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The Hamas Victory

TO: Distinguished Recipients
 FM: John Whitbeck

 Transmitted as an attachment is Richard Falk's analysis of Hamas' election
 victory and the wiser way for the world to deal with it. 

 It was written shortly after the elections and published in the Turkish
 press.

Fortunately, Vladimir Putin is, at least in this instance, showing more
 respect for democracy than the United States and the European Union -- a 
phenomenon which, one may hope, might shame at least the Europeans into
 edging away from their current position of hyper-hypocrisy.

The Hamas Victory 

Richard Falk 

      The U.S. Government finds itself in a trap of its own making. Having championed democratic elections in the Middle East, Washington now finds itself with a politically unpalatable electoral outcome in the Palestinian territories. The startling Hamas landslide victory in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council apparently caught Washington completely by surprise. The American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was quoted as saying publicly that “I don’t know anyone who wasn’t caught off guard by Hamas’s strong showing.” Should this result be that surprising in light of recent elections in Iraq and Egypt, or in view of the public opinion polls showing a swing toward Islam throughout the region. 

      

Perhaps, the magnitude of the Hamas victory was unexpected, capturing 74 of 132 seats, winning an outright majority that allows Hamas to form and lead the government without entering into a coalition. It is not yet clear how Hamas will handle its electoral success. Somewhat contradictory statements have been made, reflecting the tension between pragmatic and maximalist tendencies within Hamas’s ranks. The pragmatists want to govern as effectively as possible,  gaining the support and trust of all Palestinians, including those of secular persuasion, and emphasizing as their goal an end to Israeli occupation, including offering Israel a truce of indefinite duration if Israel withdraws behind the 1967 borders. The maximalists seem ideologically driven, intent on reasserting their insistence that Israel as a Jewish state must be eliminated, that the four-five million dispersed Palestinians must be given a right of return to pre-1967 Israel, and that so long as an illegal occupation of Palestinian lands continues, so will Palestinian continue its armed resistance as a matter of national right. 

      In light of this unresolved struggle within Hamas it would be wise for outsiders to encourage the triumph of the pragmatists. To do this, it would be useful if Washington, Tel Aviv, and Brussels all conveyed the view that the Palestinian elections would be provisionally respected, that normal diplomatic relations would be established, and that desperately needed external aid flows would be maintained. As of now, the external actors are all pushing in the opposite direction, making the ascendancy of the Hamas maximalists a virtual certainty. Israel and the U.S. seem to be marching, as might be expected, in lockstep to the same militarist band: Ehud Olmert has reportedly told the Israeli cabinet that there will be no positive contact with Hamas unless its leaders explicitly renounce terrorism, recognize Israel, accept all prior agreements between the Palestinians and Israel, and annul that part of the Hamas covenant that called for Israel’s destruction. The Europeans powers have expressed similar demands. Further, these international actors seem determined to withhold economic assistance from the Palestinians unless Hamas meets these political conditions, which seems impossible, a renunciation of struggle and almost a decalaration of surrender. Given this interaction, it is almost certain that Hamas will be united in rejecting the damands as ‘blackmail,’ and that the Western powers will cut off  economic assistance, which will quickly produce a desperate situation among the already impoverished Palestinian population. 

      If this tough line of response is followed, as seems a near certainty, it will have the effect of pushing Hamas into the hands of the maximalists setting the stage for another cycle of escalating violence. It will also lead Hamas to seek funds on an emergency basis from rich Gulf states, which will weaken still further Western credibility and leverage. It is possible, as well, that in the course of these developments violent strife would occur pitting secularists under Fatah leadership against the militant militias of Hamas. This will bring even greater suffering to the Palestinian people, and give Israel yet another pretext for avoiding real peace negotiations. It is only by diplomacy based on respective rights and mutual respect that a durable peace can be achieved by these two peoples that have endured the ordeal of a vicious struggle for more than half a century. Israel, especially during the period of Sharon’s leadership that commenced in early 2001, has justified their unilateralist approach to a final settlement by the absence of a partner on the Palestinian side, doing their best to humiliate Yasir Arafat, and then declare his Fatah government incapable of carrying on credible negotiations.  

      In a serious sense, the Hamas victory is the ripened fruit of Sharon’s diplomacy, which was underpinned by Israeli military action against densely populated Palestinian areas, targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders, expansion of West Bank and Jerusalem settlements, Gaza disengagement, and the construction of a security wall on occupied Palestinian territory that 14 of 15 World Court judges declared to be illegal. In the Hamas context it seems hardly necessary for Israel to discredit their leadership. Others will do it for Israel. Hamas will be eliminated as a political partner by the U.S. and Europe without Israel having to lift a finger. On this basis it can be expected that Israel will do what it wanted to do however the Palestinian elections has turned out, that is, proceed with the Sharon model of ‘peace,’ incorporating the settlement blocs, eliminating some small isolated outposts on the West Bank, and establishing an expanded Israel that effectively takes over about 60% of the West Bank, leaving with the Palestinians with 40% of the 22% historic mandate of Palestine established after World War I. 

      Such a ‘solution’ never had any prospect of resolving the conflict in a fair or sustainable way. It totally ignores Palestinian rights, including the duty of Israel to withdraw from all territory occupied since the 1967 War, as well as those issues on which international law supports Palestinian claims: refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, water, and the wall. If Israel goes ahead with its self-serving unilateralsim it will deepen Palestinian resentments still further, and convince even moderates on the West Bank and elsewhere that only extremist tactics can have the slightest hope of advancing the cause of Palestinian self-determination. 

      The former Israeli foreign minister, Abba Eban, was fond of chiding the Palestinians with the quip: “The Palestininians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” If Israel and the United States were to suspend disbelief at this stage, continue foreign assistance, acknowledge the legitimacy of these democratic elections, it would likely help the pragmatic tendency to prevail in the Hamas leadership. If this occurs, it could lead Hamas as a whole to abandon terrorist tactics, and rely on a variety of political moves to advance the cause of Palestinian self-determination. This optimistic scenario seems now out of the question, which not only adds fuel to the flames of struggle, but also means that the whole American pretension of championing democracy in the Middle East will be exposed as empty rhetoric at best, and will be widely interpreted as one more instance of cruel hypocrisy on Washington’s part.

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