Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas wins an election

Well, we said we wanted democratic elections in the Middle East, right?

The Palestinian elections just concluded will provide a serious test of our resolve. Did we mean it or not?

The problem with democracy is sometimes we may not be happy with the results of the elections. We're not always happy with the outcome of the elections here. At least, I'm not always happy. Or even usually happy.

The Bush Administration is starting off on the wrong foot already with the Palestinian victors: It wants to continue shunning Hamas. That is a mistake. What we should be saying is, "Welcome to the process of governing -- now you will learn the meaning of the phrase 'be careful what you wish for.'"

I can see friends of mine gaping at me in horror: Don't I know that Hamas is publicly dedicated to the destruction of Israel?

Yes, I would reply, if only given a chance, of course I know this: But I also know that Fatah was equally dedicated, just hypocritical about it. For Western media consumption, Arafat and his successors would denounce terrorism and violence. As soon as the TV lights were off, they'd go back to preaching hatred. Does that really make a difference?

Fatah lost the election because it did not deliver. It did not improve the lot of its citizens. The only people who prospered were those closest to Arafat, not that I'm suggesting corruption or anything. The standard of living in Palestine has been in free fall for years. Hamas became popular because it did not make any pretense of offering peace to Israel. But Hamas also became popular because it provided services where Fatah would not or could not.

But Hamas was not responsible for Palestinian poverty (except, of course, to the extent that its constant terrorist actions invited military reprisals from the Israelis.) Until it actually comes to power, Hamas hasn't even been responsible to the Palestinian people for inviting military reprisals from the Israelis: Fatah, as the de facto government of Palestine was responsible for not shutting Hamas down.

But now Hamas is responsible, whether it acts responsibly or not. With responsibility will come change -- or more tragedy for the Palestinians.

In these elections, the Palestinians' real choice was between two war parties. If democracy is really allowed to proceed after Hamas takes over (never a foregone conclusion in that part of the world), an opposition to Hamas would develop. It may be a reformed Fatah. It may be something else. But maybe this time the opposition will be interested in experimenting with peace.

But that's wishful thinking. In the meantime, there's an old saying about the value of keeping your enemies close to you, where you can see what they are up to. So let's welcome Hamas -- and keep really, really close tabs on what it does.

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