February 1, 2006
Palestine's Hamas Government: Old Radicalism or New Pragmatism?
Hamas versus Fatah
in Palestine illustrates a political dilemma all too common in
the developing world: a choice between rule by corrupt autocrats
or violent revolt led by religious or ethnic zealots promising
glory and utopia.
But is this really
a choice? Afghanistan buckled and broke after the Soviet invasion
and a decade of chaotic war. Taliban religious zealots offered
an end to conflict and corruption. Of course, in short order,
the entire Taliban government became a creature of violence, intimidation,
graft and theft -- in other words, heinously autocratic and corrupt.
That's the track
even the zealots follow: Once they are the government wielding
power, and if that power is unchecked, unchallenged and unpoliced,
corruption inevitably follows. The revolutionary promises of sectarian
or egalitarian utopia, recovered tribal glory or national resurrection
then become propaganda tropes masking "the gang in control."
Democracy may not
be a perfect defense against the Mafia -- obviously, it is not.
American mobsters exist. They intimidate judges in New Jersey,
own aldermen in Chicago and slide cash to congressmen via K Street.
Democracies, however, tend to marginalize gangsters, in the same
way they tend to marginalize political extremists. With checks
and balances like the rule of law, the free press and electoral
politics, Al Capones and Jack Abramoffs end up in jail. Even a
president can lose his law license for "misleading"
a federal judge.
Democracy is no perfect
defense against religious and ethnic terrorists, either. Hamas
won an election, soundly drubbing secular Fatah.
Democracy is flawed
-- the other choices, however, are fatal.
In an interview on
Jan. 30, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected the idea
that Hamas' victory would lead the United States to renege on
its commitment to democracy in the Middle East.
"What is the
alternative to believing in democracy so that people can express
themselves?" Rice replied. "The alternative is to say
that they shouldn't have the right to express themselves. The
alternative is to say that it is better that the people of the
Middle East continue to have no say in who will govern them, continue
to have no say in how their interests are going to be represented."
She added this caveat:
"... those who win elections have an obligation to govern
democratically, and I hope the people who elected -- who elect
governments will hold them to the obligation to govern democratically.
That means that the same people who have used the open political
system to come to power have to keep the system open to opposition
to their views and to their ideas."
Rice went on to express
her belief that this is an "evolutionary" period, and
pointed out that in Iraq and Afghanistan the United States is
dealing with Islamic groups that are "democratic in their
Can Hamas evolve?
Hamas assumes power
with a political platform that includes the destruction of Israel.
"Insurgent Hamas" could freely criticize Fatah and promise
the "utopian" destruction of Israel. "Government
Hamas," however, must put up or shut up. Here's a guarantee:
Israel's destruction is a campaign promise Hamas cannot fulfill.
That places Hamas in a political and ideological vise. If Hamas
stalwarts attempt to destroy Israel, the Israelis will beat them
and beat them badly. Israel may even have Fatah as an ally.
why some Israelis see Hamas' victory as a positive development.
"I think it is the best chance for peace," a resident
of Haifa told The New York Times. "I think Hamas
can understand there is no way to destroy the state of Israel
and will take a course to peace."
Optimists argue the
responsibility of governing, the reality of Israel and competition
from Fatah will force Hamas to drop the old radicalism in favor
of a new, productive pragmatism.
Hamas also promised
to perform the quotidian duties Fatah's wardheelers often failed
to do -- like fix the potholes. However, that takes money. International
donors are demanding Hamas reject violence and support the "two
transportation and water issues also entails cooperating with
The choices are stark.
Violent rhetoric or flush toilets? Suicide bombs or water district
bonds? Democratic revitalization or relapse to terrorist tyranny?
"Government Hamas" must decide -- and quickly.
2006 Creators Syndicate