Sunday, February 19, 2006

So Much for Democratic Elections

HamaselectionsThe trick is not only to be careful of what you wish for, but to be guarded in telling the world. The West wished to get rid of the old Palestinian terrorist and PLO President, Yasser Arafat and he’s gone, first sidelined and made irrelevant, now dead.


Following that, the well-publicized hope was for free and honest elections among the Palestinians. But Bush and the EU and the UN failed to tell us that they really meant elections to produce, was another Fatah leader who would not be Hamas (although they were welcome on the ballot) to replace the intransigent Arafat. Then, maybe some progress could be made.


Well, although it’s inconceivable that Bush and Rice didn’t consider it, wasn't even on their horizon, Hamas took the day. Hamas had three things going for it;


  • It didn’t represent the 40 years of stalemate and extreme corruption of Arafat

  • It was extensively focused during all those years on providing services and financial support to Palestinians

  • Its militancy appealed to a continually oppressed and displaced population

All of which made the Hamas candidates pretty attractive on the ballot. The Israelis saw it coming, but Bush, Rice and the EU were flummoxed.


So, it may be war and it may not, depending on whether cool heads prevail. Karl Kraus’s thoughts on that must be in the minds of Israel as well as Hamas. Kraus (1874-1936) said

“War, at first is the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off.”

The wiggle-room among fixed points-of-view between Hamas militants and Israel is there, but like a flickering candle, it needs protective hands cupped around it. It won’t take much of a dissenting breath to blow it out. Bush, Condi Rice, the EU and Israel are all talking about cutting off funds to a Hamas-controlled Palestine and that may be just the blow that snuffs the area into darkness and chaos.


Hamasvictory_1In May of last year, President Bush pledged $50 million in direct aid to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the first White House talks in five years between a U.S. and Palestinian leader.


Withdrawing that, because we don’t like the outcome of their democratic election, gives the lie to our support for all democratic movements in the Middle East. It’s a terrible message. An estimated 1 million Palestinians depend on paychecks issued by the Palestinian Authority for their livelihoods.


Repeating an endless error, we in the West use sanctions or cutoff of funds to punish governments we don’t approve of. In reality, the governments do just fine and the people suffer in our name. A sure way to throw Palestine, giddy with its first democratic experiment, into chaos, is to cut off money to an already deprived population.


For their part, some Hamas leaders suggested that a long-term truce with Israel is possible if it withdraws from all territory occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, including East Jerusalem. There’s not a chance of that, but is possible still means is possible and there’s wiggle-room in that. Hamas’ "Change and Reform” platform emphasized the need for change in government after years of corrupt and inept administration by the former ruling party. Change and reform, like is possible, are wiggle-room declarations.


Hamas, like the dog that catches a rabbit and has never caught one before, now must decide what to do with it. Increased tension, confrontation, bombing and hate-talk against Israel isn’t going to fulfill the promise of change and reform. Having elected, Palestinians can un-elect the next time around, a concept all parties should keep in mind.


VictordavishansonMilitary historian Victor Hanson of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University (Condi’s old stamping-grounds), warned a year ago

"As a rule of thumb in matters of the Middle East, be very skeptical of anything that Europe (fearful of terrorists, eager for profits, tired of Jews, scared of their own growing Islamic minorities) and the Arab League (a synonym for the autocratic rule of Sunni Muslim grandees and secular despots) cook up together.


If an EU president, a Saudi royal, and a Middle East specialist in the State Department or a professor in an endowed Middle Eastern Studies chair agree that the United States is woefully naïve, unnecessarily provocative or acting unilaterally, then assume that we are pretty much on the right side of history and promoting democratic reform. Sobriety and working with Arab moderates is diplo-speak for supporting or abetting an illiberal hierarchy. "

In that context, it’s interesting that Bush and Hosni Mubarak had their heads together immediately after the election. You couldn’t possibly find a more illiberal hierarchy than Mubarak's Egypt.


Ira Sharkansky, an Israeli  professor of political science, told Aljazeera.net that while he recognized the importance of holding elections, he was not sure they would produce the right people - whoever they might be. Any leadership was unlikely to meet with the Israeli definition of the right people.


American sincerity in calling for democratic elections in the Middle East will not be helped by reneging financial support at a critical time in Palestine. Failing to hold Hosni Mubarak’s feet to the fire in promised Egyptian elections is also the wrong message in what may prove to be a week of wrong-messaging.


Fortunately, Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas remains in charge of Palestinian peace policy. At least, for the time being.
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