Islamic Resistance movement, has won an overwhelming victory in
the Palestinian legislative elections. The latest count is that
they have captured 76 seats to 43 for Fatah out of the 132 seats
in the legislature, or well over half. The victory and the scope
of the victory suggest that all the pre-election polling could
have been done by John
Zogby. It was that far off.
wisdom prior to the election was that Hamas would do very well,
and achieve a strong minority position in the government, maybe
capturing a third of the seats. For this, they were expected to
obtain a few ministries – probably to deal with social services,
where their reputation for efficiency surpassed that of the Palestinian
also held that as a powerful insider in the government, Hamas
would be too strong for the PA to enforce its one government,
one armed force approach. Hamas would therefore have been able
to retain its terror ideology and weapons. In fact Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas had spoken of an alternative formula for
disarming Hamas – co-opting Hamas’ gunmen by bringing
them into the PA security forces, thereby presumably satisfying
the Roadmap requirement to disarm militant groups (or at least
the largest one not part of Fatah).
a minority party was, of course, expected to pressure Abbas and
the PA to harden their stance towards Israel and the U.S. Equally
important, Hamas expected to begin sharing in some of the financial
goodies associated with Palestinian governance (courtesy of the
EU and other donors’ money).
EU, like Israel and the US, officially viewed Hamas as a terror
organization, in the days prior to the election there were already
murmurs among some European leaders and the likes of Jimmy Carter
about the need to distinguish between a political (more
moderate) Hamas, and a militant (bad) Hamas. The implication
was that a
way could be found to keep the EU’s money flowing even
with Hamas part of the government, and thereby keep the PA alive
and functioning, since Fatah would still be in charge.
It is no
secret to anyone that Palestinian society operates like a welfare
client pretending to be a “state,” living off the
generosity of foreigners. There is a bit of farming in the territories,
but the major entrepreneurial activity has been weapons manufacturing
Now the unthinkable
has happened. Hamas has won. As a sports fan would say, they rule.
And as to be expected, thousands of Middle East pundits are already
weighing in. Several questions are being addressed.
now moderate its views given its new role in government? This
a tough one to answer.
If the role
model is Hizbollah, the answer is no. Radical Islamic parties
are driven by their God and their holy book, and a Jihadist mindset.
This does not really allow for a lot of compromise. Sure they
may say some things to make it easier for the international community
to keep writing checks (as former President Carter encouraged
them to do). Hamas’ leadership is not dumb, even if
they are ruthless murderers.
Look to the
founding DNA of the organization. Hamas is not on the scene today
because it was needed to fill a social service vacuum (even if
this may be a part of the reason for their electoral success).
Hamas, since its inception, has existed to end the occupation
of Palestine. But unlike Yassar Arafat, who tried at times to
finesse the meaning of his desire to destroy Israel by calling
for an to end to Israel’s occupation of territories captured
in the 67 war (and, wink, wink, from the rest of Israel later),
Hamas was always more direct. Tel Aviv was occupied. The Galilee
was occupied. Haifa was occupied.
now indicate a willingness to deal with Israel in an administrative
fashion, as some Palestinian mayors who are Hamas already do,
to ensure there is electricity, and water, and perhaps more importantly,
to get tax revenues refunded. And there is talk of continuing
the ceasefire, which helps Hamas in two ways: allowing them to
consolidate their power without Israeli retaliation for any new
attacks; and also signaling to the West the new leaf Hamas may
be turning over that ensures the financial spigot remains open
feints towards moderation or recognition of Israel will not include
the magic words the US got Arafat to whisper back in the late
80s (which were a lie of course) – that he recognized Israel’s
right to exist. Anyone seeking guidance for whether Hamas may
soon decide to recognize Israel’s right to exist will find
a roadmap for this answer in Iran’s position on this issue.
The new Iranian President has publicly stated that he believes
Israel has a right to exist, but only in Austria and Germany.
If Hamas only wanted to “end the occupation” of Gaza,
and the West Bank, they would have signed up with the PA years
back, and been invited to Camp David in the summer of 2000.
as stunned as everybody else by its victory. That may explain
why they are trying to get Fatah and Abbas to “partner”
with them in a new government. This might give the Europeans and
other donors, and perhaps even the US, enough wiggle room to continue
to work with the new PA. There is a long history of a lack of
spine on the part of the Europeans in dealing with Palestinian
terror groups. Despite some European nations (even Sweden!) making
tough statements about relations with Hamas the day after the
elections, over the next few weeks, it can be safely predicted
that the hardline position against dealing with Hamas will soften.
Abbas may need to “cover” for Hamas in the short term,
but not forever.
also want cover from Abbas, because they do not have a clue how
to run the madness that the Palestinian Authority is in charge
of governing at the moment.
course, has been a major contributor to that madness and the near
total breakdown of authority. But now it needs an accomplishment,
like Mussolini’s supposed ability to get the trains running
on time. Passing the Mussolini Test is much easier in the absence
of armed opposition.
a reputation for enforcing discipline (at the point of many guns)
in some parts of Gaza. But now they will have to deal with disgruntled
Fatah gunmen and officials, who cannot be thrilled to have lost
their power base.
A state of
nature consisting of powerful tribes and local militias and gunmen
is not a state or a state-in-waiting. So Hamas must fear that
it will fail the Mussolini test.
Impact on Israeli Politics
major question concerns the impact a Hamas victory have on Israeli
politics. Clearly, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not expecting
that his new “partner” in the peace process would
be run by Hamas from top to bottom. Israelis expected a strong
showing by Hamas, which they felt would make a resumption of peace
talks unlikely and provide them the ability to continue the unilateral
program that had been initiated by Ariel Sharon: completion of
the security barrier, and a de facto separation from the Palestinians,
with tentative borders achieved by tactical withdrawals from Gaza
and sections of the West Bank.
It can be
expected that in the days to come, the Israeli left will argue
that Israel failed to do enough to legitimize Abbas, thereby explaining
Fatah’s (and Abbas’) defeat. And they will suggest
that Israel needs to make peace feelers to Hamas, since Hamas
represents the opportunity for the Palestinians’ Nixon-in-China
moment. In other words Abbas was too weak (just as Arafat was
too unwilling) to risk making peace with Israel, since the terror
groups would sabotage any such effort. But if Hamas is the government,
and is itself willing to make peace, then nobody is left outside
to kill the deal.
of deluded thinking is hardwired on the Israeli left. The failure
to achieve peace is always because Israel is not generous or forthcoming
enough, and does not do enough to enable the Palestinians to make
peace. The thinking has spread to some American Jews.
Spielberg and Tony Kushner believe this garbage, since they
have now proven with Munich that they are leading practitioners
of this kind of muddled thinking among the American Jewish left.
Spielberg told Time Magazine he wishes both sides would
sit down and talk until they were blue in the face. It would not
surprise me if he believed that even with Hamas on the other side
of the table, that talks could still be productive.
As for the
upcoming Israeli elections, it seems that the Hamas victory should
benefit the right and Bibi Netanyahu. Bibi has a lot of ground
to make up in two months (44% for Kadimah, 21% for Labor, and
14% for Likud in a recent poll). But his rejection of the Gaza
withdrawal and any additional concessions to the Palestinians
looks more realistic with Hamas as the recipient of future Israeli
has few security credentials, may find it easier to do nothing
for awhile, and let Hamas and the PA implode. My guess, however,
is that the friends of the Palestinians in years past will still
be friends of the Palestinians in the future, and will see enough
money coming in to keep the place running, if not really functioning.
So at some point, pressure from Europe may begin again for Israel
to make the next move, especially if Hamas hides behind Abbas,
and talks mush for a few months.
think the Bush administration will cave in readily and try to
with Hamas. Given that 2006 is an election year, and that
the chance for achieving anything substantive between Israel and
the Palestinians is now approximately zero, Bush is too smart
to be willing to devote a lot more time and effort in trying to
deal with the intransigent new face of the Palestinian leadership.
important implication of the Hamas electoral victory may not be
in terms of Israeli or Palestinian politics, but with regard to
Iran. The recent unrestrained Iranian talk of wiping out Israel
and their many years of playing the Europeans for fools with their
nuclear program have changed the equation a bit in terms of how
the West may choose to deal with their nuclear program. Waiting
for the IAEA to recommend that the Security Council consider action
against Iran may seem too tame, now that Hamas, another sworn
enemy of Israel committed to its destruction, has become its direct
I think this
confluence of events will free Israel’s hand if it chooses
to move militarily against the Iranian nuclear program. There
was growing talk of the military option even before Hamas’
victory. But such talk will increase even more now, and if Israel
moves against Iran, the reproach from the international community,
given the new situation vis-a-vis Hamas, might be a bit more restrained
than after the Osirak bombing in 1981, when Israel took out Saddam’s
nuclear weapons facility.
All in all,
2006 in unlikely to be a quiet year.
Baehr is the chief political correspondent of The