Feb 17 2006

The Palestinian vote will test all involved

Published by at 12:25 pm under Articles

The following appeared in the American paper Newsday


February 6, 2006

The victory of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas in the Palestinian legislative elections should not cause panic in Western capitals.

It is the natural result of the push for democracy in the Mideast and the failure of governance and transparency in pro-Western Arab regimes. Commitment to democracy requires respect for the choice of the people, no matter what that choice is. Victory for Hamas will, of course, be a test of the movement’s ability to deal pragmatically with the many challenges facing the Palestinian people.

Hamas’ victory, however, should be a wakeup call to many. Such an impressive victory by an Islamic ideological movement is worrisome to secular and liberal Arabs and Muslims – not to mention Christian Arabs. While the election results can be registered as an unprecedented victory for democracy, there is room for worry when political leaders prioritize divine right over the people’s rights.

Palestinians have a lot to worry about regarding the social, educational and cultural program of Hamas. Palestinians will have a hard time dealing with a government that will try to push back many of the social gains that have been won by women and civil


There also is reason for concern about Hamas’ political charter, especially concerning its position vis-a-vis Israel. Hamas will not be able to hide its head in the sand by refusing to deal with the political realities in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But these problems notwithstanding, there is no reason for becoming paranoid. Hamas leaders are on the record as not intending to impose their social agenda against the will of the Palestinians.

They also have expressed willingness to negotiate with Israel, although not making clear that they will accede to Israel’s request for unconditional recognition before the final borders of Israel are determined.

The participation of Hamas and other Palestinian groups and individuals in the political process is a huge plus for what has been missing in Palestinian politics for more than 40 years – power sharing.

Now that Hamas has participated and won, it will be expected to address many questions that were being raised against the Fatah-led governments. The victory of Hamas is probably more of a rejection of the political monopoly of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s leading guerrilla group than a statement of unreserved support for the Islamic movement.

With this victory, it is important that Hamas be given a fair chance to govern – with only one condition. It must not be allowed to change the rules of the game that brought Hamas to power. If the possibility for rotation of power that democracy provides is not eliminated, the Palestinian people will ultimately decide whether Hamas should stay in control.

Hamas’ victory is also an important test for Western powers espousing democratic values and exporting them to what President George W. Bush likes to call the greater Middle East. The United States and Europe, as well as Israel, which have been the evangelists of democracy, now will be challenged to answer the simple question of whether their own interests will take precedence over democratic values and principles. To be fair, both Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Americans must be credited for pushing through the recent elections despite the risk that Hamas would win.

Statements by senior Western and Israeli leaders refusing to deal with a Hamas-run Palestinian government or provide support to the Palestinian people through such a government probably helped, rather than hurt, Hamas’ election victory.

The Palestinians acted like any other people when they threw out the Fatah-led government – which they blamed for the financial as well as political corruption that has

led to miserable conditions.

Western powers should not overreact to the latest twist in Palestinian politics and instead should use it as proof that their own commitment to democracy and human rights is solid irrespective of the results. The sooner America and its allies embrace these results, the sooner people elsewhere in the Mideast will follow through and push out their own dictatorial regimes. The real allies of America and Europe should be the people of the region and not the corrupt regimes. Ultimately, this is the challenge of democracy.


Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.


No responses yet

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.