Friday, February 17, 2006

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A catastrophic victory for Hamas?

As Bob Uecker would put it, this New York Review of Books essay by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley on Hamas is juuuuust a bit slanted in its assessment of the Palestinian situation.

That doesn't mean it's devoid of value, however. Their take on Hamas after victory seems pretty much on point to me:

Out-and-out victory was not what Hamas had expected or, for that matter, what it had wished for. It had come to see itself as a watchdog on the sidelines, sitting in the legislature without controlling it, shaping the government's policies without being held accountable for them, taking credit for its successes and escaping blame for any setbacks. Its triumph presents it with challenges of a different, more urgent, and less familiar sort. Hamas suddenly finds itself on the front line, with decisions to make and relations to manage with the world, international donors, Israel, Fatah, and, indeed, its own varied constituents. The Islamists may have secretly expected to sweep the elections but, if so, that secret remains well kept. Referring to Iraq, President Bush once spoke of America's catastrophic success. Judging from the Islamists' initial, startled reactions to their triumph, this may well be theirs....

Hamas's leaders were counting on an honorable defeat, and they looked forward to the prospect of making the most of it. Coming in a close second, their options would have been wide open. They could have joined the government, or stayed out. Either way, they would have remained in the safety of the fringes, keeping a watchful eye on domestic issues, seeking to demonstrate that Hamas's presence, including the services it provides, could improve daily life, reduce corruption, and deal with lawlessness. Hamas would have concentrated on its long-term goal of Islamicizing Palestinian society, doing so doggedly, though in increments. It would have kept to its conditional truce, reserving the right to respond to Israeli attacks on Palestinian population centers and against its own leaders....

How swiftly victory can spoil the best-laid plans. Hamas's leaders had hoped to hide behind Fatah and the PA; they are now on the front lines. The burden that was supposed to be on others is now squarely on them. In the days just after the election, Hamas suddenly sounded more modest, restrained, and dependent on third parties. This was not a matter of choice. It had to reassure Fatah members and Fatah security forces that were knocked off balance by their loss, as well as donors hesitant to bankroll a Hamas-led PA, and Arab neighbors apprehensive about having an Islamist stronghold at their doorstep, doubly so about witnessing an Islamist success at the polls. The calm and quiet that Israel once requested has become a necessity for Hamas: if it is to consolidate and maintain its popularity, it will have to live up to the promise of reform and good governance. Renewed violence would lead to swift, devastating, and unrestrained Israeli attacks, thwarting any chance for the Islamists to have a successful domestic policy. Paradoxically, Hamas's electoral sweep has curbed its freedom of action far more than defeat would have....

Abbas's gamble was that integrating Hamas into Palestinian politics would moderate its behavior. To a degree, it already has. During the past eleven months, Hamas has demonstrated its willingness and ability to honor a cessation of violence, and Israeli officials regularly credit its discipline for the sharp drop in attacks. Elected in record numbers to municipal positions during 2005, local Hamas officials have maintained practical coordination with Israel wherever necessary. Throughout the campaign, the Islamic movement dropped repeated hints of possible flexibility. Its leaders did not rule out changing their charter ("It's not the Koran," they whispered), negotiating with Israel, or accepting a long-term truce based on Israel's withdrawal to the 1967 lines. Since the elections, the pattern has continued. Hamas has indicated that it is prepared to extend its truce, integrate its forces into a Palestinian army, and accept some past arrangements between Israel and the PA. There are serious caveats to all these positions and the ideological aggiornamento still will have to wait. But if it is a trend one is looking for, it is there.

If this trend holds -- and that's an admittedly big "if" -- then Hamas' catastrophic victory is good news for everyone else. And further evidence that the best way to deal with Islamists is to let them try to govern.

posted by Dan on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM


YES, force them to try an govern. Then the Islamist's can either moderate themselves or become the authoritarians and let everyone hate them. In the near term it looks like a loss for the US but long term I suspect it is win/win.

posted by: ross on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

Yeah, because that worked really well in Iran.

posted by: Ha on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

There are serious caveats to all these positions...

Uh, yeah, like the one where Hamas is so eager to reassure everybody that they still want to exterminate the Jews.

But it does mean a change in the implausible-deniability game that Arafat used to play, where he announced that he was pretending not to be involved in terrorism and the EU smirked and pretended to believe him. Obviously, the EU isn't going to start admitting out loud that the PA is just a gang of thugs they hired to kill Jews, but their excuses will become more entertainingly surreal. So that's something, at least.

posted by: P. Froward on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

P. Froward has it nailed.

A lot of people are hoping that Hamas will become more moderate in power. But what precedent is there that constitutes a basis for that hope? The PLO pretended to accept a two state solution, but it never really gave up its goal of destroying Israel. Just look at its maps and its schoolbooks. The PLO said one thing when speaking to Palestinians and another when speaking to Europeans and Americans.

Daniel and a lot of other good and smart people think that everybody has some core of rationality and good will. But the behavior of the majority of the Palestinians is evidence to the contrary.

posted by: Wingman on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

For this development to bring peace to Israel, Hamas should be able to control its own extremists. It is possible that as Hamas moves to the center, other groups may pop up to fill the extremist void.
New extremist groups are more likely if Hamas fails in governing Palestinian territories and if Palestinians are once again frustrated with the peace process.

posted by: Kerim Can on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

Look, I know you are Jewish, and you seem to be an unquestioning supporter of Israel, but what right do the Jews have to steal Palestinian land, force them from their homes, and occupy them endlessly? I am sure you are smart enough to realize that that is why there is continued violence and "terrorism".

I mean, Jews are not so different from the rest of humanity that they need an ethnically pure state or they will all be killed. I am sorry the Holocaust happened, but the Palestinians did not do it, they were not involved. But they are the ones how have been made to suffer for it. Why are Jews so obsessed with this idea of victimhood that they can't even see when they are the oppressors and not the oppressed?

The real irony is that now, in large part because of fighting between Arabs and Jews that is the direct result of the Holocaust, the Europeans are again becoming increasingly racist and crazy, and bush goes around the world conquering any country he likes.

I just mean, isnít it honestly time to come to terms with everything. Havenít we as humans realized multiculturalism is the best way for everyone. All the white people in South Africa thought they would be killed by the black South Africans, but they were wrong. Donít you think it is more honest, more just, more reasonable for the Arabs and Jews to live together in one mutual state, sharing fate with each other rather then destroying the future for the other?

posted by: joe m. on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

Pity those who live under islamist rule. They are made the examples to the rest of the world of true victimhood. Like the Afghans under the Taliban they must suffer the barbarism of Sharia--the medievalism of taking Islamic writings literally.

Yes make the Islamists rule and show the world what incompetent fools they are, how useless they are for doing anything good or constructive. But pity those who live under their rule, for their misery is without bounds.

posted by: moe j. on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

Joe, your ignorance is showing. Jews have had a 3,500-year unbroken presence in the land of Israel, which is, duh, their homeland. Just as France is for the French, Denmark for the Danes, etc., etc. Many, if not most, of the current palestinians are from the surrounding Arab nations, and immigrated to Israel as the Jews started buying land -- legally --in the nineteenth century, reclaiming the swamps into farms, starting industry, bringing capital into Israel.

The history of Israel didn't start in 1948. Jerusalem isn't called the City of David because people like the sound of it. Hebron had a strong Jewish community until 1929, when the Arabs massacred the Jews, and the British forced the rest of the Jews to leave their property and homes behind. Sound familiar? Or is it only Arabs who get to be the victims of aggression?

Hamas has made it clear that with a one-state solution, non-Muslims will have to survive under dhimmi laws. They have said they are going to tax the Christians of Bethlehem according to the Koran.

Multiculturalism is a Western idea. It's not an Islamist thing.

The Holocaust may have guilted the West into declaring the state of Israel in 1948, but it was already the Jewish homeland for millennia.

Why is it that people like you acknowledge the palestinian right to their homeland, but not the Jews to theirs?

Must be that Exception Clause.

posted by: Meryl Yourish on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

Yeah, because that worked really well in Iran.

Well, it has, in that the Islamists have no popular support. It hasn't managed to dislodge the Islamists from power, but, then, Iran isn't a democracy.

But it does mean a change in the implausible-deniability game that Arafat used to play, where he announced that he was pretending not to be involved in terrorism and the EU smirked and pretended to believe him. Obviously, the EU isn't going to start admitting out loud that the PA is just a gang of thugs they hired to kill Jews, but their excuses will become more entertainingly surreal. So that's something, at least.

Yep. Better an honest enemy than a dishonest one.

posted by: David Nieporent on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

Joe, a united state sounds good in theory, but it doesn't work. The palestinians have such a higher birthrate that they'd have a majority pretty quickly.

That didn't work in lebanon, where the christian minority felt they needed to stay on top or suffer as a minority. So (with israeli help) they waged war on the muslim lebanese.

And white south africans haven't exactly been enjoying their time under black rule. It hasn't been as bad as some predicted -- yet. But it wasn't so much that the new thing is good, it was more that they just couldn't keep going the old way.

Maybe the time will come that israelis can't keep going this way. But there's the problem that israel/palestine doesn't have enough water for israelis, much less israelis and palestinians both. So there's no room for compromise unless large numbers of people leave the area. If 90% of the israelis left and 95% of the palestinians, then there would be a lot of room for peace. But as it is, there is none. Israel cannot tolerate a large palestinian population, but they haven't yet settled on a definitive ethnic cleansing.

posted by: J Thomas on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

I never suggested it would be perfect. Only, the Jews have no right to steal Palestinian land and cage the Palestinians in like animals. The entire West Bank and Gaza Strip are like giant prisons, akin to the Warsaw ghetto. worse really.

If there are more Palestinians then Jews, the Jews just have to face that reality. They can't just ethnic cleanse the Palestinians, or continue to jail and occupy the entire population. They have to take responsibility for the destruction of an entire society, which they cause(d).

The best way to take responsibility, the most likely to bring true peace and justice, would be for the Jews to realize that the Palestinians are human and live with them mutually in one state. This is the responsibility of the Jews. They can't continue to dominate another people. If anyone should know how wrong that is, it should be the Jews. Of all people, it is amazing that it is Jews who are now the oppressors.

If they can't maintain a majority and keep the country a "Jewish State", well, that is just reality. The alternative is that they continue to cause massive suffering to an innocent population. If being "Jewish" means that you are willing to crush and kill and oppress and occupy other people just for being alive, then it is a cruel religion indeed.

posted by: joe m. on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

Joe, what you say makes sense, in a good-hearted way.

But it's hard to make the choice you want. Why can't the zionists ethnic-cleanse the palestinians? They have the military. It would take about 2 weeks. Start with artillery strikes against the westernmost villages and announce that two weeks from now there will be no living palestinians in judea and samaria. Provide transport to those who accept it, let the others walk. If the jordanian army decides to shoot the ones who cross the border, that isn't israel's responsibility.

Israelis haven't agreed to that. At one point a lot of israelis agreed to it in principle, but when it gets down to details they don't want to.

They also don't want to live in a majority-palestinian state. First, it wouldn't be israel any more. And second, the worse they treat palestinians before that, the worse they can expect palestinians to treat them later. That isn't necessarily so, but it's a legitimate fear. I wouldn't want to live in, say, Memphis with a black majority running the government. I don't think I'm a racist and I don't think I was responsible for any of their problems, but I'd hate to depend on them feeling that way about it.

Every time there's a palestinian terrorist incident it makes it harder for zionists to consider making friends. But then, when there's a zionist terrorist incident against palestinians, it doesn't wipe the slate clean, that makes it harder too. Very hard to get a majority in favor of trust. And hard to get a majority in favor of "transfer", ethnic cleansing. The easiest thing in the short run is to just let it slide. But then they get individual israelis who see "They hate us! And the government isn't doing anything about it!" who do their part to suppress palestinians in the short run. It's all understandable and there might not be any way out.

My bet is that the israelis will eventually reach a consensus that palestinians are just incorrigible and they do the ethnic cleansing thing. But that isn't certain, it's just the way I'd bet. Because there are too many people for the land already, and that will eventually tip the balance.

I figure the USA could make a big difference, if we had the will. One possibility would be to offer every palestinian a one-time chance at US citizenship. Everybody who accepts gets guaranteed US citizenship either now or in 7 years. But if they ever again declare they're palestinian citizens, they aren't americans any more. And to be fair we should give israelis the exact same offer. US citizenship if they want it but no dual citizenship.

The more people who leave the area, the lower the tensions will get. I hope. It doesn't give anybody justice. It only gives some of the people a measure of peace and prosperity. Maybe local tensions would rise; when the least militant on both sides leave it gives the fighters a louder voice. But at least it would give some people a way out, and it would allow *room* for a solution.

If being "Jewish" means that you are willing to crush and kill and oppress and occupy other people just for being alive, then it is a cruel religion indeed.

The Holocaust will disturb jews for generations. Millions of people just walked to their deaths and didn't make any attempt to fight back. "Never Again" for some people means no more Holocausts for anybody. But for others it means never again will jews be on the bottom, having to trust a hostile majority not to kill them. This is completely understandable. And the germans set a very low bar about treatment of despised minorities. It isn't that zionists are cruel, it's that they're in a bind where they can't agree what to do so they have to accept the default they get without a collective choice. The USA has done worse on occasion. It doesn't help to blame zionists for it. But then, it doesn't help not to blame them either. Barring some decisive action by a third party, I don't think anything helps much.

posted by: J Thomas on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]


posted by: BŪrů ZoltŠn on 02.17.06 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

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