A deluge, an earthquake, a political tsunami, the journalists and commentators worldwide have been struggling to describe the landslide victory of Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. While some are still bewildered by this historic moment destined to mark a milestone in Palestinian politics, others see things from a wider perspective and think its not only a milestone but also (or rather) a watershed in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The Neocons’ agenda to reform the Middle East has been embraced but to Bush’s misfortune it has backfired. With the Muslim Brotherhood performance in the last Parliamentary elections in Egypt (88 seats), Hamas with 76 seats out of the 132 has come to bring things full circle.
The White House was quick to assert that it will not negotiate with Hamas as long as it does not recognise the right of Israel to exist. The EU threatened to cut financial aid while the Israelis made it clear that Hamas leaders will continue to be considered as targets: in other words, no immunity. The fragile Fatah movement has been shattered by the early waves of Hamas’ victory. Amr Moussa of the Arab League said that the elections were democratic and the outcome should be accepted. Algeria, Syria, Iran and Pakistan all have more or less hailed the victory. But the political tsunami continues to claim ravages and has forced a new reality on the ground, which should set new parameters and rules of the game in the political arena. Hamas leaders are talking the same language as Sharon but in a different context. Sharon pulled out of Gaza so as to keep settlements in the West Bank and has been rebuilding the Berlin Wall forcing a reality on the ground for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority PA. For Hamas leaders, they have evicted Israelis from Gaza and the recent success in elections has created a new reality on the ground. Has Hamas leaders outwitted their counterpart strategists and tacticians? Whose grand strategy is it?
Helpless Fatah leaders could not even maintain the fair game spirit and were quick to spell the would be tragic failure of the Hamas government within a month. Hamas has not even yet formed the government. The main argument is based on the claim that 60% of the Palestinian Authority’s budget comes from the international community donors, who have already expressed their conditions if Hamas were to cash in. Another argument is that Hamas is a charitable society that is unrivalled in managing community support projects and programmes but not dealing with state level politics. The third argument put forward by Fatah is that Hamas has marketed to the populace an unrealistic programme based on the Palestinian people’s rights of land, independent state and return of refugees. Western politicians and experts on the Middle East affairs attach a great importance to corruption within the PA and Fatah ranks for the stunning Hamas victory.
Khalid Meshaal, one of Hamas’s top leaders and strategy planners has been maintaining a calm, precise and concise message. He called on all Palestinian factions to join the government. Hamas is being pragmatic, and that is not a new policy option. Hamas has observed a truce following the Cairo agreement, and before that after the Oslo Agreement. However, Sharon had a different agenda; he wanted to eliminate the nucleus of Hamas leadership before pulling out of Gaza. The assassination of Hamas number one and two (Ahmed Yassin and Aziz Rentissi within 26 days in spring 2004) declared the Cairo truce agreement dead and buried.
Now that the dust has started to clear away, wise voices have called for reason, Clinton from the World Economic Forum in Davos has advised the West to talk to Hamas.
The already worse situation in the Middle East has been aggravated by the arrival of Hamas leaders to the command ranks. Oil prices and demand are at record peaks and Iran, a trusted ally is not only generous but also willing to extend the Tehran Axis to Gaza. The polarisation between President Abu Mazin and the would-be Hamas government is not only in style but also in substance. Room has been made for a ‘leader not compromised by terror’ (in the words of Bush when the plan to eliminate Yesser Arafat was apparently in its final phases), but the new leader faces a dilemma now; with a parliament and government controlled by Hamas it is difficult to speculate how things could work out. Hamas did not recognise the Oslo Agreement, the PA did. Hamas was in the opposition camp, now it holds the controls at the command board. Time will tell better.