January 26, 2006.
Hamas’s apparent victory in the elections for Palestinian parliament creates a
thorny dilemma for Israel, the United States, and the European Union: how to
deal with a Palestinian government dominated by what all three have branded a
Yet there is a potential silver lining in this development. Not because it may
transform Hamas into an ordinary political party that eschews violence and
terrorism in favor of “more moderate policies,” as suggested by Jimmy Carter
among others, but because Hamas’s win might trigger a widespread
disillusionment with the mirage – created by the Oslo process – of a democratic
and peace-loving Palestinian government.
A good place to start is to acknowledge that the Palestinian elections were a
contest not between a democratic party and a terror organization but rather
between two unreconstructed terrorist groups, which were supposed to be
disarmed and dismantled in accordance with the agreements signed by Israel
and the PLO and the roadmap to peace announced in 2003 by the Quartet (the
United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia).
While Hamas’s terrorist credentials need no elaboration, Fatah boasts a far
longer terrorist record, dating back to January 1965 and including bombings,
airplane hijacking, and countless massacres of innocent civilians throughout the
world – Arab, Israeli, and Western – most notably at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Marwan Barghouti, who headed the Fatah electoral list, is serving five
consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison for murder and attempted murder.
Nor does the PLO-dominated PA, established in May 1994 as part of the Oslo
process, come anywhere near to being a liberal democracy. Rather it is an
oppressive and corrupt regime, where the rule of the gun prevails and large
sums of money donated by the international community for the benefit of the
civilian Palestinian population are diverted to funding racist incitement, buying
weaponry, and filling secret bank accounts.
Extensive protection and racketeering networks run by P.A. officials proliferate,
while the national budget is plundered at will by PLO veterans and Arafat
It is, in fact, this oppressive and corrupt governance that has allowed
Hamas to win widespread popular support by creating an extensive system of
social-welfare handouts that substitutes for the services the PA has failed to
Equally misconceived is the perception of Palestinian society as locked in an
ideological struggle between secular modernizers and religious radicals.
Since its rise in the early seventh century, Islam has constituted the
linchpin of Middle Eastern politics, and its hold on Palestinian society is far
stronger than is commonly recognized.
Arafat was a devout Muslim, associated in his early days with the militant
Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s parent organization, as were other founding
fathers of Fatah.
And while the new generation of Fatah leaders in the territories may be
less religious, they nevertheless have a draft constitution for a prospective
Palestinian state that stipulates “Islam shall be the official religion of Palestine”
and Sharia – which relegates non-Muslims to a legally inferior position – “shall be
a major source of legislation”.
Finally, and contrary to another widely accepted myth, there is no fundamental
difference between the ultimate goals of Hamas and Fatah vis-a-vis Israel:
Neither accepts the Jewish state’s right to exist and both are committed to its
The only difference between the two groups lies in their preferred strategies for
the attainment of this goal. Whereas Hamas concentrates exclusively on “armed
struggle,” as its murderous terror campaign is conveniently euphemized, the
PLO has adopted since the early 1990s a more subtle strategy, combining
intricate political and diplomatic maneuvering with sustained terror attacks
(mainly under the auspices of Tanzim, Fatah’s military arm).
Hence the refusal of Arafat and more recently Abbas to disarm Hamas (and
Islamic Jihad), as required by the Oslo accords and the roadmap; and hence
their tacit approval of the murder of hundreds of Israelis by these groups.
In the candid words of Farouq Qaddoumi, the PLO’s perpetual foreign
minister: “We were never different from Hamas. Hamas is a national movement.
Strategically, there is no difference between us.”
The PLO’s duplicity of speaking the language of peace while backing terrorism
Fatigued by decades of fighting, and yearning for a normalcy that would
allow them at last to enjoy their recently won affluence, many Israelis, followed
by the international community at large, naively clung to the Oslo process,
turning a blind eye to the growing terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian
And while Arafat overplayed his hand by launching his war of terror in
September 2000, his death rekindled the widespread illusion that Palestinian
politics have entered a new and far more promising era.
The international community thus ignored the fact that for all their drastically
different personalities and political style, Arafat and Abbas were both dogmatic
PLO veterans who never eschewed their commitment to Israel’s destruction and
who viewed the “peace process” as the continuation of their lifetime war by
It whitewashed Abbas’s adamant refusal to fight terrorism as a reflection
of political weakness (as it had done with Arafat in the early Oslo years) and
turned a blind eye to his repeated calls for the destruction of Israel through
demographic subversion (via the so-called “right of return”).
In these circumstances, where the real choice is between a plain-speaking
extremist organization advocating the destruction of a neighboring state and a
corrupt and repressive regime couching its intentions in hollow peace rhetoric
whenever addressing non-Arab audiences, Hamas may prove the lesser of two
By leaving no doubt about its true nature and raising no false
expectations of imminent peace and democracy, it helps expose the deep
malaise of the Palestinian political system and the attendant need for its
There is, of course, the risk that, in its dealings with the world community,
Hamas will adopt its predecessor’s duplicitous conduct so as to maintain the
extraordinary level of international aid enjoyed by the Palestinians since the
mid-1990s. This might well dupe naive do-gooders.
Yet one hopes that Hamas’s victory will cause the international
community to pay closer attention to what the Palestinian authorities tell their
own people and wider Arab constituencies.
As for Israelis, yesterday’s election results will have the virtue of
creating clarity in their political debate. Now, as it weighs unilateral withdrawal
and other policy options, Israel can at least do so without illusions.