January 29, 2006

Toward Palestine

After mulling over Michelle's take on the recent Palestinian elections and after taking a look at the resources she brought to my attention, I've begun to reconsider my initial reaction to the sweeping victory of Hamas. I have to admit that my initial response was really a kneejerk reaction, inspired by a post-9/11 paralyzing fear of terrorism and by what I was hearing on the news. I did not research the reasons behind the Hamas victory, nor did I bother to look for alternative perspectives. I'm usually much more thoughtful in responding to complex situations, and I apologize to our readers for reacting so hastily. I have given the issue more thought, and I'd like to share what I've come up with.

To begin with, I think that Israel's response to the Hamas election has primarily been motivated by its very reasonable fear of Hamas. I don't blame the Israelis for reacting in the way that they have, and I think their reaction has in many ways been quite restrained. But I'm not sure that the Bush administration's reaction is motivated by fear as much as it is motivated by aggravation that it has now completely lost control of the situation. Like it or not, this election is the first step toward Palestinian statehood, because it is the first time that the Palestinians have really taken responsibility for themselves and for their future.

To the casual observer, electing Hamas is an irresponsible move that will jeopardize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but when one looks at the domestic situation in the Palestinian Territories one quickly realizes that the Palestinians were not acting irresponsibly in international affairs so much as they were acting responsibly in domestic affairs. They recognized that there could be no Palestinian future without domestic stability in the Palestinian Territories, and Fatah was not providing such stability. Fatah was not moving the Palestinian people toward a viable future as a Palestinian state, nor did it show any signs that it would begin moving in that direction anytime soon. Fatah was facilitating just the kind of corrupt, Third World conditions that would always leave the Palestinians embroiled in violent conflict and unable to achieve viability as a state. Fatah was encouraging violence not only within the Palestinian Territories, but also against Israel, by leaving the Palestinians in hopeless conditions that can only lead to desperate acts like terrorist violence. Speaking of the domestic situation, then, the Palestinians have acted quite responsibly by ousting Fatah and choosing its only alternative: Hamas.

This frustrates the Bush administration, because it did not give the Palestinians permission to take responsibility for themselves. This was not at all part of the Bush administration's unilateral "road map to peace," a road map which has proven itself a dead end for Middle Eastern peace. The Bush administration cannot possibly be upset that the Palestinians have elected a radical Islamic government, because that is exactly the kind of government that the Bush administration itself has facilitated by supporting the new Shi'ite government of Iraq. Rather, it would seem that the Bush administration is upset because the status quo has now effectively been toppled.

It is a certainty that Hamas will contribute positively to the domestic situation in the Palestinian Territories, for they cannot possibly do worse than Fatah. Once the domestic situation improves and statehood becomes a viable option, the Palestinian people will only be more willing -- certainly not less willing -- to work with Israel in order to facilitate Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank and the creation of a Palestinian state. Whether or not Hamas is willing to work with Israel will be largely irrelevant, because the Palestinians have now demonstrated that the government will do their will, not its own will. If Hamas does not do the will of the Palestinian people in this regard, there is every probability that they will be ousted and replaced by a party that will.

This must all be very upsetting for the Bush administration, because anyone who's been paying attention can see clearly that the Bush administration does not want a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that the Bush administration does not want a Palestinian state, despite their many platitudes to the contrary. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict gives the United States a strong foothold in the region, because it leaves both Israel and the Palestinian Territories in need of our constant assistance. Israel needs us to help negotiate with the Palestinians and protect them from hostile Arab neighbors like Iran and Syria, and the Palestinians need us as an ambassador to Israel. Once the conflict is resolved, Israel will not need us to negotiate with the Palestinians and the threat from Iran and Syria will diminish, even while the Palestinians cease to need our mediating presence. If the conflict is resolved, the United States will lose its strongest foothold in the Middle East and all power we currently hold over the Middle East will be lost.

And so we had concocted a brilliant plan in the so-called "road map to peace." We would continue to string the Palestinians along with a promise of statehood always just a little out of reach. We would mostly favor Israel, our great preserver of the status quo in the Middle East, only lightly slapping their wrists to make it look like we really did have the best interest of the Palestinians at heart. When Hamas began moderating itself in order to become a political entity and when it established a truce with Israel, we made an alliance with the Fatah party, because the Fatah party also had an interest in preserving the status quo. As long as there was no viability for a Palestinian state, no real peace with Israel, Mahmoud Abbas could continue to live in his $2 million mansion and Suha Arafat could continue to live richly on the backs of the Palestinians without the restraints of statehood to hold them accountable. So the unholy alliance was formed: the United States, Israel, and Fatah, all preserving the status quo and making a future for the Palestinian people impossible.

And now the Palestinian people have seen through it and toppled everyone's plans.

It will be impossible for Hamas not to moderate itself and work with Israel. In fact, it has already shown its willingness to do just that by making and sustaining a truce with Israel and by removing its call for Israel's destruction from its charter. Although Israel says now that it will not work with a Palestinian-Hamas government, the truth of the matter is that it will have no choice, since the infrastructure of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories depends upon some basic cooperation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

As Hamas improves the domestic situation in the Palestinian Territories, the Palestinian people will push Hamas even harder to work with Israel. Hamas will do it, but they won't do it the way Fatah did it; they won't be subservient to Israel and the United States, and that's what has us all worked up. Hamas won't be interested in maintaining the status quo as Fatah was -- the Palestinian people will demand, and Hamas will work toward, true independence and statehood. There will be progress, but it won't be on our terms, and that's what has the Bush administration so upset. It will no longer be only our interests and Israel's interests involved in the peace process; Hamas will ensure that the Palestinian people's interests are equally considered.

Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the State Department, has recently said: "A two-state solution to the conflict requires all participants in the democratic process to renounce violence and terror, accept Israel's right to exist, and disarm, as outlined in the 'road map.'" That's true, and if Hamas doesn't do this, there's every reason to believe that the Palestinian people will oust them and replace them with a chastised Fatah party that will have no choice but to reform. But it is also true that a two-state solution to the conflict requires all participants to renounce violence and terror, including the violence and terror of withdrawing economic aid. It is also true that Israel and the United States must now accept Palestine's right to exist, because the Palestinian people have said in no uncertain terms that they will move toward viable statehood and then they will have a state. And it is also true that a new road map has now been drawn, one which finally includes a self-reliant and self-governing Palestinian people, and we will have to learn to work with this new road map.