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January 26, 2006



Every US administration in my lifetime (starting with Truman) I would have backed to get this one right. Except this one.


"Hamas winning and presumably moving to form a government is the first real instance of an Islamist movement on the brink of winning power democratically since 1992."

A minor remark here: The present Turkish government can reasonably be called Islamist and came to power democratically.

It is not an Arab country, of course.


From today's Presidential news conference:

THE PRESIDENT: So the Palestinians had an election yesterday, and the results of which remind me about the power of democracy. You see, when you give people the vote, you give people a chance to express themselves at the polls -- and if they're unhappy with the status quo, they'll let you know. That's the great thing about democracy, it provides a look into society.

And yesterday the turnout was significant, as I understand it. And there was a peaceful process as people went to the polls, and that's positive. But what was also positive is, is that it's a wake-up call to the leadership. Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo. The people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find health care.

And so the elections should open the eyes of the old guard there in the Palestinian territories. I like the competition of ideas. I like people who have to go out and say, vote for me, and here's what I'm going to do. There's something healthy about a system that does that. And so the elections yesterday were very interesting.

On the other hand, I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform. And I know you can't be a partner in peace if you have a -- if your party has got an armed wing. The elections just took place. We will watch very carefully about the formation of the government. But I will continue to remind people about what I just said, that if your platform is the destruction of Israel, it means you're not a partner in peace. And we're interested in peace.

the aardvark

khr - true on both counts... I meant to say "in the Arab world."


There was a photo on the Washington Post site yesterday of an election worker tabulating votes on a blackboard: the "al-Taghyeer wa al-Islah" line had about twice as many white marks as the "HArekat Fatah" line. Scientific sampling in action! (Of course it was next to an article about Hamas getting 'strong minority representation'--nobody reads Arabic in the Post newsroom).

This is really the first strong test of polling in the West Bank, isn't it? Khalil Shikaki must be pretty frustrated. I don't think those pre-election assessments by Americans and Israelis were primarily about spinning Fatah into power, I think they truly believed it. Why? The overestimated the accuracy of the surveys. Two problems with opinion sampling techniques in the West Bank context: 1) the infrastructure is ravaged, so telephone polling is unscientific; and 2) the occupation is ongoing, so people are reluctant to speak their real mind (especially when it means endorsing an organization under a death interdict by the Israeli army).

In a lot of ways, this story is about the limits of our technologies for measuring "the people," of which voting is one. You can't assume that statistics work the same way in two very different sets of conditions. It's like the historiographical problem of household multipliers: when you look at an Ottoman tahrir defter, there may be, on average, six people per "hane" in 1560s Aleppo, and ten people per hane 200 years later; meanwhile, the average Jewish hane may have only four people. To get the multiplier right, you have to know a lot about the society or social group in question.

The Bush democracy gurus seem to assume that every home in the world has the same number of people in it. No wonder their predictions are off.

dave murphy

If Hamas publicly commits itself to a peaceful solution in the middle east and democratic governemnt in palestine, then the US and EU wont have a problem. Until Hamas do that, the west can walk away with a clear conscience, and Israel will be left to do waht it claims it needs to do to protect itself.

Nur al-Cubicle

All that howling from Bush and Condi is embarrasing. I wish we could outsource PR for the administration so at least they would sound sane in their pronouncements. Meanwhile, Karzai and others are hitting the right notes:

Hamid Karzai: "If the Palestinian people have expressed their will in electing Hamas, then we must give Hamas a chance."

Russian Foreign Minister: "Russia will respect, as always, the democratic choice of the Palestinian people. It is important to us that all those who participated in the Palestinian democratic process remain faithful to peaceful national aspirations of the Palestinian people."

Pervez Musharraf: "We shall leave the door open, including to Hamas. I don't believe we should shut off relations. I think we should base our actions in reality. If Hamas has won, then we cannot go into denial."

Amos Luzzatto, Chief Rabbi of the Italian Jewish community: "Let us hope that the victory pushes Hamas in a different direction from that which it has followed in the past. Hamas has won and everyone must respect the verdit of the ballot box."

And last, the Muslim Brotherhood. "The victory at the polls by Hamas shows the desire of the Arab nation to turn towards Islam." [At least the statement doesn't make me want to strangle them].

The worst thing I heard today was the disgraceful claim by Israel that Hamas will now "establish links" with al-Qaeda".

Kim Pearson

This evening I interviewed Adrien Wing, a law professor who helped to create the governance structure for the Palestinian Authority. She said Yasser Arafat must be rolling in his grave because of what has happened to Fatah. She also talked about the possible impact of this victory on Israeli politics, and on the women of Palestine. You can read the summary and listen to the interview here. to the interview


Nur al-Cubicle: disgraceful claim by Israel that Hamas will now "establish links with al-Qaeda"

Who made this claim?

Steven Taylor

Matthew Shugart had a very informative post that detailed why this election was especially amendable to exit poll errors: http://fruitsandvotes.com/?p=511

TM Lutas

Assume the extremists in Hamas retain their rejectionist line. They don't merge in their militia with the military and they continue to espouse the destruction of Israel in their charter. The question is how quickly will the PA collapse absent western support?


dear aa,

accepting & respecting the outcome of an election and interacting with the elected government are not per se linked.

both the u.s. as well as the israeli governments have consistently stated that they will respect the outcome of the palestinian elections regardless of the outcome.

it is their choice with whom they talk/don't talk.

the situation with hamas in palestine is similar to that in post-1979 iran. the government is recognized by all u.n. member states as the legitimate gov't of iran - some countries talk to it, some don't.

the e.u., for instance, might legally not be allowed to provide $$$ aid to the p.a. anymore if it is run by hamas until the moment that the movement changes its charter & removes the "we will destroy israel" part of it.

as for "how quickly will the p.a. collapse absent western support?" is a very silly one, REALLY. the "west" provides somewhere around $500-800 mio. a year. given the current price of oil, any gulf country alone could pick up that tab. they include iran and saudi-arabia. the "p.a." is the administration - it is not congruent with the p.l.o. hamas will now put its people in the most important posts - you'd think more than a handful of the low employees will say "oh, i'd rather be out of work and have my family starving than work for a hamas government"???

i do think we might very well be witnessing a significant shift towards a hamas-led & -controlled palestinian administration, incl. a hamas-led & -controlled military that will (if needs be by force) integrate all the other armed factions into a "new national army", financed by the petro-$$$ of iran and the g.c.c.

what do they need the "west" for?





Very interesting thoughts. But they suggest precisely why recognition and interaction >are< linked. So long as the election of Hamas is regarded as legitimate (i.e. overturning it by force is inappropriate) Israel, the U.S., and the E.U. are now, like it or not, locked in a bidding war with Iran for the Palestinians. Maybe they'll launder the money through a third party, but it doesn't change the reality.

Sure, the carrots of public support and aid funding will be dangled to try and promote change in platforms and such. But don't believe anyone who says they're not "talking." The prospect of a legitimately elected Iranian satellite in the occupied territories is scary, and forestalling an open conflict between democratic rhetoric and realpolitik is probably enough of a priority for the feckless Americans and Europeans at this point that whatever hokum they put out in the media, the funding stream will never dry up.

From that perspective, the election of Hamas was about as canny a descision as the Palestinians could possibly have made, given their desperate situation. If Hamas has any brains, they'll play both sides against the middle--and Hamas definitely has brains.


dear ma,

i did not mean to say that the "west" will actually cease to send $$$ to palestine - in whichever form - but i wanted to make it clear that a hamas-led p.a. does not depend on $$$ from the "west" to survive or even prosper.

the idea of a "bidding war with iran" seems logical - but i would not put it past the current (and likely) israeli and u.s. gov'ts that they will not do that but instead go the "screw you guys, i'm going home" path of foreign policy of dealing with the palestinian administration.

shimon peres had already said that an israeli gov't would probably talk/negotiate with a palestinian gov't that includes hamas AS LONG as every group in that gov't does not have "we want to annihilate israel" in its charter.

right now, a lot of israeli policy-makers are actually hoping that iran(/syria/saudi/etc.) will openly support an intransigient hamas gov't so any further unilateral actions on israel's side that violate the "roadmap" and establish the separation wall/fence as a de facto border will at the bare minimum be acquiesced by the "west".

in the meantime - the biggest issue will be that of a possibly gaza-fication of west bank's society, resulting in an accelerated emigration of non-traditionalist palestinians.

who would've thought that we'd ever look back at the mid- to late 1990s as the "good old days"?




Hi Raf'

Again, thanks for the thoughtful comments. I grant you that the "bidding war" scenario is based on a priori reasoning. However, given that Bush's ability to pursue an irrational and shortsighted Israel-Palestine policy over the past few years depended on his unusual latitude after 9-11, my sense, pollyannish as it may be, is that such reasoning may be back "in" to some degree in Washington.

As for the wall, hasn’t it been a fait accompli for ages? The only real question left is how effective it will be as a device to enlarge Israel's sovereign territory. Since the very beginning of Oslo, Israel put a lot of military and political energy into weakening Fatah organizationally while preserving it as an interlocutor (Jenin and the Muqat'a siege were of course the emblems of this approach). The desuetude of Arafat's organization allowed them not only to pursue Sharon's new blueprint of "settlement with [manageable] security" unburdened by meaningful local opposition, but also gave them a blank check internationally for everything from cantonization to missile strikes to the wall itself, all on the pretext of "failure to combat terror."

So maybe right wing Israelis see the election of Hamas as an opportunity to be even more aggressive with the route of wall (I heard Netanyahu say something about annexing the entire Jordan Valley corridor!). However, a) Fatah was incapable of fending them off either diplomatically or militarily in any case; and b) I think the limiting factors on Israeli policy--especially international commitment to a modest Palestinian entity--haven't really changed.

The latter argument runs something like this. Wall or no wall, the reality is that ever since Netanyahu was elected in '96, Israel took increasingly aggressive steps to alter the ancient economic relationship between the Jordan watershed and the Mediterranean coastal strip. The so-called "security fence" just formalized replacement of the Palestinians with a mobile international workforce from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. For international patrons, though, that created a problem, since the only thing preserving Palestinian society at all to that point was labor exchange with the present, Israeli, rulers of the coast.

The indigenous economy of the West Bank has never been able to function in isolation. Historically, the only previous borders interrupting westward commerce in labor and goods that I can think of were between 1948 and 1967 and--rather less energetically!--1099 to 1291. When the Ottomans ceased to protect the roads effectively in the later 18th and 19th centuries, decreased commerce between the river and the sea brought the Jordan valley to its knees.

The point is that there is a directly proportional relationship between Israel's usurpation of the West Bank and the degree of Palestinian failedstate-ness. Given its long land border with Jordan, and Jordan's with Saudi Arabia, economic and social upheaval in the West Bank directly threatens the security of Gulf oil installations. Back when the borders with Israel were permeable, failed-ness in the West Bank had a safety valve. Now, the only possible safety valve is mass migration eastward--and with Al Qaida running around, this kind of population movement would be just as threatening to large industrial oil consumers from a security perspective as westward migration is to Israel, if not more so.

The "two state solution" endorsed at Camp David always assumed a creeping economic and social integration of the Jewish and Arab moities. The wall effectively destroys that scenario. Thus, Europe and America have to force Israel to destroy it (unlikely), induce changes in its route (likely), and/or increase aid inflows to the tune of billions (certain).

This equation has not changed at all with the election of Hamas. Indeed, as I argued, Hamas's Iranian ties make the need to maintain a countervailing influence even more urgent. What Hamas has the capacity to do--and what Fatah couldn't--is provide actual internal security and efficient distribution of revenues. Of course, it comes packaged with equally efficient hostility to Israel, including the core of a well-trained national armed forces rather than easily dispersed rabble. But in an age of global terrorism, the market value of Palestinian economic and social stability exceeds the market value of Israel's capacity to keep the Arabs busy.

Bush may very well want to continue his ostrichlike foreign policy, but I suspect/hope that it's more or less out of his and Cheney's hands at this point. Screw the pooch one too many times, and your neighbors call ASPCA to place it with another family. So the recent call for Hamas to disarm before aid money flows is just last week's lunch. Now sovereign, this genuine threat to Israeli security can no longer be defanged without an Israeli invasion of the entire West Bank, which perhaps naively, I don't think is possible in the present geopolitical environment. In other words, Israel may have cut off its nose to spite its face. With eager support from the Cheney coterie, Sharon undermined Fatah a few too many times; the election of Hamas now suggests that Israeli and American interests have begun to diverge in earnest.

The most significant threat to Israel may not even not be military, but rather diplomatic. Unlike a weak and corrupt Fatah utterly dependent for its preeminence on rents from the U.S. and Europe, Hamas may actually offer some competition with Israel for geopolitical patronage. (Israel surely remembers that dynamic, since it played the game very effectively in its own formative years, bouncing between the Soviets and the Americans.) China's rapid industrialization, and Iran and Russia's improved cash flow under the post-Iraq oil economy, mean that the value of potential counterweights to the American client regime in Israel has risen. Hamas clearly has many suitors, and Iran is likely only bundling their contributions.

Of course, this is all as you hint very bad news for people who care about the survival of Palestine (and Israel, for that matter) as a vibrant, liberal society. However well or badly it does as a bureaucratic and political actor, Hamas rule clearly means reactionary religious and cultural mores. As somebody who remembers East Jeruslem in the early 90s as a troubled but intellectually fertile and creative place, that's devastating. But I do think we need to separate the effects of immiseration in Gaza from the effects of Hamas per se. People who leave can just as easily return, and my sense would be that economic instability has driven far more of the relatively liberal middle-class from Gaza than the increasing power of the religious right. Presumably that holds true in the West Bank as well. Moreover, while there's not a one-to-one correlation, social and cultural conservatism do seem to follow economic distress.

[Long post. Apologies to the Aardvark Republic for annexing server space!]

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