Monday, January 30, 2006
We've been wanting to see democracy spread in the Middle East, and now that we've seen it, some people are pretty queasy about the results in Palestine. Me, I'm cautiously optimistic that the election of Hamas will be a step in the right direction. The Israelis are understandably worried about a known terrorist group with stated non-recognition of Israel's right to exist becoming the duly elected Palestinian Authority. But everyone (including Hamas) should keep in mind that the election of Hamas was not a mandate for wiping out Israel, nor an endorsement of terrorism. It was a mandate for ending the corruption, cronyism, and overall ineffectiveness of the incumbent Fatah. As with voters in most elections anywhere in the world, their concerns were pretty close to home: their jobs, their streets, their schools. From that viewpoint, it's not hard to see the attraction of Hamas, who does not share Fatah's corruption and ineptitude, and who has, even before the election, been doing a better job than the government of providing social services like schools and hospitals. And even from Israel's viewpoint, it's worth noting that Hamas has done a better job of keeping cease-fire agreements than Fatah. The Israelis won't like what Hamas has to say, but isn't it better to be talking to people who might actually be capable of delivering a cease-fire, rather than those with a more likeable message but insufficient competence to carry it out? I'm thinking that Hamas taking on the full responsibility of government can only pragmatize them, as they become fully engaged with keeping the streets safe, the power on, and the sewers from backing up. Sure, there will continue to be ideological zealots in Hamas, but the movement will have to find pragmatists among the zealots if it is going to govern. We'll see a political wing of Hamas emerge, as Sinn Fein did from the IRA. The zealots may even splinter off, as the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade did with Fatah. But Hamas may turn out to be the effective leadership Palestine needs, and once given the reins, they may yet find a pragmatic direction to lead. It's worth cautiously giving them a chance to see what they will do.