Yesterday, I wrote a post about Palestinian bloggers’ response to Hamas’ election victory. I searched for a post from my blogging friend, Ray Hanania, a Palestinian-American comedian and news columnist. He always has interesting things to say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I couldn’t find an election post so I e-mailed him asking if he’d written on the subject. He wrote me today that he’d published a column in Newsday, Vote Driven by Emotion, Not Reason.
Ray is the first Arab blogger who’s expressed outright opposition to Hamas’ victory. It’s interesting to note that a good deal of his hostility derives from his being a Christian-Arab. This religious group–like Jews in every nation in which they live but one–are a minority in the Mideast. As such they are extremely sensitive to majoritarian religious triumphalism and intolerance (for American Jews, this is true of our relationship with Christian evangelicals). Many Jews and Christian-Arabs like Ray prefer societies whose politics and social mores are governed by a secular ethos. This is why Hamas’ victory causes him such anxiety:
Hamas is a threat to Palestinians like me who dream of one day living in a free, Democratic state that respects all peoples and all religions and that places individual freedoms above narrow-minded, fundamentalist doctrine. I wouldn’t want to live in an Islamic Palestinian state – which I believe Hamas wants to create – that forces women to veil and walk five paces behind men, imposes religious doctrine on daily life and bans creative expression in dance, music, humor and social commentary and satire.
Jews know what it’s like to be under the thumb of religious majorities, especially intolerant ones. So I’m in full accord with him here.
Hanania makes a good point when he reminds us that a vote for Hamas was not a vote for its policy of annihilating Israel:
Despite election results, I do not believe most Palestinians favor continued conflict with Israel over peace based on nonviolence and compromise. Even though there has never been peace, it remains their inherent goal.
All Palestinian polls continue to show that a majority support a two state solution with a shared capital in Jerusalem. Just because Hamas won does not mean that all of a sudden Palestinians have adopted Hamas’ rejectionist views of Israel. Hamas won because the electorate wanted to throw the other bums out. And it presented itself in voters’ eyes as a viable alternative to Fatah (the other bums). Should Hamas not prove able to end corruption and lawlessness it too will be thrown out just as unceremoniously as Fatah was. So the vote was about competence and transparency and not about ideology.
I’d take issue with Ray’s emphases on a few election issues:
Much is made of the corruption of the existing Palestinian government headed by President Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat. Yet, the issue of corruption pales against the reality of suicide bombings and avowed violent policies of Hamas. Only when you are steeped in despair can corruption, rather than violence, be viewed as the more compelling reason to undermine a government.
Hamas has adhered to a hudna for a year in which it has not sponsored terror attacks against Israel. This is one reason the voters may’ve paid little attention to the morality of terror attacks as an election issue. I would not minimize the deleterious effect that corruption and lawlessness have on the very fabric of social and economic life. If Hamas can resolve these issues it will have done a tremendous service to its people. A society that is safe, stable, secure and transparent is able to be a better potential partner for peace.
I have to say I’m a bit surprised that Hanania is so downbeat about the prospect of Hamas “reforming” itself by turning its back on its rejectionism toward Israel:
Those who expect Hamas to moderate and become partners for peace based on compromise are naive. Faith doesn’t compromise. And Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the rejection of compromise. That doesn’t mean we should step back and abandon the peace process. It means we all must do more and be smarter.
I concede that Hamas has been a mortal enemy of Israel and peace. I don’t expect that this victory will turn it overnight into a paragon of democratic and peace-loving values. But I choose to see the possibility that Hamas’ leaders will understand that whether they wish it or not, their movement has changed overnight. No longer are they the outsiders free to engage in ideological sloganeering and extremist violence. Now they govern. The rules are different. The behavior required is different. To the extent that Hamas adapts to the new environment they will succeed and embrace politics over the gun. To the extent that Hamas tries to have it both ways, it will fail. Ray appears certain of which way Hamas will go. I’m not yet so sure. I want to give Hamas the benefit of the doubt for a few weeks or even months. I would hold off on any judgment till Hamas gave me reason to question its commitment to new approaches to resolve the conflict.
As Jimmy Carter said so eloquently in today’s NY Times:
“It may well be that Hamas can change,” Mr. Carter said, remembering his presidency, when the Palestine Liberation Organization under Yasir Arafat finally agreed to recognize the existence of Israel and to forswear terrorism. “It’s a mistake to abandon optimism completely.”
He urged Israel and the world: “Don’t drive the Palestinians away from rationality. Don’t force them into assuming arms as the only way to achieve their legitimate goals. Give them some encouragement and the benefit of the doubt.”
I do agree with Ray that all nations and individuals concerned about peace in the Mideast should keep up the pressure on Hamas calling for it to renounce terror. The U.S. too must keep up pressure on both sides not to do things which cross lines or prejudge outcomes. Just because Hamas has won an election and we don’t like Hamas doesn’t mean that Bush and Rice should give Israeli a green light to complete Maaleh Adumim, for example.