Haaretz reports that a Palestinian public opinion survey conducted by noted pollster Khalil Shikaki and released Saturday predicts that Fatah would gain 42% and Hamas 35% if elections were to be held today. The election is scheduled for January 25th.
If this poll result proves accurate then it appears that Fatah will win the election, but not by a substantial enough margin that it could govern without Hamas involvement in a Palestinian cabinet (unless Hamas accepts such an outcome which is doubtful). The U.S. and other international bodies have been talking tough about this prospect saying they cannot work closely with a government, one of whose members is on international terror lists:
[Secretary of State] Rice, in a statement last week, reiterated America’s view that “there should be no place in the political process for groups or individuals who refuse to renounce terror and violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and disarm.”
(The Forward, January 18th)
Bush is also talking about reducing aid to Palestine (Congress has ensured that this country gives a paltry sum to support Palestinian democracy). Both the U.S. and European Union have declared they will minimize contacts with any Hamas representatives who join the Palestinian leadership.
I see all this as political theater. They must say these things for their respective publics. But the fact of the matter is that if Hamas does well in this election (a result higher than 30%) then Fatah and everyone else is going to have to sit up and take notice. Hamas can no longer be ignored or written off as a legitimate Palestinian representative as it has until now. I should make clear that I’m no ardent fan of Hamas. I wish Fatah was a fully transparent movement running a stable PA. But it isn’t. Palestinians know this and many plan to vote the bums out. The only other bums who appear to be a better alternative are Hamas. So that’s where they will turn.
After joining a coalition government, Hamas will either–in a worst case scenario–try to have it both ways by participating in electoral politics AND maintaining its guerrilla war; or it will follow the path indicated by its electoral campaign so far by moderating its most extreme views of Israel in order to increase its support among Palestinians; or it will participate in electoral politics and show itself to be just as brutal and corrupt as Fatah. If I had my money on any eventuality it would be the middle one. I believe that Hamas will always be the most hardline of Palestinian parties. But I believe that participating in these and future elections will force it to behave as almost every other political party in the world does–by getting down and dirty into dealmaking on behalf of their constituents. Hamas will always have political ideals that I and almost all Jews and Israelis find objectionable. But the key question is–will the rough and tumble of retail politics turn Hamas into a party that wants to get things done (including a successful peace negotiation with Israel) rather than maintain hardline goals which can never be realized? My hunch is the answer is “yes.”
Two separate Hamas leaders (read Abu Tir‘s interview here) have made public statements in the past week indicating that negotiation with Israel at some future date is not out of the question and that Hamas’ charter calling for Israel’s demise is not permanent and inviolable. One of the leaders pointed to Hamas electoral platform, which tones down the Israel-hating rhetoric, as an indication that change is on the horizon. Now, I’m not one to be fooled by vague indications of progress. In fact, one right-wing Israeli media outlet claimed that Abu Tir denied the statements he was quoted as saying in Haaretz. At any rate, Hamas has a long way to go before they’ll be “kosher” in my eyes. But the signs I’ve been seeing have been positive, if not spectacular.
I wrote yesterday about my suspicion that Israel may have deliberately helped Hamas’ prospects by the escalating series of bellicose anti-Hamas statements it has made during this campaign. It appears that Israel (and the U.S.) may want to undo some of that damage (to Fatah’s prospects) by allowing Marwan Barghouti to give two interviews to Arab media (Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya). What is interesting about what I’ve read of the interviews is that while he encourages Palestinians to “establish a national reform government where everyone participates,” he never explicitly calls on voters to support Fatah. It just so happens that he is in the number 1 slot on the Fatah ticket and perhaps he assumes his listeners will know this and vote accordingly. But I also think he’s distancing himself from the hated Fatah Old Guard so he can stake a claim that goes beyond them when he finally resumes his role in Palestinian politics.
It’s also interesting to note that Ynet quotes unnamed Palestinian sources revealing that the deal allowing Barghouti to speak to the media was brokered by the State Department:
Palestinian sources said the interviews were arranged through American intervention. During a meeting between Assistant Secretary of State David Welch and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, the two agreed to focus on Barghouti as a leader not tainted by corruption, in the framework of the contest against Hamas.
It’s good to see that Condi Rice is still maintaining a positive role by jawboning the Israelis into allowing what they must’ve viewed with utter disdain–giving Barghouti an international mouthpiece.