Wednesday, January 25, 2006

“Palestinian elections” has moved from oxymoron to reality. You may not like their choices, but at least they are voting and not killing.

This is their first parliamentary election in a decade. The two main parties are the ruling party, Fatah, with their leader, Mahmoud Abbas. He advocates peace talks with Israel. The other party is the militant Islamic group, Hamas. There are 132 parliament seats in contest and the vote is likely to be very close.

The rest of the world is uneasy about the success of Hamas. Even it does not win a majority, it will likely win many seats and become a legitimate political force as well as a paramilitary force. No can predict the outcome of that, good or bad. Hamas has carried out many suicide bombings in Israel and threatened all kinds of attacks. Abbas believes that including Hamas in the political system will change them from a terrorist group into a political party. They have not carried out any attacks since the cease-fire, a period of about a year. But, that might be just a tactic to increase their viability in the election.

Adding credence to this view is that fact that Hamas’ top parliamentary candidate, Ismail Haniyeh, claims they do not intend to “lay down their arms” after the election, even though this is what Abbas expects (or claims to expect). Mahmoud Zahar, also a candidate, said Hamas "not going to change a single word" in its call for Israel's destruction.

If Hamas gains control of the Palestinian government, our own government will have tough choices to make. The U.S. currently lists Hamas as a terrorist organization. We have no direct dealings with them. But, if they become the government, we might not be able to continue that approach. The world expects the U.S. to take part in negotiations for peace between Israel and Palestine, acknowledging our close relationship with Israel. Our refusal would complicate matters greatly and also greatly annoy all Arab countries. Israel refuses to deal with Hamas as long as it is armed and engaged in terrorism. Our refusal to deal with a Hamas dominated government in Palestine would appear to be a clear statement of siding with Israel over Palestine and its Arab supporters. I do not think our government is ready to take that hard of a stand.

I am not sure Fatah is really much better. It began as a terrorist organization and I always felt Arafat was a terrorist at heart. Abbas has taken a more peaceful stance, but has not been successful in governing the Palestinians. The party has long been tainted by corruption in its 12 years in power. Arafat is accused of siphoning off millions of dollars. The debacle of the Palestinian take over of Gaza and the anarchy that ensued gave Fatah the appearance of complete impotence.

Our best hope is that the experience of democracy will encourage them to devote their energy to building up their country rather than existing to tear down Israel.
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