A New Dawn in the Middle East?


‘And now, horror of horrors, the Palestinians have elected the wrong party to power,’ wrote the UK Independent’s Robert Fisk after Hamas won the Palestinian elections last month. ‘They were supposed to have given support to the friendly, pro-Western, corrupt, absolutely pro-American Fatah, which had promised to control them; rather than to Hamas, which said they would represent them.’

A few weeks after the landslide result, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington. ‘When a State is being led by terrorists, then that State is going to become a terror State,’ said Livni. ‘The international community has certain conditions when it comes to such a situation.’

Thanks to Bill Leak at The Australian

Her hyperbole was merely the latest in a wave of hysterical worldwide reactions to the Hamas win.

Conservative US commentator David Horowitz recently found fawning over George W Bush (link here  ) described the Palestinians as the ‘sickest culture on the face of the Earth.’ According to Horowitz, by voting for Hamas the Palestinians had proven they were the ‘self-declared enemies of Jews, of America and of civilised values, and should be treated as such.’ They should be ‘given’ no peace, he argued as though it were the right of governments or individuals to bestow this upon them.

Prime Minister John Howard greeted the Hamas win with concern. ‘Hamas has got to accept that you can’t simultaneously behave like a democratically elected government and support terrorism’, he said. With no hint of irony, he continued:

And from the Australian Government’s point of view there will be absolutely no change at all in our total commitment to the preservation of the State of Israel.

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley echoed the same line: ‘Israel can’t deal with them, won’t deal with them; the United States won’t deal with them; we won’t.’ It was empty rhetoric, as the Bush Administration has already urged the Arab States to continue funding Hamas even if the US and Europe do not (link here).

Hamas is a proscribed terrorist group in many Western countries and has carried out attacks against Israeli civilians. Its charter specifically refers to the destruction of Israel and the implementation of an Islamic State under sharia law. There is no need to romanticise the organisation but neither is it helpful to demonise a democratically-elected government. Khalid Mish’al, the head of the political bureau of Hamas, recently revealed a more pragmatic outlook for his group:

Our message to the Israelis is this: we do not fight you because you belong to a certain faith or culture. Jews have lived in the Muslim world for 13 centuries in peace and harmony Our conflict with you is not religious but political. We have no problem with Jews who have not attacked us our problem is with those who came to our land, imposed themselves on us by force, destroyed our society and banished our people.

We shall never recognise the right of any power to rob us of our land and deny us our national rights. We shall never recognise the legitimacy of a Zionist State created on our soil in order to atone for somebody else’s sins or solve somebody else’s problem. But if you are willing to accept the principle of a long-term truce, we are prepared to negotiate the terms. Hamas is extending a hand of peace to those who are truly interested in a peace based on justice.

In the days after the election, the Palestinian Authority’s Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda daily produced a survey that found three-quarters of Palestinians who voted for Hamas opposed calls for the destruction of Israel.

Western, embedded, self-appointed terror ‘experts’ chose to interpret the win as confirmation that the Palestinians are committed to the eradication of Israel. It is nothing of the sort. It is but the latest success for political Islam across the Middle East witness similar results in Iraq, Egypt and Iran. The West is simply upset that citizens of the Arab world are voting for anti-Western governments.

Global pollsters Zogby International recently conducted a poll in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates and discovered that the vast majority, by a margin of 75 per cent, didn’t believe that promoting democracy was the sole objective of American involvement in the Arab world. A majority thought that the Iraq war had in fact contributed to less democracy in the region. Three out of four people believed that the main US motives in the Middle East were ‘oil, protecting Israel, dominating the region and weakening the Arab world.’

Lebanon’s Daily Star commentator Rami G Khouri rightly says that, ‘people throughout the Middle East will judge the [US] response to the Hamas victory as a litmus test of its attitude to promoting democracy in Arab lands.’ Thus far, the signs are not positive.

The Hamas victory is fraught with difficulties. On the one hand, Israel will only ever secure peace if a deal is struck with a militant organisation such as Hamas, rather than the ineffectual and pro-US Fatah. However, as dissident Israeli writer Shraga Elam explains, if Hamas does not make significant concessions, ‘it risks a massive cut in financial international support and further escalation in the Israeli anti-Palestinian measures.’ Furthermore, ‘the Israeli Government holds the Palestinians as hostages and can use the latter’s economic and military vulnerability as a deadly means of pressure.’

The official Israeli response to Hamas was the recent announcement by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that if he won government in the 28 March elections, he would lead further unilateral moves in the Occupied Territories and evacuate a handful of outside colonies, but maintain Israel’s major settlement blocs, small settlements on the border with Jordan, and Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the Jewish State. A Palestinian State would be impossible under these terms and the international community knows it.

The US and Israel are likely to use the election win of Hamas as an excuse to avoid negotiation while annexing yet more West Bank land for Jewish settlers. To suggest, as Washington and Tel Aviv have, that ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists’, is both hollow and historically inaccurate. Does the world not still deal with Russia despite its actions in Chechnya? The Indonesians over West Papua? The US over Iraq? Western exceptionalism is alive and well.

The struggle for a Palestinian State will continue. The costs of failure are simply too great.

Gerard Kaufman, British Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, recently wrote: ‘Armageddon, after all, is a place in Israel.’

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