Palestine’s New Paradigm

Only time will tell: Graffiti reading “Islam is the solution” in Al-Shati Refugee Camp, Gaza City (Wesam Saleh/Ma’an News)

Policies have repercussions, sometimes bitter ones. The historic election landslide victory of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, in Palestine on January 25 was merely a confirmation of this basic fact. Palestinians simply voted in a manner that reflects their reality.

Secular Palestinians, such as myself, are not thrilled to see an Islamist movement come to the forefront of the historically secular Palestinian struggle to end the occupation and continue with the state-building process. However, those of us willing to look beyond the daily headlines, which emerge out of professionally spun mainstream media, are fully aware that Hamas’ victory does not emerge from a vacuum.

Palestinian reality in year 2006 is three-fold. There is the bitter reality of 39 years of a non- stop Israeli military occupation that has battered the Palestinians beyond recognition, but failed to break the Palestinians’ will and determination to ascertain the basic human and national rights that are justly due to every indigenous people.

Then, there is a decade, some would say four decades, of a monopoly on Palestinian politics by the moderate Fatah movement which mismanaged and abused its position of power to a point where the average Palestinian saw their governance serving the Israeli occupation more than serving the needs of a people hemorrhaging from an unrelenting Israeli onslaught.

Nonviolent resistences have failed

Lastly, Palestinian reality today, after trying all possible nonviolent methods to jerk the international community, particularly the U.S., into assuming its responsibility toward a people under occupation (as per the Geneva Conventions) have been left naked to take on their occupier single-handily, all the while, being coerced into becoming totally dependent on the crumbs and political agendas of donor aid.

Initial knee-jerk reactions from Washington D.C. and Tel Aviv indicate that, not only have the U.S. and Israel failed to acknowledge that decades of aggression against Palestinians was sooner than later bound to result in bitter repercussions, but they arrogantly abolish themselves of any responsibility for this reality. Palestinians under occupation were left with little other choice, but to express their despair and frustration by electing into government a movement that many believe speak the same language as Israel has been speaking to Palestinians for almost four decades now, the language of force, both political and military.

The U.S. and Israel seem overly surprised at Hamas’ victory. We must ask why? Back in 2002, following a suicide bomb attack in Jerusalem the United Press International’s Terrorism Correspondent, Richard Sale, wrote the following:

Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.

Israel “aided Hamas directly — the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization),” said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies.

Israel’s support for Hamas “was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative,” said a former senior CIA official.

The UPI article went on to say,

But even then, some in Israel saw some benefits to be had in trying to continue to give Hamas support: “The thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the others, if they gained control, would refuse to have any part of the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place,” said a U.S. government official who asked not to be named.

“Israel would still be the only democracy in the region for the United States to deal with,” he said.

All of which disgusts some former U.S. intelligence officials. […]

According to former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson, “the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism.”

“The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer.”

“They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it,” he said.

Although the magnitude of Hamas’ victory took all by surprise, the fact that the Palestinian electorate booted from office the 40-year ruling party of Fatah was no surprise to anyone familiar with the facts on the ground.

Bankrupt in its ability to frame the just Palestinian struggle in a manner understandable to the external world and after reaching levels of corruption and nepotism unheard of in occupied Palestine, Fatah deserved to lose, and lose big.

This writer wrote back in May 18, 2001, following the start of the second intifada:

Israel grasps to solve the conflict by inventing new political jargon and by engaging well- designed public relation blitzes instead of facing its core international obligation of ending occupation. The truth is becoming harder to hide with every passing Israeli warplane. The world has spoken — Israeli occupation is the source of contention and must end, illegal Israeli settlements must end, imprisonment of Palestinian political prisoners must end. There is no other way.

Mr. [Ariel] Sharon has returned the Palestinian society back to a culture of resistance. Soon, he will move the international community to a new culture of responsibility toward protecting Palestinian civilians and realizing a negotiated solution to the conflict based on peace with justice. In the meantime, a new generation of Palestinians will learn and live the meaning of Intifada while the State of Palestine continues to be built amongst the backdrop of Israeli bombings.

A month later, in a subsequent article on June 13, 2001, I continued,

If Sharon’s Israeli war drums are translated into an all-out war on the Palestinian people or its leadership, the world — Americans and Israelis in particular — should not expect the frameworks of the Oslo Peace Accords, the Mitchell Report, or the numerous antiquated UN resolutions to remain as reference points for any future resolution of the conflict.

If Palestinians must choose between their annihilation and their collective memory, their choice is most likely to be the latter and their time frame, the future. Likewise, Israel must choose between continuing an illegal occupation and preserving the State of Israel. To think that both can peacefully co-exist is an utter ignorance of history and human development.

The end of Israel’s occupation should be the priority

So as we move forward, we cannot but remind ourselves of all the warnings that were made, mostly by Palestinians, over and over, advising the U.S. and international community that without intervention and without a serious approach to ending Israel’s occupation, once and for all, moderate secular voices in Palestine would be drowned out.

Instead of heeding to Palestinian’s advice and to the facts on the ground, the international community preferred to only send international observers to oversee the most democratic elections process that has ever happened in the Middle East, despite the occupation’s boot remaining on the neck of the Palestinians.

Now it is the world’s duty and responsibility to accept the outcome of the elections. Each and every country will need to redefine how it will deal with the sober reality that, once again, now by way of the ballot box, the Palestinians have provided them.

The U.S. would be wise not to continue to set pre-conditions on yet another duly elected Palestinian leadership. That policy has failed twice already, once with Yaser Arafat and again with Mahmoud Abbas. The editorial of The Jewish Week said it best, “Hard and fast proclamations at a time of tremendous ferment will only make it harder for regional leaders to find a way to make the best of the newest tough hand dealt to them.” (1/27/06).

The U.S., under President Bush, has caused so much havoc within U.S. foreign policy that the U.S. will now find itself a hostage of its own hastily drafted internal polices. Political wisdom, not Presidential evangelism, is what is required from Washington today.

For the first time since the Oslo Peace Accords, Palestinian priorities are being set independent of foreign agendas. The donor community, led by the U.S., can choose to bring the Hamas government to its knees financially. This would be short-sighted and catastrophic for the region at large. Alternatively, Hamas can be given the needed time to reflect on their election victory and define a set of policies that coincide with their new position which will require them to be held accountable on a national and global level.

Speculation is a risky business in the Middle East, but if Hamas’ victory is viewed as a pilot project by Islamist movements in the region, we could expect them to excel in installing a better system of governance which has the potential to positively affect every Palestinian citizen. If they fail, they should only be removed through the same ballot box that they won by.

As I wrote elsewhere, the Palestinian’s “election season [should be viewed] as concrete that has now been poured. What remains to be seen is whether it will actually dry in time and remain in place to hold the Palestinian political house together.”

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    Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian city of Al-Bireh. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994) and can be reached at