Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hamas Wins: What Does It Mean? 

I have been waiting to post on this issue to see how it developed over the course of the week, and now I will comment on it to the delight of those of you who have asked. This has the potential to be a long post, so please bear with me.

Before I get really going, I want to make sure I say one thing. The two main political parties with which the Palestinian election was concerned, Fatah and Hamas, are not as different as the United States media are making them out to be. Hamas is, to be sure, a bonafide political party with an armed wing. Likewise, the opposing party who lost the election, Fatah, is also a bonafide political party with an armed wing. Unlike Hamas, which goes all by the same name, Fatah just refers to their armed wing by a different name: the al'Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. So, don't be taken in by the media's polarization of these two groups. What we're talking about here are two political parties with armed wings.

To begin then, what I think will be instructive is to review a bit of the history of Hamas as it pertains to Arab Muslims (specifically to the Palestinian regions) and as it pertains to the intersection of the political and religious spheres.

Hamas: A Brief History
Hamas was founded as both a political party and a religious movement in the time period surrounding the Six Days War (1967), though its roots go further back through a group called the Muslim Brotherhood (organized in 1928). As a political party, it was founded to counteract the secular ideals of Yasser Arafat's Fatah party, who envisioned a secular Palestinian state. As you can see, religion enters into the picture from the very beginning. Hamas' ideal was an Islamic-Palestinian nationstate. The PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization), within which Arafat was also a leader, was waning in power following their defeat in Lebanon and consequent exile to Tunisia and a younger generation of aggravated Palestinians rose up to fill the gap. A portion of this group materialized as Hamas. Counter to the PLO's primary strategies and goals, Hamas used armed tactics to achieve what they viewed as Palestinian goals against the state of Israel. However, Hamas' less militant elite established schools, social welfare organizations, and agricultural assistance programs, among other social services; essentially, they helped build the infrastructure of a Palestinian community. Whereas Hamas' military wing has more often been viewed as employing classic terrorism tactics, the armed portion of Fatah/PLO manifested itself more, but not solely, along the lines of militias and police organizations. But, by the Oslo Accords (which followed the end of the first intifada (uprising) of 1987), Hamas and Arafat had reached more or less of an agreement on tactics and distribution of power. With some notable exceptions (bombings in 1996), Arafat succeeded in eliminating Hamas' terrorist actions until the heat of the second intifada, in which revolutionary groups (including Hamas) traded blow for blow with Israel. As Hamas grew in numbers within the Palestinian community, and as the second intifada raged, religious words of Islam were hijacked into a new vocabulary of militancy, and the media took full advantage of publicizing this. To clear the record, the following words appear with their intended concepts: jihad/holy conflict (usually referring to the struggle within oneself to submit one's whole will to the will of Allah and sometimes erroneously referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam), shahid/martyr of the faith (a mujahid who dies in the course of battle), and mujahid/faithful warrior (one who followed the strict code of Muslim war conduct outlined in the Qur'an). So, essentially what we have in Hamas all rolled up into one, is a more conservative/traditional social movement than the secular Fatah party which provides a variety of much needed social services, a political opposition to Arafat's PLO/Fatah regime, and a guerilla strikeforce against the state of Israel.

Hamas Wins a Majority of Seats in Palestinian Legislature: What Does It Mean?
To a certain mindset, this victory means nothing, because it is an election without a nation. It is a legislative branch without an executive or judicial branch (to use some democratic terms), and more to the point, it is a legistative branch without land or borders. However, serious minded people will recognize the flaw in that line of thinking. Palestinians are here to stay and there is a strong likelihood of a Palestinian state, so the first thing that needs to happen is for all parties involved to recognize each other. Israel is here to stay; Palestinians need to recognize Israel. Palestinians are here to stay; Israel and the World Community need to acknowledge that, grant them land for a state, and then recognize the legitimacy of that state. And U.S.A. meddling is here to stay; Israel and Palestine need to both recognize that, for better or for worse.

What took place in the Palestinian Community earlier this week was a democratic election of open seats in a legislature by a vote of the people. Though here in the U.S. it seemed hard to believe from the media's coverage that Hamas would pull off a victory, at least one of my friends living in Jerusalem said it was a sure fire thing from their point of view on the ground over there. This is precisely the concept we are trying to enforce in Iraq. Democracy. Democratic elections. The difference is we (the United States government) is happy with who they've voted for in Iraq and they are not happy with who was voted for in the Palestinian Community. But the results stand, Hamas won in an election. So what does this mean now?

Well, for one thing, going back to what I mentioned earlier, it means a more conservative/traditional stance on both social and political policies as well as a stronger leaning towards an Islamic Nation. (Though it should be noted here that some seats are reserved in the Palestinian Legislature for Palestinian Christians, who represent only a small, but important part of the Palestinian Community, and, incidentally, also refer to God by the Arabic word for God, Allah.)

It also means that relations between the Palestinian Community and Israel will be more strained. Hamas leaders have said they are willing to consider a long term truce agreement so long as Israel does a number of things, not the least of which is pulling back to pre-1967 borders. Such a request partially bears the force of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 242, which calls on both parties to negotiate a solution and for Israel to pull back from territories to secure borders. But, Hamas leaders have also noted that attacks on the Palestinian Community by Israel will be met in kind. To that end, the Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, has suggested the formation of a Palestinian army. Both Israel and the United States have balked at this suggestion and said that Hamas must disarm immediately. It strikes me as somewhat hypocritical of the United States and Israel, who represent the 1st and 4th largest standing armies in the world, to demand all of the Palestinian Community to disarm, let alone permit the forging of a national army. Israel verbally retaliated by stating that any attack on Israel by Palestinians at this point would be responded to with an "unprecedented attack". In my view, unfortunate words.

It also seems unlikely that the United States government will have much to do with a Hamas-led Palestinian government as the U.S. has deemed Hamas an "official" terrorist organization (one wonders if they get membership cards) and refuses to talk to them. But again, I go up to my previous point - for anything positive to get done, each interested party is going to have to recognize the others. Period.

I have long said that any lasting peace arrangement between Israel and Palestine would not happen until both Arafat and Sharon were out of the picture. The historical memory of the Israeli and Palestinian people goes back too far, and those two men played critical roles against one another in Lebanon. So much so that they could not be the instruments of peace. Now, then, seems a time when peace could be reached. Arafat is dead and Sharon is incapacitated. You have a more conservative government leading the Palestinian Community right now and a more liberal government leading Israel. But each party has to be willing to talk to the other. Each party must recognize the other. Violence must be abandoned. If Israel does not want the Palestinian Community to have a national army, then they too need to disband their armies, at least where Palestinians are concerned. That means complete withdrawl from Gaza and the West Bank, abandoning the idea of settlements, and negotiating a way of sharing Jerusalem that does not involve complete division. More mundanely, both will soon need to come to terms with water shortages - the majority of a potable water supply is on "Palestinian land" and Israel is "cross-border drilling" for it in many places.

In any event, a conservative, Islamic government was dutifully elected by democratic processes within the Palestinian Community. This party, Hamas, does have an armed wing and has suggested the creation of a national army. But this is nothing that Fatah had not also considered. The major shift here is not primarily in level of militancy, but rather is a move from a more secular state to a more theocratic state, and a move from a more liberal government to a more conservative government. One is tempted to draw a line of comparison to one's own nation, but I will resist the temptation as I have already carried on for long enough. If you made it this far, I hope this was helpful, and thanks for reading.



"To despair is to sin."
Cant remember who said it, but after a great deal of despair, came to believe it is true.

Either that or God hates the Palesinians.

There is a chance that when every element of the connundrum these last 40 yrs is shaken out of their intrenched ideas, something will change dramatically and we dont know what it will be.

Terrorits acts committed by a government are acts of war and lead to total war. Hamas knows this.

Voters have short memories. What have you done for me lately? will be heard before too long. Most Palestinian seem to want a return to a normal live under a government they can respect. Hamas might forget, but perhaps no longer Fatah. Their younger members seem to have learned.

Finally the contradictions have been maximized and revealed. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows what they are dealing with.

Now I think we are supposed to wait and see. There IS a Christian role here, buy only after we wait and see.

I have some more thoughts on sentent.blogspot.com

By Blogger Clemens, at 1:47 AM  

Ah, you mean allow suicide bombers to continue to target Jews? Remember my friend, they were killing us PRIOR to the partition of Palestine. Hamas is a lot older than the West tries to portray.

As with any war, you must have a victor prior to peace... a stalemate never brings peace, only a ceasefire.

By Blogger Tovya @ Zion Report, at 8:23 PM  

Thanks for posting all this, Ryan. It is helpful.

I'm really struck by the irony that the "conservative" line in the US is "don't negotiatiate with Hamas", the more "conservative" Palestinian group, and it is considered "liberal" here to push for recognition of a Palestine state. What useless labels.

By Blogger Susie, at 9:56 AM  

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