Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Who won the election? - full text

Who won the election?

By continuing to punish Hamas, Israel and the US are ignoring the democratic will of Palestinians.
Ian Williams

June 20, 2007 3:00 PM Guardian Comment is Free

If Israelis want peace, they have to talk to the people the Palestinians want, not those anointed and armed by Israel and the US.

One of the points about democracy is that sometimes the "wrong" people win. Many Americans and British looking at their present leaders can ruefully relate to that. Indeed, Ehud Olmert has popularity ratings within a statistical range of zero. Nonetheless, other governments and the political institutions inside their own countries continue to talk to them and recognize them. The rest of the world continued talking to, indeed pandering to Israel, even while the butcher of Sabra and Shatila was its prime minister. That's democracy.

The purpose of the Palestinian elections was to elect a government the Palestinians wanted, not one that Israel liked. Hamas won, fair and square, and did so against a background of Fatah incompetence and corruption that had been connived at, and indeed tacitly encouraged by the west and Israel, in return for Yasser Arafat's pliability at the negotiating table.

Now as a born-again atheist, whose last book was an ode to rum, Hamas would be very low down in my list of preferences for voting - indeed somewhere alongside a teetotal born-again Christian from Texas for US president in my ranking order.

Even so, Hamas has been demonized by Israel, the US, and the EU, which should give pause for thought. A rule of thumb suggests that Washington and its allies may not be entirely accurate in their depiction of events.

Firstly, we need to consider the historic shifts as opposed to the expedient amnesia of politicians. At a time when the US and Israel were marginalizing and refusing to recognize Arafat and the PLO, as Charles Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, baldly stated: "Israel started Hamas. It was a project of Shin Bet, which had a feeling that they could use it to hem in the PLO." At that time, the PLO was seen as representing the secularist, leftwards-inclined factions so a dose of good old time religion seemed to be called for.

As Hamas developed, a secondary point was that the last thing that hard-line Israeli factions, of the kind who seem to be running the security services, wanted was a partner who will negotiate. There is no conceivable negotiated solution that does not involve withdrawal from the occupied territories and recognition of genuinely independent Palestinian statehood that even now, few Israeli politicians have unequivocally supported.

That is why, of course, there is a suspicious, what one could call a statistically significant correlation, between Hamas's acceptance of cease-fires, and Israeli assassinations of its leadership. There are times when Israeli security forces to seem to function as as if they were the militias of right-wing Israeli factions.

In response to the Hamas victory, and despite its unilateral ceasefire, Israel illegally withheld the taxes it had collected on behalf of the Palestinian authority and led a boycott of the new Hamas government, an example followed naturally by the US, cravenly by the European Union, and implicitly endorsed even more shamefully by the UN Secretariat.

As the former UN representative Alvaro de Soto revealed, the US tactic was to get Fatah to sort out Hamas.

The fighting in Gaza is being represented as if it were a Hamas coup against the Palestinian government. But Hamas won the election and has a majority in the parliament - even if 40 of their representatives have been interned by the Israelis. It is almost as if Blair dissolved parliament and sent the army against Brown supporters.

The Palestinian authority forces that Hamas inherited were in effect a group of militias responsible to various factions of Fatah. Israel happily agreed to them being armed to quell Hamas.

The fighting in Gaza is above all the responsibility of the gun-worshippers on both sides. There is little to choose between the assorted armed militias now shooting it out. But those who crammed a million and half people into a ghetto, restricted their water supplies, bombed their power stations, cut off funding for government services and occasionally lob shells and "precision" bombs into their apartments cannot escape their responsibility for the carnage.

Just as those in Washington and London who let Israel continue to rip up the road map, expand settlements and build a wall were far more effective campaign managers for Hamas's election victory than Saatchi & Saatchi could have been.

A credible Palestinian partner for peace negotiations is one that can represent Palestinians and bring them along. Anointing Abbas as the chosen one of Israel and the US has likely ensured that he is not that partner. But the Palestinians have to choose their negotiator, not Olmert or Bush.

No comments: