Hamas is moving steadily toward establishing a cabinet based entirely on its adherents and its religious-political philosophy. Within days that cabinet may well be in place. In parallel, the nature and composition of the next Israeli government will begin to emerge following elections on March 28. Thus, some of the main consequences of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian Authority elections of January 25 are beginning to fall into place.
For one, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) appears to be steadily backpedaling and yielding to Hamas. He began by presenting a set of impressive conditions for Hamas to qualify to form a government, and sought to postpone the establishment of that government until well after Israel's elections. The "dinosaurs" of the anachronistic PLO leadership weighed in with their conditions. Hamas has responded by ignoring them all, and is seeking immediate parliamentary approval for its cabinet. Now Abu Mazen promises (threatens?) to monitor the new government's performance closely and intervene (disband the government? hold new elections?) if it does not perform to his standards concerning Israel and a peace process. Let's not hold our breath on this one; Abu Mazen's commitments and conditions, which are impressive when viewed out of context, ceased long ago to be credible.
By the same token, there is little chance of a renewed peace process, or roadmap process or even serious negotiations in the coming months. The Israeli left, if it joins a coalition with Kadima, will try to hold that party to its promise to at least explore the possibility of negotiating before applying itself to disengagement, hereinafter known as "convergence". But Abu Mazen's performance truly does not inspire confidence that a PLO peace track can somehow bypass Hamas and the PA and save Israel from reliance on more disengagement.
Abu Mazen is also reportedly seeking to involve the Arab League, which meets this week in Khartoum, on his side. The idea appears to be to confront Hamas with a reaffirmation of the Saudi plan, approved by the League in March 2002. Back then the Sharon government dismissed the plan out of hand, when in fact it should have welcomed it--problematic as it is from the Israeli standpoint--as a step forward by the Arab community toward a comprehensive peace. Now, even in the best case, the plan will not bring Hamas to the negotiating table. Still, Arab League pressure on Hamas to align its policies with the Saudi plan cannot hurt.
Meanwhile the ceasefire, or lull (tahdiya) appears likely to continue for at least a few months, as Hamas strives to stabilize its rule and Ehud Olmert organizes a coalition. In this regard, the immediate question is, how will Hamas behave toward those Palestinian actors--Islamic Jihad, Fateh dissidents, PFLP--who don't recognize the ceasefire and seek to sabotage, first, Israel's elections, and then the ceasefire itself. A refusal on the part of a Hamas minister of internal security to act against these terrorists could considerably shorten the span of Israeli patience toward a Hamas government. Yet this is almost certainly what will happen.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly for the long term prospects of either moderating Hamas or removing it from power, the new government will, beginning this week, confront the domestic challenge of managing and funding government activities. It will presumably tackle this issue energetically, launching laudable anti-corruption and self-sufficiency programs, finding subterfuges for international donor funds and Israeli-collected taxes to be delivered indirectly via NGOs, and calling upon a variety of Arab and Islamic donors to increase their support. But it will have to use caution in firing the tens of thousands of Fateh-supporters who draw inflated salaries without working, lest it confront mutiny.
In dealing with Hamas' performance, Israel, the moderate Arab states and the international community, led by the US and the EU, should keep in mind three factors. First, there is no precedent for the Muslim Brotherhood taking power by elections in an Arab country. We simply cannot know for sure how Hamas will behave. Hence caution is indicated in the early days: watch and wait; use both carrots and sticks.
Second, everything we know about Israeli-Palestinian interaction tells us that economic sanctions that further impoverish Palestinians will not have the desired effect of moderating Hamas. To the contrary, they will further radicalize Palestinian society. This is not to say that we should throw money at a Hamas government, or that international donor aid will moderate it. Certainly there is no reason to reward Hamas for its extremist, anti-peace positions. But it makes little sense to punish Palestinians for them, either.
Finally, we must constantly remind ourselves that, at the end of the day, and no matter how long it takes and how cautiously it goes about it, Hamas has a single, overriding mission: Islamization of Palestinian society. Those in Palestine, Israel and beyond who ignore this factor are liable to pay a heavy price for their willful ignorance.- Published 27/3/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A struggle for Palestinian society
by Ghassan Khatib
This Monday, March 27, the dream of many Palestinians and the nightmare of many others will materialize when a Hamas majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council grants a vote of confidence to a Hamas government that will probably lead the Palestinian polity for the next four years.
This new reality has many significant implications for all aspects of life for Palestinians as well as for their regional and international relations.
While there is some confusion internationally as to the level of diplomatic support and contact the international community will now maintain with Palestinians, certainly there will be a regression in the tremendous strides Palestinians have taken internationally in past years. This will favor Israel.
On the economic and financial front, however, the international community, despite internal differences, at least seems to be seeking out new methods and approaches to maintain "humanitarian" support of Palestinians. This is happening out of fear that otherwise the Palestinian Authority will face imminent and total collapse and a corresponding and consequent humanitarian crisis will ensue.
There is also no doubt that Palestinian-Arab relations will be negatively affected. The regional trend is for Arab governments to follow US-led international attitudes when it comes to aid to the Palestinian people and their authority. There is, however, an irony here, because most Arabs appear to identify with the elected Hamas government, contrary to their regimes.
The most interesting change will be on Palestinian-Israeli relations. Israel has declared its intention to boycott the PA. It will, however, undoubtedly maintain indirect contacts so as to avoid the possible collapse of the PA.
A Hamas government works to the advantage of Israel in that Israel will claim itself released from any political obligations to the Palestinians. This will be used by the Israeli government to further justify its unilateral strategy, which was started by Ariel Sharon and appears set to continue under Ehud Olmert and the next Israeli government.
The most significant and dramatic consequences of the new Hamas government are internal. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that usually prioritizes the need to change the mentality, ideology, way of thinking and way of life of individuals, communities and society at large. Hamas has always believed that the successful pursuit of national aspirations can only be undertaken once a "real Islamic society" is in place.
For those many Palestinians who are ideologically secular and/or politically in favor of a solution based on two states in accordance with international legality, the political consequences of the Hamas government are not the main problem. An anti-peace process government in Israel has been firmly in place for the past several years, so there is nothing to lose on that front. What is at stake is the shape and direction of Palestinian society.
That fear is only magnified by the fact that all non-Palestinian anti-Hamas forces are concerned primarily with the security issue. This in turn gives Hamas the leverage to make a trade-off whereby it gives concessions on security and politics in order to have free reign on the social agenda.
The fact that Hamas seems to have stopped its military activities against Israel since the elections is an indicator of this direction, and there is no doubt that this is the primary concern of Israel. From previous experience, the American attitude and behavior is directed by the Israeli position.
It's likely that this Hamas government will survive. While it's true that the PA is dependent on foreign aid, it is possible that the new government will buy its survival with security and political concessions. With the current security behavior of Hamas, Israel is likely to reciprocate with positive gestures that are echoed by the international community.
Israel is only interested in pursuing unilateral steps and this might suit the new Palestinian government. This government would like to expand the space in which it can operate without having to get involved in negotiations or contacts with Israel that might contradict its rhetoric.- Published 27/3/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and acting minister of health, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
Power will not moderate Hamas
by Martin Kramer
The election of Hamas has prompted an epidemic of self-induced amnesia among pundits who interpret Palestinian politics. For years they argued that Israel should do everything to bolster Yasser Arafat, and later Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), lest Hamas gain ground. Hamas would grow if Israel did not make far-reaching concessions, thus destroying any prospect of a negotiated peace.
But now that Hamas has assumed power, these very same pundits ooze reassurances that Hamas is a partner for Israel after all. True, it has yet to recognize Israel, renounce violence, or dismantle its clandestine "military wing". True, it declares openly that it will do none of those things. But this is mere rhetoric, insist the pundits. Now that Hamas is in power, it will have no choice but to accept Israel de facto.
The problem with this interpretation is not that it ignores the past history of Hamas. The problem is that Hamas acquired power too easily. It has never sat in opposition, joined a larger coalition, or acquired the habit of compromise.
Hamas entered parliament with an absolute majority in its first election. It has achieved, in 20 years, what the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has not achieved in 80 years. Turkey's Islamists, regarded as the model of Islamist moderation, came to power only after decades of up-and-down parliamentary politics.
Hamas, in contrast, has never experienced any period of across-the-board suppression. Leaders of the movement were targeted by Israel, and some of its activists did time in Israeli prisons or were forced into exile. But Hamas has been largely free to organize, publish, acquire arms and launch attacks.
Islamist movements have been domesticated in strong states, where they have learned to interact with more powerful forces. But in the West Bank and Gaza, Arafat preferred struggle to state-building. Hamas accepted his nominal status as figurehead of the Palestinian cause, in return for almost complete freedom to do as it pleased.
Not only has Hamas assumed power on its first try. It has done so with its militia, its guns and its ideology intact. Its speedy and sweeping ascent has simply validated its past militancy.
Now, late in the game, the United States, Israel and Europe seek to extract from Hamas those gestures of acquiescence Hamas would not make when it was weaker. It is no surprise that Hamas evades them. Like Hizballah, it believes itself to have forced an Israeli retreat. It won a decisive electoral victory without parallel in the Arab world. And Hamas is convinced it enjoys the sympathy of millions of Arabs and Muslims, prepared to extend unconditional moral and financial support. Why should it bend?
Hamas will devote its rule to achieving three goals. First, it will seek to consolidate its grip over the institutions of the Palestinian quasi-state, at the expense of Fateh. Second, it will move gradually to Islamize Palestinian life. (Hamas will meet less resistance than secular observers think. Last year, a poll showed that two-thirds of Palestinians believe Islamic law should be the sole source of legislation.)
Third, it will write its own "roadmap" in Palestinian consciousness, leading away from a two-state solution. For that purpose, Hamas will make the media and the schools into extensions of the mosques.
Hamas might continue the tahdiya, the informal "hold-your-fire", if Israel executes more unilateral withdrawals. But this process will slow or stop somewhere well short of the green line. Then, if not earlier, Hamas is liable to open space for "resistance"--terror which, to its mind, is the only language Israel understands.
The Hamas concept of victory through "resistance" not only delegitimizes Israel's peace with Egypt and Jordan. It undercuts the United States, which trades on its reputation as the only force that can deliver Israeli concessions. Israel, the US, Egypt and Jordan thus have a vital interest in seeing Hamas fail. So too does Europe, which has invested heavily in Palestinian civil society.
To make Hamas fail, the Palestinian electorate must be made to realize that, tough as life has been, Hamas is making it worse. If Hamas is allowed to feed the Palestinians both bread and illusions, the bread will sustain the illusions. Only a regime of targeted economic sanctions can break the cycle.
Palestinian pollsters tell us that Palestinian opinion largely favors negotiation with Israel. Hamas thus needs the illusion of a "peace process" created by desultory contacts with foreign governments and mediators. If Hamas is to fail, it must be denied any legitimacy for which it refuses to pay a price. That requires an effective diplomatic blockade.
Will Hamas evolve? History shows that Islamist movements change only when confronted with strong counter-forces. Hamas has never faced such forces; it must be made to face them now. Power will not moderate Hamas. The prospect of losing it just might.- Published 27/3/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Martin Kramer is senior associate emeritus at the Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University. He is also the Wexler-Fromer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A new reality
by Hisham Ahmed
January 25 marked a fundamental transition in Palestinian politics. It is a transition away from the old way of doing things toward a new direction not yet fully formed.
It will take time for the new Hamas-led government to settle on a clear direction. That direction is liable to be hugely influenced by the new set of pressures on Palestinians that Hamas' parliamentary election victory has created.
Internally, pressures will arise from those not yet able to accept their defeat. It is evident from the refusal of the PLO factions to cooperate with Hamas that there will be an ongoing contest for power in this new reality.
This in turn necessitates a very careful and balanced approach from Hamas, forced as it is to shoulder the burden of governance on its own. This internal power struggle will therefore be crucial in the formulation of the new Palestinian government's approach to many issues, whether social, economic or political.
Externally, meanwhile, it is abundantly clear that the threats directed at Palestinians according to which they will pay the consequences should they lean toward Hamas in their vote will almost certainly be translated into practical measures. Political isolation will become the norm rather than the exception. Economic aid will be terminated or at best slowed down.
Meanwhile, the new Israeli government, most likely led by Kadima, will be encouraged to pursue its unilateral measures, and will now with greater emphasis claim there is "no Palestinian partner for peace" in order to secure international acceptance and recognition of that unilateral strategy.
In other words, Palestinian society will find itself under siege both internally and externally. The response of Hamas will be crucial. Hamas in government cannot remain the same as Hamas in opposition. Previously, it was enough for the movement to raise the banner of resistance and thus avoid the many political and diplomatic issues that a government must deal with. That is no longer an option.
The first task for Hamas will be to allay Palestinian fears over the future. A serious commitment to the democratic process and reform of the workings of the Palestinian Authority should thus be high on the agenda, while too much tinkering on the social level could be detrimental.
If Hamas, in spite of all the challenges, is able to cater to the needs of Palestinians and maintain services, then the movement will succeed in sustaining the level of its popularity. However, if due to internal pressures and external isolation Hamas is unable to adapt, then a whole new set of questions and scenarios might arise.
The secular movements will likely continue to weaken further as people become more rejectionist. Further starvation and isolation of Palestinians might very well bring about more radicalization in their political tendencies. This could open the way for new players to enter the Palestinian arena with full force.
Al-Qaeda, which is present and effective in Iraq, might like to embrace the challenge and try to spread its influence among Palestinians. Hence, both domestically and internationally, all concerned parties need to devise a balanced approach; one that ensures the sustenance both of Palestinian livelihoods and of Palestine's fledgling democracy.- Published 27/3/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Hisham Ahmed is a professor of political science at Birzeit University and the author of a 1994 book on Hamas, From Religious Salvation to Political and Social Transformation.
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