Saturday, January 28, 2006

Electronic Intifada

Okay, then.
Sooner or later you'll have to come to terms with this source. So, too, will those who represent us. Prepare to read the Palestinian side of the issues. This is not up for discussion. This is an articulate presentation of views apt to be disregarded by Washington, Tel Aviv and most of Europe. In face, I expect they make a lot of Arabs uncomfortable as well, particularly those in Saudi Arabia whose deep pockets are being picked clean.

The Hamas victory: democratization – but not what the US expected
Laurie King-Irani, The Electronic Intifada, 28 January 2006

The “Palestinian street” has long considered the PA to be corrupt, high-handed, and worse: far too subservient and obsequious to Israeli and US demands. Its integrity was long ago compromised, and its effectiveness undermined, by a pronounced dependence on external funds, humiliating kow-towing to Israel, and its leaders’ craven fears of risking their privileges and power by siding with the people. Contrary to being a dramatically negative and cataclysmic event, Hamas’ victory is in fact a welcome sign of change and a possible turning point, not a breaking point, in the long, painful, and cynically named “peace process.”

It is also an index of democracy in action. By assuming the role of the governors, not the governed, Hamas must now grapple with the gaps between ideological purity and political compromises. Rhetoric and demonstrations will only get it so far from now on. Effective politicking, of the sort rarely seen since Oslo, will be crucial to Hamas' success.
Hamas’ victory was all but guaranteed by the draconian unilateral policies adopted by the Israeli government, which did everything it could to ensure it had “no partner for peace." Even so-called Israeli doves enthusiastically rallied to support Ariel Sharon’s attempts to limit the Palestinian “demographic threat," although this meant violating international humanitarian law. A country whose peace movement is sympathetic to ethnic cleansing is a country with serious problems, a country in need of a reality check. Hamas' emergence may be just such a wake-up call.

Sharon, as well as most Likud members, initially opposed the building of Israel’s “security barrier,” or Apartheid wall, on the grounds that it would only clarify and institutionalize the 1967 borders. Ever the wily fox, however, Sharon quickly realized that building the wall on Palestinian lands in a manner that would be advantageous for illegal settlements and devastating for Palestinians would advance the most hard-line of all Likud visions and practices, which amount to Apartheid, a clear violation of International Law and accepted interenational norms.

Some Palestinian factions’ unwise and illegal use of suicide bombings to kill Israeli civilians worked against the Palestinian people as a whole in the post-9/11 era, lending seeming credence to Israel's cynical argument that the Wall was crucial for Israeli security, and that the safety of every individual Israeli trumped Palestinians’ claims to the basic modicum of rights and resources required for human beings to live lives of dignity and hope.
Hamas’ victory stems, ultimately, from the blatant corruption, mediocrity, and lack of leadership in the Palestinian Authority, the elite of which were supported and propped up by successive US administrations. The late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat governed the Palestinians with a mixture of patriarchy and a mafia-like system of patronage that helped to fragment institutions and through them, families and regions. The Palestinian leadership also ignored the emergence of a new generation impatient with the lack of future job prospects and disgusted by the Byzantine politics of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas shrewdly played on these shortcomings and contradictions by offering a clear and simple message: "Salvation comes from religion and the faithful application of Qur'anic principles, which are based on social justice and human dignity." Over the last 25 years, the Islamist movement has created an impressive framework of effective and minimally corrupt social services institutions to help the poor, widowed, orphaned, and those who have sacrificed life and limb for the liberation of Palestine.
At the regional level, Hamas’s victory is a response to the disastrous war in Iraq. In Arab and Muslim eyes, America’s military invasions are viewed as proof that the US was bent on killing as many Arabs and Muslims as possible to avenge the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Vengeance disguised as democratization. Support for Hamas can then be seen as a final rebuke of, and turning away from, any US-proposed interventions and plans. This might be a very salutary development for Palestinians, who have lost their political agency to the Fatah elite subsidized by "peace process"-related funding from the US, Canada and the EU.

Laurie King-Irani, a co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, is an anthropologist and journalist. She was editor of Middle East Report in Washington DC from 1998-2000. King-Irani is now based in Spain.

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