RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jan. 26 -- The radical Islamic movement Hamas won a large majority in the new Palestinian parliament, according to official election results announced Thursday, trouncing the governing Fatah party in a contest that could dramatically reshape the Palestinians' relations with Israel and the rest of the world.
I tend to take the sanguine view that this is an unpleasant but necessary step in the political evolution of Palestine. Sure, it would be nice if they supported Fatah or went with a non-terrorist opposition party. However, it's pretty obvious that that's not where the majority of the Palestinian sentiments lie. This isn't that surprising considerig their consistent ability to turn down good deals.
I'm relaxed because I believe the common theory that holding free and fair elections is a good policy options. Even if the bad guys win, electoral victory forces terrorist groups to moderate or lose popular support.
Here's a counterargument to that view.
"The same commentators who once assured us that power and responsibility would transform Yasir Arafat from terrorist to statesman now assure us that Hamas leaders similarly will be transformed by the process of governance. Fatah was supposed to control Hamas; now, presumably, Hamas will control itself... If the process of moderation didn't happen to the less devout Fatah, which continues to reject Israel's legitimacy and now opposes terror only on temporary tactical grounds, it surely won't happen to Hamas."
The problem is that Araft was a great man. I don't mean that as a compliment. Throughout history, big revolutionary leaders get to rule long after their people should have thrown them out. Look at Mugabe who has managed to run Zimbabwe into the ground and still has his foot on the accelerator. Look at Mao and the cultural revolution. Look at Castro's seemingly eternal rule. Countries don't really evolve until revolutionary leaders step aside (Props to Washington) or die.
Now as to the argument that Fatah didn't moderate. The author admits that Fatah "now opposes terror only on temporary tactical grounds." Does he think the argument is that elections somehow make leaders peaceful in their hearts? Of course not. It forces them to acknowledge practical realities. The "temporary" conditions that make terrorism unwise for Palestinians aren't going to change any time soon. In addition, Fatah was weak and lacked a decisive leader. It would require a level of political mastery that Abbas just didn't have to successfully take on a popular armed faction to consolidate power. We can't expect much from governments that don't accuractely reflect the distribution of power in a country.
So how will Hamas moderation work? First Islamists tend to be terriblely ineffective and unpopular rulers. See Hezbollah and Iran. Rallying around the flag goes a long way, but after a while the patriotic zeal wears off and people realize their lives are crappy. Maybe Hamas will go out against Israel. They'll lose, badly, and their electorate will suffer for it. Every resource they waste fighting a superior foe is a resource not going to constituent service. And this time, they won't have anyone to blame. The radicals finally have power but will be completely unable to grant victory over Israel.
So what about Israel policy? Most articles have cited a wide agreement behind taking unilateral steps. The Peace Process for now is over. If Israel is wise enough to keep Sharon's course of withdrawing strategically worthless settlements than the situation will continue to improve. Some of their retaliations against Hamas will be overly harsh, but that's fairly inevitable. The only real concern is that Israel will seek to keep some settlements that enclose Palestianian areas. Being directly occupied and having to go to checkpoints every time you go to work, home, and to the hospital tends to radicalize people. Fewer Palestinians spending hours going through checkpoints will mean faster moderating or booting of Hamas.
Quick Addendum. Bush is handling this correctly. For that I give him props. It deeply disturbs me that he's enamored with unchecked executives during wartimes. He even supports it on principle which is why is part of why he breaks the law even when he doesn't have to. But I think he has shown a genuine interest in democracy promotion. Not his only interest certainly, but it's there and it's worthy of praise.