Palestinian Democracy

Against the Current, No. 121, March/April 2006

Michael Warschawski

[The following two excerpts are from Michael Warschawski’s monthly column in News From Within, published by the Alternative Information Center, P.O. Box 31417. Jerusalem 91313 Israel; We recommend this valuable journal to our readers as a source of research and activist analysis. The first was written in the wake of the Palestinian municipal elections (“Democracy, Made in USA,” 1/06) and the second immediately following the parliamentary election won by Hamas (“Sharon’s Last Victory,” 2/06.]

FEW ELECTIONS THROUGHOUT the world have been perceived by the local population, as well as international observers, as democratic and transparent as the Palestinian ones. At first glance, Palestine seems to be the perfect example of the “democratization of the Middle East” that President George W. Bush and his administration are fighting for.

The reality of U.S. foreign policy is, however, very different: Immediately after the last round of the Palestinian municipal elections, the House of Representatives declared that the United States of America may cut any and all economic assistance to the Palestinian territory if Hamas were to win the elections.

This intolerable interference in the internal affairs of a foreign country and dismissal of the democratically expressed will of the Palstinian population is, in fact, completely consistent with the U.S.-made “democratization” of the world. The peoples of the planet are ordered to choose, democratically, the pro-U.S. candidates, or at least those to whom Washington does not object, or they will suffer military invasion and air strikes.

Such a policy is not only making a farce of democracy. The very enemies of Washington, and in particular Islamic parties such as the pro-Iranian Shiites in Iran, Muslim Brothers in Egypt, Taliban in Afghanistan and Hamas in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, are gaining more popular support from this permanent U.S. blackmail. Resistance to U.S. aggression first expresses itself, when possible, on the ballot.

One can make a prediction: Sooner or later the U.S. administration will talk with Hamas, just as they are now negotiating with the pro-Iranian Shiites with Iraq but also with former supporters of Saddam Hussein. The defeat in Iraq confirms the limits of the unending preventive war, and the need to find local partners to rule. Significantly, the Islamic movements, including Hamas, do not reject neoliberalism and the power of the multinational corporations, which ultimately are for Washington the key issues in choosing its local allies.

BACK IN POWER in 2001, Ariel Sharon was determined to succeed where he failed two decades before. Under the cover of a permanent and preventive war against terrorism, Sharon launched a bloody offensive against the leaders, activists and institutions of the Palestinian National Movement. The goal was the destruction of the movement, knowing full well that, if successful, the strategy would bring about the emergence of an alternative leadership.

“Israel has no Palestinian partner” was not the reason for the broad and military offensive and Israel’s policy of destruction in the occupied terrotories. It was the objective: for the former Israeli Prime Minister, unilateralism was the only way to achieve the Zionist goals, and negotiations were perceived as an obstacle which could force unacceptable compromises. It was therefore necessary to destroy any potential partner for future negotiations.

After neutralizing Yasser Arafat, the Israeli government destabilized the “moderate” Abu Mazen and continued the ongoing destruction of both Palestinian infrastructure and territorial continuity. Chaos, and on many occasions, terrorist attacks were the expected results of this policy, which only proved that there was still no Palestinian partner.

Israel intentionally prevented the Palestinian leadership from delivering anything to their public on either economic or political levels. This facilitated, as expected and predicted, the collapse of the leadership’s popular support and strengthening of the Islamic opposition.

Indeed, Hamas is not only perceived as more capable but also removed from the failures of the Palestinian Authority. The vote for Hamas was more of a protest vote than an ideological one; it was a way to say “you failed, we don’t trust you anymore and we want to try something new.”

Ariel Sharon wanted a victory for Hamas so that he could even more convincingly claim that “we don’t have a partner for peace.” The election results will allow Israel to continue its unilateral steps of colonization, including some tactical military redeployments and dismantling of unmanageable isolated settlements. For a while this policy may succeed, and the reaction of the international community and media, by threatening to outcast the Palestinians, is definitely going according to the plans of the Israeli leadership.

Thus the Palestinian people will be confronted in the short term with hard times. But, and every Palestinian knows this, how much harder can things get?

Israel will stop the peace process? There was no peace process. Israel will renew targeted assassinations? They were never halted. Israel will destroy more houses and uproot more trees? It is almost impossible to do more damage than was done during the last five years…

Israel’s success, however, may not last for long. Because it was democratically elected in the presence of hundreds of international observers, the Hamas leadership will have a certain amount of international legitimacy. The fact that it is not responsible for the previous commitments of the PLO (Oslo process) makes it better positioned to keep low the population’s expectations. The possibility of a true national unity government is now very real…

It may not be too optimistic to argue that the Israeli-planned victory of Hamas might bring about what the Israelis have been trying to sabotage: Palestinian national unity to fight the occupation and reconstruct a society that has been systematically dismantled by the Israel war of pacification. It may provide renewed hope and confidence…Sooner or later the international community will force Israel to negotiate with Hamas, as it did fifteen years ago with the PLO.

As for the Palestinian society, the Hamas victory clearly represents a double challenge. First, Palestinians will have to struggle internally in order to maintain and expand upon the social and civic achievements which Hamas may threaten. While such attacks on social and democratic rights will certainly not bother the international community they remain a major concern for the Palestinian people.

The second challenge is to rebuild the secular national movementIf these two challenges are successfully met, the last achievements of Ariel Sharon may be similar to those in [the 1982 invasion of] Lebanon: a Pyrrhic victory.

ATC 121, March-April 2006