b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    January 30, 2006 Edition 5                       Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  The Hamas victory
. Dilemmas all around        by Ghassan Khatib
If the international donor community stops aid, it is not Hamas but the Palestinian Authority that will collapse.
  . What should Israel do        by Yossi Alpher
The Olmert government had best "keep its powder dry" and wait for events to unfold.
. The burdens of victory        by Ali Jarbawi
All parties must act with the highest possible level of responsibility and help Hamas deal with the challenges of the reality imposed on it by the elections.
  . Continuation of the conflict        by Efraim Inbar
If Hamas stays in power, it will establish a polity in the image of the Taliban.

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Dilemmas all around
by Ghassan Khatib

Before getting into the specifics of Hamas' overwhelming election victory it might be worth pointing out that Palestine is a representative sample of the wider Arab world. If free democratic elections were held elsewhere in the region, it is reasonable to assume that Islamic political movements would receive a similar level of support. Thus, if Hamas' election victory is a problem to some, it is really a larger problem than they may think.

Hamas won for a number of reasons. The Palestinian Authority failed to provide Palestinians with the basic services, especially jobs, that any government should be able to deliver. With negotiations with Israel frozen, the leadership, which had desperately sought to restart the political process, was also unable to provide anything by way of a political horizon and hope, and Hamas' perceived role in resisting the Israeli occupation thus further swayed voters.

In addition, the sweeping victory can be attributed to the policies of the Sharon government that systematically weakened the PA and directly or indirectly reinforced public sympathy for the opposition in Palestine.

Now this massive victory has left many parties, including Israel, the international donor community led by the United States and even Hamas itself, facing several dilemmas. Hamas is left with two difficult choices: if the movement wants to show moderation, it may lose its constituency. On the other hand, if it keeps up its rhetoric it will have difficulty securing necessary international support and will consequently fail as an authority.

But this is also a dilemma facing the Americans and the international donor community. While they may not like the result of these elections, they cannot ignore the fact that it is a legitimate result of legitimate elections that they themselves encouraged and promoted. Further, if the international donor community stops aid, it is not Hamas but the Palestinian Authority that will collapse, something nobody is likely to want to see.

At the moment, Israel is encouraging the world to boycott a PA led by Hamas. However, if Israel succeeds in building an international consensus, it will lead to the end of the PA. This, in turn, will return the occupied Palestinian territory and its people to the direct responsibility of the occupier; something the continued survival of the PA has spared Israel. It is not at all clear that Israel really wants this.

Fateh, meanwhile, the main loser in this election, also faces a dilemma. If it joins a national unity government, as Hamas wants, it will be contributing to any success of a Hamas-led government and thus its survival in power. If Fateh doesn't, it will risk further public backlash, should people consider that the movement is punishing ordinary people to spite Hamas.

The international community has been sending contradicting messages to the Palestinian leadership, particularly the president, including on whether to join a national unity government. Hamas will definitely exploit these differences. Coordination is not only needed between the different donor countries, but also between donors and the Palestinian leadership. The victory of Hamas was not inevitable, and will not necessarily last forever.

There is now a chance that, with a new Israeli leadership, a serious revival of peace efforts with the Palestinian leadership could be successful. At the very least, it seems to be a necessary strategy to counter the massive radicalization that was reflected in the elections in Palestine. A serious and significant reforming and restructuring of Fateh, the presidency and the Palestinian security services that are under the command of the president, are other ingredients for ensuring a different outcome of future elections.

In the meantime, Hamas will face the same difficulties Fateh faced in fulfilling its obligations as an authority. The opposition has to be able to exploit that by behaving politically in a manner that will bring back the sympathy of the public.- Published 30/1/2006 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of labor, acting minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

What should Israel do?
by Yossi Alpher

Both the Arab world and the western world are watching Israel's response to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. As if the safety and security of Israel's own citizens were not reason enough to act wisely and carefully, we have to bear in mind that Israel's actions and reactions could constitute an important model for the way others deal with Hamas and, indeed, with radical Islamist regimes in general.

At this early stage, and bearing in mind that there is simply no precedent in recent history for a democratic election installing an Islamist government in an Arab country, Israel's response might best be looked at on two levels: the immediate, or tactical, and the long-term, or strategic.

In the near term, we don't know what sort of government Hamas will form; how it will interact with President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen); and how it will establish control over the Palestinian security establishment without engendering violence with Fateh. Under these circumstances, the Olmert government had best "keep its powder dry", avoid interference in Palestinian affairs wherever possible, and wait for events to unfold. Hamas has huge dilemmas to resolve if it is going to run Palestinian affairs next door to Israel; any Israeli initiative is liable to be counter-productive.

Israel simply cannot grant freedom of movement to newly-elected Hamas parliamentarians who are terrorists or active supporters of terrorism. That would be a dangerous precedent. It should, on the other hand, find ways to "reward" Hamas for maintaining the ceasefire and, conceivably, changing its political terms of reference. In this regard, and assuming Hamas displays a pragmatic approach, Jerusalem could continue to turn over to the Palestinian Authority taxes and customs levied on its behalf. There are three good reasons for such an approach. First, quite simply, this is not our money, it is theirs. Second, starving Palestinians will not make our lives more secure. Accordingly, we should also continue to supply electricity and water, as long as they are paid for. And third, this tax money is not the same as western and other aid funds, which constitute philanthropy. In this regard, Israel must take pains to explain the difference to the European Union and ask it to continue to withhold funds until Hamas demonstrates a readiness to abandon violence and recognize Israel.

Israel can expect the Hamas leadership to adopt relatively sophisticated techniques in order to control Palestinian affairs while creating the impression that it has agreed to a more modest role. One such tactic could be the creation of an ostensibly a-political, technocrat government. Another could be the virtual "merging" of Hamas paramilitary units with the Palestinian security forces. In some cases this may be convenient for Israel, which needs an acceptable Palestinian partner for vital day-to-day transactions (e.g., sewage disposal) between close neighbors. In others, Israel will have to refuse to buy into the Hamas ruse. While these inevitable twists and turns of policy may be difficult to explain to outsiders anxious to help Palestinians, we must remind them that it is we and not they who have to live next door to an Islamist political entity.

This is where the strategic dimension finds expression. Israel is now in danger of being surrounded on several flanks by militant Islamist movements that have been democratically installed and have links to Iran: Hamas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Hizballah in southern Lebanon, and Shi'ite Islamists further afield in Iraq. We need to begin formulating a coherent response to this larger phenomenon:

  • Until now, official Israel has been remarkably tolerant of President George W. Bush's democratic reform plan for the Arab Middle East, even though that plan has empowered these radicals. After all, the US is our ally, American lives are at risk in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it behooves us to support the US effort in the region. But the unintentional outcome of American policy is now in danger of hurting us seriously. It's time to look for persuasive ways to say, "With respect, Mr. President, your approach is wrong. Democratization cannot take the form of elections that install militant anti-democratic Islamists. Desist." A similar message should be addressed to the EU's Xavier Solana with regard to European democratization efforts, although these correctly also emphasize democratic institution-building.
  • Sadly but necessarily, we have to at least contemplate eventual military action to remove Islamist threats on more than one neighboring front. The Iran link is particularly troubling: any confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program could mean conflict with Tehran's proxies on our borders. In this context, President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad's recent visit to Damascus and meetings with Hizballah and Hamas leaders were particularly disquieting.
  • Many of our neighboring regimes, led by Egypt and Jordan, share some or all of our concerns. The situation calls for quiet but expanded coordination with them.
  • Barring an unlikely revolution in Hamas' approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and even assuming matters remain tranquil, we now confront the obvious absence of a peace partner. For well-known demographic security reasons, and in order to further shorten our lines of defense against terrorism and reduce the poisonous effects of occupation, Israel has to continue to withdraw unilaterally. But under different conditions: we must be cautious--avoiding, for example, withdrawal from the Jordan Valley lest a Palestinian Hamas regime endanger Jordan. We might remove isolated settlements from the West Bank mountain heartland but without removing the IDF, in effect adopting the northern West Bank disengagement model rather than the Gaza model. And we have to complete construction of the security fence as quickly as possible.

Finally, it behooves both Israel and moderate Palestinians to keep in mind that we are dealing with Muslim fundamentalists whose devotion to democratic principles is questionable, and whose commitment to remaking Palestinian society in the Islamist mold is ultimately total, even if for tactical reasons Hamas currently presents a moderate and reasonable facade. Will the first regime ever formed in an Arab country by the Muslim Brotherhood initiate another round of parliamentary elections four years from now? That will be a real test of Palestinian democracy.- Published 30/1/2006 © bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

The burdens of victory
by Ali Jarbawi

No one imagined that Legislative Council elections would be transformed from a way to defuse a crisis to the creation of a new one. The general expectation from these elections was to expand participation in the Palestinian political system and rectify the internal Palestinian situation to guarantee a more unified and harmonious performance. The impact of this, it was thought, would be reflected not only on the internal situation but also in relations with external parties, especially as they related to any political settlement with Israel.

For this to happen, it was necessary that elections bring Hamas into the political system as an effective though not rejectionist opposition in parliament. Meanwhile, Fateh and its affiliates from the Third Way would win the majority of seats, giving them continued control over the PA and over political negotiations.

But, to everyone's surprise, Hamas won an overwhelming majority of seats, Fateh retreated to a distant second and the Third Way was literally crushed. The total number of seats won by other blocs was not enough to either further or retard any political solution.

Victory is always a desired end. However, if it exceeds a certain limit, it creates a kind of flood that creates unexpected or undesired burdens even for the victors themselves. Since the events of 9/11, Hamas has been widely targeted by Israel and the West. Following its designation by the West as a terrorist organization, and the subsequent restrictions imposed to dry up its' financial resources, and once its political and field leaders were assassinated by Israel, Hamas began to feel the pressure.

Thus, Hamas began to take steps to preserve itself. With its popularity on the rise because Palestinian society was calling for internal reform and a rectification of a political process that has brought nothing but destruction, a wall and isolated cantons, Hamas grabbed the opportunity to imbue itself with electoral legitimacy and decided to guardedly enter the Palestinian political system through the doors of the Legislative Council.

This was not an easy decision for the movement's leadership. It meant changing its former rejectionist position vis-a-vis participating in the 1996 elections and reforming its hard core through a new logic that bridged the gap between its adherence to the declared positions of the movement and its decision to enter a Palestinian political system that was born from the Oslo Accords.

The movement's leadership sought to adopt a tactic of long-term gradual change--a change that would protect its existence and at the same time not compromise its principles. It planned a transitional crossing into the Palestinian political system, a stage where the movement would be in a position somewhere in-between, that is, one foot inside the political system and the other outside until, in time, the positions merged. Therefore, in its electoral discourse, Hamas tried to differentiate between entering the PLC and joining the Palestinian Authority by considering the PLC an institution "independent" of the PA.

Hamas' goal was to translate its strength on the Palestinian street into electoral strength that would transform it into a central and powerful opposition inside the PLC. By achieving this, the movement would have gained the ability to change its own status quo without having to change its positions. A place in the opposition in the PLC would have provided Hamas with a suitable podium to promote its slogans and manifesto without having to bear the burden of adhering to these positions. At the same time, Hamas could have taken advantage of its presence in the council for the next four years to facilitate its transformation into a political movement operating fully within the political system.

In short, Hamas understood that it had to alter its positions and it was willing to do so. However, it needed time and a smooth transitional phase to accomplish this successfully. It was not in its interest, nor indeed did it predict, that this change came about so quickly and so completely.

The election results surprised Hamas as much as they surprised everyone else inside and abroad. Hamas went straight from being completely outside the political system to being at the helm of this system without having benefited from a transitional stage to rehabilitate itself. Instead of the elections aiding Hamas, they've put the movement immediately to the test. Now, as it is facing internal and external pressures, it will be forced to distance itself from the generalities it would have fallen back on if it had been put in the comfortable position of parliamentary opposition. Now, Hamas must give detailed and clear answers to a number of core issues, including recognizing Israel and negotiating with it on the one hand and continuing the armed resistance on the other.

All the various internal and external pressures on Hamas will not, however, lead to an immediate and fundamental change in its basic positions and platform. Besides the fact that the movement has principles it cannot surrender all at once, as a political movement it also has supporters who voted for its manifesto based on reform and change.

Hence, Hamas, due to its stunning victory, is now under contradictory and conflicting pressures. From one side there are external Israeli, American and European threats not to recognize any Hamas-led government and to halt aid to the PA. This is in tandem with pressures from Fateh, which is seeking to avenge its electoral loss by refusing to lend a hand to Hamas to overcome the crisis. In addition, Hamas is facing the pressures of its own declared positions, its electoral manifesto, and those who voted for the movement and expect it now to translate its positions and statements into action.

What are the available options to confront this crisis everyone has found themselves in? One option is for the international community to twist Hamas' arm by not recognizing the Palestinian government and cutting off international assistance regardless of the fact that this would be contradictory to accepting the outcome of a democratic process. Opting for this course could put Hamas in an awkward position and adversely impact it. It would also lead to the inevitable collapse of the PA in three months. Is this a desired outcome internationally, regionally or even for Israel?

The second option is to try and bring all "oppositionists" down from their high horses to accept the political harmony Hamas is seeking. In other words, the option is for Fateh to accept joining a coalition government or for Fateh and the international community to support an apolitical government comprised of technocrats.

At the Palestinian level what we need now is for our higher interests to overcome any factional interests. Internationally, meanwhile, we need to see a rational and pragmatic response. All parties, in other words, must act with the highest possible level of responsibility and help Hamas deal, with wisdom and vision, with the challenges of the reality imposed on it by the elections. If we do not, it could lead to an explosion the consequences of which will be merciless. I do not believe this is an outcome anyone desires.- Published 30/1/2006 © bitterlemons.org

Ali Jarbawi is a professor of political science at Birzeit University in Ramallah.

Continuation of the conflict
by Efraim Inbar

Hamas emerged the victorious party in the January 25, 2006 Palestinian elections. This is bad news primarily for the Palestinians. Israelis, their most immediate neighbors, have good reasons to be concerned as well.

The Hamas electoral victory reflects a larger phenomenon in the Arab world--the growing estrangement of the masses from the current leaders, and the failure of the Arab states to modernize their countries and to bring prosperity to their people. Concomitantly, fundamentalist Islamic organizations have filled the vacuum of governance by providing welfare services and by channeling the widespread frustrations toward greater religiosity.

Similarly, the surprising electoral outcome in the Palestinian Authority was primarily the result of the colossal failures of the ruling party, Fateh. Given the opportunity of self-rule in 1993, the Fateh leadership established a corrupt, inefficient, lawless and authoritarian political system, which eventually degenerated into chaos and disorder. The main failure of the Fateh-led PA was in the area most critical to state-building--monopoly over the use of force.

In contrast, the Hamas leadership acquired popularity by providing welfare and education services to the people, and by establishing a reputation for honesty. Moreover, the armed wing of Hamas has been at the forefront of the extremely popular terrorist campaign against Israel. Yet it is questionable whether or not Hamas will be able to transcend Yasser Arafat's political legacy.

The mere fact that the Palestinians could only choose between these two alternatives testifies to the depressing reality within Palestinian society. It is a frustrated society, mesmerized by force, clearly displaying pathological dysfunctionalities.

Unfortunately, however, Hamas is an unlikely candidate for reforming Palestinian society in a positive direction. Essentially, Hamas represents a fundamentalist political force that regards modernity and western values as dangerous decadence and an affront to its version of Islam. It is unlikely to serve as a modernizing agent by welcoming integration into a globalized economy, improving standards of education or allowing women equality. Moreover, Hamas is not in any way committed to democracy. The 2006 elections may well become the last free elections for some time to come. If Hamas stays in power, it will establish a polity in the image of the Taliban regime, which is inimical to a Palestinian journey into modernity. A Hamastan dooms the Palestinians to backwardness, poverty, and easy recruitment of fanatic terrorists.

While Hamas is capable of tactical flexibility, the expectation that it will become a moderate force in Palestinian politics is mere wishful thinking. The role models for the Hamas leadership are Mahmoud Ahmedinezhad, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hizballah in Lebanon. Both, enemies of the West and its culture, have nourished relations with Hamas.

The most important domestic challenge confronting Hamas is to impose law and order. Yet it is not likely that the Fateh-linked militias will disarm in light of the election results and accept the new authority. We have already witnessed the first violent reactions. The struggle over control of the organs of force may well bring about bloody confrontations and even civil war.

This portends a political climate inhospitable to regular economic activity and growth. Moreover, the PA is heavily dependent upon foreign aid and the recent political developments are likely to hinder transfer of aid by the international community.

For Israel, a Hamas-controlled PA primarily means the continuation of the conflict. The growing influence of Hamas will inevitably harden Palestinian positions against Israel, making an agreement more difficult to reach. Ideologically, Hamas opposes recognition of Israel. It may decide on a truce, but the competition among the armed factions will assure the continuation of terrorist attacks. Hamas will educate additional generations of Palestinians to regard Jews as those who stole their land and will attribute to them characteristics taken from the crudest anti-Semitic motifs. The shaheed will continue to be the role model for Palestinian children. These messages already form part of the consensus in Palestinian society.

Israel's stance must be clear. Jerusalem must demand recognition, cancellation of the Hamas covenant and cessation of all hostilities. Terrorism must be dealt with harshly. Moreover, the Hamas takeover constitutes an opportunity to establish reciprocity as the yardstick for Israeli policies. Only good Palestinian behavior should warrant Israeli aid. It is plain senseless to allow the transfer of funds, the supply of electricity, water, health services, and access to the Israeli labor market to neighbors who pray for Israel's demise. The Palestinian people voted Hamas into power and they should bear the consequences.

Such an uncompromising policy is probably what the enlightened world is expecting from Israel. Even the moderate Arab regimes, such as Egypt and Jordan, expect Israel to strongly oppose Hamas, whose electoral victory emboldens the radical elements in their societies and elsewhere. Only a Hamas failure can bring about a positive change among the Palestinians. Unfortunately, it falls upon Jerusalem to be the light unto the nations in the struggle against the darkest forces on earth.- Published 30/1/2006 © bitterlemons.org

Efraim Inbar is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.

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