Thursday, February 03, 2005


If you look back to my 11/4 blog entitled "Pere Arafat," You will ntice that I had predicted the political participation of Hamas in Palestinian elections. The thing I didn't predict was the overwhelming success of their candidates in Gaza. Without getting into the varied explanations for why the Reform and change lists did so well, I want to briefly discuss why this is a positive thing.

Hamas has been popular for some time. They have been largly the one organization that many Palestinians, particularly in Gaza can look to for assistance and resistance. Part of their popularity comes from the fact that they are seen as uncorruptable, in contrast to the deep corruption and nepotism of Fatah. However, up until now, Hamas has had really very little to lose. They had popularity without authority and could thus operate with relative impunity vis a vis the Palestinians. Now, Hamas will have a real stake in what happens on the ground. There is now something to lose, that is, legitimate authority. With a political stake, Hamas will be forced to consider its actions in terms of political returns, and the success of agendas will be dependant on sustaining electoral support.

I stil believe that as the political operatives in Hamas become further entrenched in the process, there will be a split within the organization. This is a fairly common occurence within revolutionary groups, the most popular example being the IRA, but it has happenned in other movements as well. Such a splintering will grant the political arm only more legitimacy, though it may initially threaten its internal structure.

The politcal ascendancy of Hamas presents unique problems for both Fatah and Israel as well. The PA cannot sideline Hamas as being simply a security issue. THey will have to deal with them as political operatives, as it is likely that Hamas will win a larger number of seats in this years assembly elections. The problem for Israel is compounded by the fact that Hamas has long held among the most anti-Israeli agendas of all groups operating inside of Palestine. The reaction in the past has been targeted assasinations and relegating Hamas agents to the realm of terrorists. The old respons simply won't do; Israel will not reasonably be able to deal with democratically elected officials in the same way as they did with bomb-makers and spirtual leaders.

What does it all mean for the peace process? There is still quite a bit to play out. If nothing else it means that negotiations on the Palestinian side will be more complex and will likely come to the table with a deeper set of demands, hopefully more representative of the overall needs of the people. It will also be a real test of Abbas' leadership, now that he is not simply the voice of an overwhelming Fatah authority. Just as Hamas now has a real stake, Fatah will have to respond to the fact that the Palestinians have activated their desire to see Hamas help determine the agenda.

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