution and murder of Jews by Europeans.

This remains the case to this day. The Palestine Authority’s representative in London said a few years ago that the Palestinians “are the victims of the victims of European history.” They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they do not fight then they lose as no one is willing to help beyond empty words. If they fight they lose because they are judged to be terrorists worthy of nothing but disdain and hostility.

Hamas, one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine (Article Two of the Charter), was the inevitable result of the unwillingness of the international community to act, the same community that swung into fevered activity when Hamas was chosen by Palestinians in free and fair elections. This linkage is not a fanciful notion. Article Thirteen of Hamas Charter reflects the frustration felt about “international conferences to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question….the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realising the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed.”

Is Hamas Unique in World Affairs?

Hardly: history is littered with terrorist groups that, at least in some cases, came into being due to the absence of independent world institutions that could hear disputes and impose solutions. There are many examples to choose from but Israel’s history provides an apt illustration.

Jews had to endure injustice and hostility for centuries, at the hands of Europeans mainly. Their peaceful efforts had to be augmented with less attractive tactics including outright terrorism. Zionist groups, such as the Stern Gang, Haganah, and the Irgun, terrorised the indigenous Palestinians as well as the British mandate administration as part of the effort to create the state of Israel. The bombing of the British government offices at King David hotel in Jerusalem in 1946 caused more than 100 deaths. Significantly, and as happened in other locations such as South Africa, many of Israel’s later political leaders began their career as prominent figures in the terrorist groups. For instance, the Stern gang that assassinated Count Bernadotte (a UN envoy who was trying to negotiate a truce between Arabs and Jews) in September 1948 was led by Yitzhak Shamir. If only the world leaders who went through the ritual condemnation of Hamas election victory could have remembered this piece of Middle Eastern history. Maybe they did but it was an inconvenient distraction.

Interestingly, Jews did not escape Zionist acts of terror! When propaganda and persuasion failed to encourage some Jews to move to Israel from the Arab countries, agents were sent in to bomb their homes and businesses. These events were described by Naeim Giladi in Ben-Gurion’s Scandals: How the Haganah and the Mossad Eliminated Jews (1992: 261) and by Wilbur Crane Eveland in Ropes of Sand: America’s Failure in the Middle East (1980: 48-49). Incidentally, Giladi’s book was banned in the USA and Israel when it was first published in 1992. It is not known whether his latest edition (2003) has had a better reception.

Undeniably, many states indulge in terrorism as a form of ‘diplomacy’. Israel is no exception. In 1954, relations between the West and Egypt were becoming too cordial for Israel’s taste. On cue, several bombs exploded at a number of American and British establishments in Cairo and Alexandria. It was found eventually that the terrorists were not Egyptian nationalists but Israeli intelligence officers sent to Egypt for the purpose. The agents were executed and their remains were later returned to Israel in 1967 to be buried with full military honours (Heikal, Illusion of Triumph,1992: 127-128).

But Does Hamas Use Such Aggressive Language

As mentioned above, Hamas is not unique in adopting vicious tactics in pursuing their aims. The first Prime Minster of Israel described the early phase of Israel’s history as ‘cruel Zionism’. But why does Hamas express itself so aggressively? Its Charter, and its spokesmen, make awful reading and listening. Here again, however, Hamas conforms to a well established tradition.

Ibn Khaldun 1332-1406) in his Muqaddima and then Machiavelli (1467-1527) in the Prince described the process through which certain individuals and groups attain power. Basically, both authors believed that the ends justify the means. Henry Kissinger is a modern advocate of this realist school. Words and metaphors are deployed to gain supporters and enthuse activists. Once in power, the group would then modify its stance to suit circumstances.

Yet again, Israel provides helpful parallels. Jihad Khazen, distinguished Arab writer and journalist gave examples in Al-Hayatt of 6 November 2005. In an article titled Words That Went Unpunished he included the following statements by Israeli leaders:

“If only it would sink into the sea”. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin referring to Gaza, just before signing the Oslo Accords. “I don’t know something called International Principles. I vow that I’ll burn every Palestinian child [that] will be born in this area. The Palestinian woman and child is more dangerous than the man, because the Palestinian child’s existence infers that generations will go on, but the man causes limited danger. I vow that if I was just an Israeli civilian and I met a Palestinian I would burn him and I would make him suffer before killing him. With one hit I’ve killed 750 Palestinians [in Rafah in 1956]. I wanted to encourage my soldiers by raping Arabic girls as the Palestinian woman is a slave for Jews, and we do whatever we want to her and nobody tells us what we shall do but we tell others what they shall do.”

Ariel Sharon, current Prime Minister, in an interview with General Ouze Merham, 1956: “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.”

David Ben-Gurion, May 1948, to the General Staff: “Israel should have exploited the repression of the demonstrations in China, when world attention focused on that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the territories.”

Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech at Bar-Ilan University, 1989: “We must expel Arabs and take their places.”

David Ben Gurion, 1937, Ben Gurion and the Palestine Arabs, Oxford University Press, 1985. “We have to kill all the Palestinians unless they are resigned to live here as slaves.”

Ehud Barak, Prime Minister of Israel at the time – August 28, 2000, reported in the Jerusalem Post August 30, 2000: “The Palestinians would be crushed like grasshoppers … heads smashed against the boulders and walls.”

Only a sample of quotes has been included. The full article is available on:

http://j-khazen.blogspot.com/2005/11/words-that-went-unpunished.html

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the above quotes, but I have always found Khazen to be objective and diligent in checking his sources. On the other hand, I have little doubt that the words used by these Israeli personalities are little more than just words. I do not believe that Rabin actually intended to kill every Palestinian child and rape every Palestinian woman. Equally, I strongly believe that Hamas pronouncements contain a fair measure of hyperbole.

The Best Climate for Settlement

It is understandable of course that opponents would wish to paint Hamas in the worst possible light. It is also clear that Palestinians would wish to accuse Israel of all manner of crimes and misdemeanors. Sadly, this is shortsighted. The victory of Hamas in the recent elections is the most optimistic development in the Palestinian Israeli conflict for decades. At long last the Palestinians have a group they can trust.

More to the point, Hamas is well-organised in more than just terror. It provides a wide range of social, health, and educational services. This is highlighted in the Charter. Hamas is not simply a group of bloodthirsty individuals intent on killing and being killed.

This organisation, if approached positively, could deliver its side of any reasonable bargain concluded through proper negotiations. The question, in my opinion, does not relate to Hamas intentions but those of the Israelis sitting at the other side of the table. Overwhelming strength often robs people of the ability to think clearly. It is quite evident that if Israeli leaders had taken a more reasonable stance with regard to Palestinian rights Israel by now would have achieved hegemony over the Middle East. Intransigence, based on force and little else, has made Israel what it is today: a paranoid, threatened, virtually bankrupt, and divided nation. Now that Sharon and Arafat are out of the picture, perhaps new leaders would have the wisdom to change course and actually explore what the ‘road map’ has to offer.