Not, as commonly believed, a popular dipping food from the Mediterranean, Hamas has made a big news splash all across the world with its election victory this January. Considered by many to be a terrorist organization, Hamas won 76 of 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, defeating the ruling Fatah party. It is the first election there since 1996.
Hamas is a helpful, charitable organization that has been responsible for numerous relief and educational programs, providing much needed aid to the people of Palestine. It is also a radical Sunni Islamic organization notable for its anti-Israel rallying cry and devastating suicide bombings against Israeli civilian and military targets. While its civilian wing helps raise literacy and combat the devastating effects of absolute poverty, its military side is responsible for several large-scale suicide bombings against Israeli civilian and military targets killing hundreds in the last four years alone.
The long-standing Fatah party?s defeat can largely be attributed to internal divisions and a dissatisfied populace. Beyond being an aggressive militant faction, Hamas has provided much needed aid to the poor of Palestine, help that Fatah has failed to provide.
Many leaders see the political success of Hamas as nothing more than an outcry against the existing party. Yet there is a widespread fear in the international community. After all, Hamas?s charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, as well as of any secular Palestinian government. However slow and painful the Israeli-Palestinian peace process may have been under Arafat, negotiations can only go down hill with a party whose mission statement includes your demise.
Now that we?re all on the same proverbial page I can stop giving the facts and get to the fun part of the editorial. It is this writer?s opinion that winning the election was the worst thing that could have happened to Hamas. As long as they were a powerful minority they had virtually every advantage of the ruling party but without any of the responsibility. Now that Hamas is in office, they have to start taking blame both on a national and international scale.
The United States and the European Union have already threatened to freeze the much-needed financial aid to Palestine unless the group agrees to renounce violence, disarm militants and recognize Israel?s right to exist. According to an opinion poll released by the Ram Allah-based Near East Consulting Institute, three-quarters of Palestinians want Hamas to drop its call for the destruction of Israel. The survey also found that 84% of those surveyed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip want a peace agreement with Israel while 86% want Muhammed Abbas, the moderate Palestinian Authority president, to remain in his post. The survey size was 1,200 and although it?s hard to say how reflective those numbers are of the general populace, they certainly are encouraging.
If Hamas agrees to the terms of the US and EU, it will be an important step towards moderating the party and will hopefully discourage many of the more extremist members. Hopefully such a major concession will go a long way to creating internal discord and isolating the more extremist members, neutralizing the very thing that makes Hamas so alarming. If Hamas doesn?t agree to the terms, then they will cause much of the populace to become extremely dissatisfied.
The extent to which Palestinians become disgruntled with their new ruling party largely depends on how effective Hamas is at shifting the blame to the international community rather than it?s own political platform. Still, we have cause to be hopeful; history has shown us that desire for bread often triumphs all other values. With so many people supporting at least recognition of Israel, Hamas may well take the blame.
This brings us to another question- should the U.S. place contingents on its aid? There are some people that argue that part of democracy is accepting the results, whether we like them or not. This is a perfectly valid point, however when the government is responsible for terrorist suicide attacks and is committed to acts of war, I think our obligation to provide aid is sufficiently nullified. It isn?t Hamas we are boycotting; it?s their violent actions and intentions.
There are other reasons that winning the election has made Hamas more vulnerable. As a shadow organization directing attacks from behind the scenes, Hamas leaders were in a better position to both escape blame and retaliation for their attacks. As a ruling party, however, the blame game is much easier. Further violence towards Israel by Hamas members now has direct repercussions. Legitimacy means accountability. Hopefully this will not entail direct military force, but without Fatah to hide behind, the incresed exposure and public presence may cause Hamas to be more hesitant in order to avoid attacks.
There is still a chance that things might work out for the better for everyone. If internal and external pressures can push Hamas to moderate and alienate their extremist following, then perhaps the charitable, domestic side of the party will be balanced by a less aggressive foreign policy. If not, I think we can expect Hamas to gradually lose more and more support at home as time goes on.
One thing is for certain, now that they can no longer rely sit behind the scenes complaining about Fatah and the peace process, Hamas had better be ready to do some compromising if they want to play the international game.