ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Hamas Dominated PA 19.3.05

Hamas Dominated PA

19 March 2005

By Yisarel Ne'eman

Democracy is a wonderful system of government, for those who understand it. As such the West insists on exporting democracy and its supposed implementation through elections, either by persuasion (the Palestinian Authority - PA) or direct intervention (Iraq). This year the Palestinians are engaging in their first set of elections in nine years. Although Mahmoud Abbas won the chairmanship or presidency of the PA in the January polling the municipal elections of the Gaza Strip and West Bank are a different story. Here the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas, took 77 out of 118 seats as opposed to 26 for the PA supported Fatah, the party of Abbas and the late Yasser Arafat (Yediot Ahronot, March 18, 2005). Further elections are scheduled towards summer and Hamas is expected to continue its landslides.

The reasons for the Hamas victory are threefold: The organization is seen as "honest" and cares for the poor through social welfare and educational programs, while the PA, dominated by Fatah is hopelessly corrupt. Fatah is condemned for "selling out" in the Oslo Accords and therefore any ills suffered either from compromise or clash with Israel is blamed on the PA. Thirdly, PA acceptance of a two-state solution whatever the conditions, is seen as an affront to the theoretical purity necessary to defeat the Zionist enemy.

The Hamas speaks of Israel's ultimate destruction, without conditions, saying what it means both in Arabic and English. The Fatah PA is the establishment elite leading the failed struggle against Israel with nothing to show for four and half years of catastrophe. The Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror organizations succeeded in undermining the PA during this period but wide-ranging, entrenched, institutionalized corruption by the authorities destroyed Palestinian popular faith in the Fatah leadership more than the failure of the armed struggle. Today, Palestinians polled express increasingly moderate views in peace making with Israel but overwhelmingly support the Hamas.

The West and Israel are appalled by the increasing support for the Islamicists, but if they are pushing democracy, there will be no choice but to respect the people's choice. And it may not be so bad after all. On the military level, the IDF reports a weakening of Hamas, but politically, they have soared. Recognition of the fact that Hamas will dominate the Palestinian Legislature, local government and the next cabinet led by Mahmoud Abbas will be essential to conflict resolution. It may be much less of a doom's day scenario than many expect.

The Fatah led PA is no bargain for Israel. Under Arafat they insisted peace was the desired goal (in English) but declared war (in Arabic). Abbas makes peaceful declarations and has good intentions but refuses to disarm terrorists. Let's assume he does not have the ability to enforce his will and cannot afford to test his limited strength. Despite the declared "calm" agreed to between Abbas and the terror factions last week, the end result will be renewed terror attacks against Israel, with a helpless, leaderless PA police looking on. Should that be the case, the Fatah led PA will be bankrupt as a negotiating partner.

Enter the will of the electorate. The Hamas will have to prove their leadership skills. The average Palestinian wants food, clothing, shelter, a job and an end to his suffering. He needs municipal services restored, sewer lines repaired, fresh drinking water, street lamps, road repair, useful education, technical training, law and order, etc. Suffering from national schizophrenia, the Palestinian knows that conflict resolution with Israel should improve his material well being. In his heart he wants Israel's destruction. After 4.5 years of a Low Intensity Conflict / Terror Offensive, Hamas also has nothing to show for its national efforts, except more despair. However, as a political entity they enjoy wide-ranging support since they are perceived as the only real choice. The conflict forces them into the spotlight of leadership and national responsibility.

Beyond displaying every day managerial skills, elected Hamas officials will be called upon to foster economic development, such as implementing the construction of the seven planned industrial zones in the Gaza Strip and the establishment of a modern port in Gaza. To handle all of the above, Hamas must ensure civil security by ending all anarchy and attacks against Israel which result in retaliations. Only the West can help in such development and it is doubtful they will be drawn in should Hamas insist on continued violence against Israel. The Hamas will need to enforce its will to succeed on the economic, security and political/diplomatic level.

Despite those who demand the "continued armed struggle," the average Palestinian will judge the Hamas on its success or failure as regards daily management of mundane municipal affairs. They can either be voted out of office or they can decide against subsequent elections (Arafat style). The terror situation may return to what it was in 2001 – 03, but the same scenario can equally be expected under Abbas who refuses to use, or really has no enforcement powers.

Israel and the West need to get used to the idea of a Hamas dominated Palestinian Authority. At first it may sound horrendous, but once bogged down in the everyday affairs of running the PA the Islamicists may prove themselves more competent than the corrupt Fatah led PA. The remaining question is how they will interpret the "people's will" and whether that includes continuing the "armed struggle" in the name of Allah or postponing such a decision for an indefinite period of time.