Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, February 06, 2006

"Hamas's election victory," February 6, 2006.

First let's begin with the Question of the Day: What percentage of the eligible voters turned out to vote in the Palestinian elections that saw Hamas win 76 of the 132 seats in Palestinian Legislative Council. Stay tuned for the answer to that and more.

This week, events continued to follow from the Hamas victory while think tanks, policy shops, and news organizations around the world pumped out a glut of analysis and news--much of it repetitive and hidebound.

According to the CBC, the victory "shocked" the world. But a week before on January 14, the Jersulam Post had cited unnamed "security sources in the American government" who threatened that the US would cut funding to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas representatives were elected to official positions in the new government. So someone wasn't all that surprised.

And the US had plenty of money to spend hyping the Palestinian Authority, which was dominated at the time by the Fatah party, in the weeks before the election. The US Agency for International Development spent nearly $2 million--more than any of the parties spent on the campaign itself--for projects aimed at cleaning the streets, "distributing free food and water to Palestinians at border crossings, donating computers to community centers and sponsoring a national youth soccer tournament" all to the glory of the Palestinian Authority. In each case, USAID took the unusual step of insuring that its own logo did not appear on any of the materials associated with the projects. (Wilson and Kesler Washington Post)

"According to documents from a planning presentation, ...US officials expected the project to become involved in party politics" (Wilson and Kesler Jan 22 06).

A year ago, in January [2005], Fatah had sustained a heavy blow in the Gaza Strip's first-ever municipal elections, losing support to rival Hamas, which won 77 of the 118 seats up for grabs. "Fatah won only 26 seats" (Mass resignations Al Jazeera Mar 10 05).

So anyone who was paying attention expected Hamas to do well in the legislative elections. Just not that well.

Meeting on Monday in London, the diplomatic Quartet on Middle East peace, which consists of the US, EU, Russia and the UN, pledged to keep money flowing into the interim caretaker administration of Mamud Abbas. The Palestinian president is elected in separate elections (Al Jazeera Quartet Jan 30 06).

Ghassan Khatib who is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and coedits the bitterlemons family of internet publications with Yossi Alpher, a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak, believes quote "...If the international donor community stops aid, it is not Hamas but the Palestinian Authority that will collapse..." (Khatib Jan 30 06).

"...the end of the PA... will return the occupied Palestinian territory and its people to the direct responsibility of the occupier..." (Khatib Jan 30 06), a vision perilously close to the single, bi-national secular state that Israelis equate with the end of Israel as a Jewish homeland.


"Hamas won for a number of reasons. The Palestinian Authority failed to provide Palestinians with the basic services, especially jobs, that any government should be able to deliver....the leadership... was also unable to provide anything by way of a political horizon and hope, and Hamas' perceived role in resisting the Israeli occupation thus further swayed voters" (Khatib Jan 30 06).

"Anger with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah had been mounting since the death of Yasser Arafat. Without his unifying presence, the Palestinian people became much more expressive in their criticism of PA corruption and cronyism. Hamas, which had been delivering efficient social, educational and health services to the Palestinian people for years, capitalized on this with wins in West Bank municipal elections. Add to this Fatah infighting between the grassroots 'young guard' and the 'old guard' clinging to power, and the stage was set for the stunning election results" (Dajani Jan 30 06).

"In addition, the sweeping victory can be attributed to the policies of the Sharon government that systematically weakened the PA and directly or indirectly reinforced public sympathy for the opposition in Palestine" (Khatib Jan 30 06). US policies have had similar results in Iran, southern Lebanon, Egypt, and even Turkey. Both the US and Israel are deaf to arguments of this kind. But their refutations have the hollow ring of denial.

Rafi Dajani of the American Task Force on Palestine, writes, quote "In the year since his election, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been steadily shut out by the Israelis and offered little more than verbal support by the Americans. The result was that he was not able to provide the Palestinian people with any tangible reason for electing him. In fact, the Palestinians' conditions had worsened, with a deteriorating security and economic situation, the encirclement of East Jerusalem with Israeli settlements and the separation barrier, and a unilateral Israeli approach that dimmed hopes for a Palestinian state" endquote (Dajani Jan 30 06).

Probably also a factor and one contrary to the image flogged shamelessly by he Western media, Hamas supports the right of women to work. 15 of the representatives just elected were women. That's not great but it *is* a fraction of the total that compares favourably with that of any party in Canada. (Smith NYT Jan 18 06).


Less than a week after his election, Stephen Harper responded to a question about the Hamas victory, saying that quote "for a nation to be truly democratic it must renounce any use of terrorism." He said "... if institutions committed to terrorism play a role in a Palestinian state quote 'whether elected or not, that is an indication to me that the road to democracy has not been travelled very far'" endquote (Sallot Jan 27 06).

But MADRE, the international women's organization points out that quote "More than 78 percent of eligible voters turned out for a peaceful election despite difficult conditions created by Israel's occupation. Indeed, this election was closer to international standards for free and fair elections than either of the last two US presidential elections" endquote (MADRE Feb 1 06).

The Canada-Israel Committee congratulated Mr. Harper for his statement on Hamas. Marc Gold, the committee's chairman said that Palestinians can elect their own leaders, but they have to accept the consequences if other countries won't deal with those leaders" (Sallot Jan 27 06).

"Canada may have to confine its official dealings to the office of president Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the long-ruling Fatah party but whose own job was not at stake in the legislative election" (Sallot Jan 27 06).

Canada's official designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization in 2002 "could make it illegal for Canadian diplomats and other officials to have direct dealings with newly elected members of the Palestinian legislature from Hamas" (Sallot Jan 27 06).

The National Council on Canada-Arab Relations or "NCCAR calls upon the Government of Canada to resist calls for rejecting the results of the Palestinian democratic process and to respect the choice of the Palestinian people by adopting a policy of gradual, conditional engagement to encourage Hamas to choose the pursuit of political solutions over violence" (NCCAR Jan 27 06).


BitterLemons Israeli editor, Yossi Alpher also advises a wait and see approach. quote "...The Olmert government had best 'keep its powder dry,' avoid interference in Palestinian affairs wherever possible, and wait for events to unfold....any Israeli initiative is liable to be counter-productive" endquote (Alpher Jan 30 06). [But having said this, Alpher cannot resist laying out what he sees as the rules for minimum intervention.]

quote "Israel simply cannot grant freedom of movement to newly-elected Hamas parliamentarians who are terrorists or active supporters of terrorism. That would be a dangerous precedent. It should, on the other hand, find ways to 'reward' Hamas for maintaining the ceasefire and, conceivably, changing its political terms of reference. In this regard, and assuming Hamas displays a pragmatic approach, Jerusalem could continue to turn over to the Palestinian Authority taxes and customs levied on its behalf. There are three good reasons for such an approach. First, quite simply, this is not our money, it is theirs. Second, starving Palestinians will not make our lives more secure. Accordingly, we should also continue to supply electricity and water, as long as they are paid for. And third, this tax money is not the same as western and other aid funds, which constitute philanthropy. In this regard, Israel must take pains to explain the difference to the European Union and ask it to continue to withhold funds until Hamas demonstrates a readiness to abandon violence and recognize Israel" endquote (Alpher Jan 30 06).

"One major problem facing the West is that oil-rich states in the region will continue and possibly increase their support to the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and other major donors have not said how they would respond to a Hamas victory" (Farrell and Beeston Jan 31 06).

For the most part, the mainstream media will repeat the refrain that Hamas must give up violence and recognize Israel. Even the Quartet's requirement that Hamas must abide by the PA's previous agreements and obligations is seldom mentioned. What is the PA and how is it different from the PLO? Do the Palestinians have proportional representation? Is Hamas a branch of Al Qaeda? Does the election of Hamas mean the end of the peace process? We'll probably have to dig up the answers for ourselves, so tune in next week.

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