In the several days since the world was caught off guard by the sudden and decisive ascendance of Hamas to power in Palestine, political and media discourse has revolved around predictable axes – chief among them being concern over the Hamas charter’s call for the “obliteration” of Israel and the fear that Hamas will break its year-long cease fire and continue terror attacks against Israelis. There has been much hand-wringing (well, not too much) over the use of foreign aid as leverage over any new Hamas government in order to force its hand on these issues. In short, world reaction to the Palestinian elections seems to be predicated on one question: “Is it good for Israel?” The more appropriate – and less asked – question would be: “Is it good for the Palestinians?” Most observers agree that a free and fair election, combined with a peaceful transition of power, is a good thing. Also good is the electoral mandate against corruption in the previous Palestinian Authority administration. But while the post-election party may be over, the hangover has just begun. How will Christians and secular Muslims fare under a Hamas-led government? Will sharia law be implemented? (Maybe, but Hamas says it won’t force it.) Can Hamas keep the government running amid calls to curtail foreign aid? Will Hamas ever cede power peacefully in future elections, should it be voted out of power? Will the town of Al-Bireh (Arabic for “beer”) be renamed Zamzam, as in the Meccan spring? (OK, that last one was a joke circulating around Palestine this week). Another aspect of Hamas’ victory might be that it is a voter reaction to Israel’s unilateralism, where the most politically palatable negotiating partners the Palestinians could offer were still rebuffed. Why else would 75% of peace-deal supporters with Israel vote for a party so provocative? Parallels have indeed been made with Israel’s own terrorists turned (would-be) peacemakers, such as Menachem Begin or Ariel Sharon, with Hamas now realising that firing Qassam rockets as an elected power would be an actual, rather than de-facto, declaration of war. As a result, it appears that Hamas has taken a politically shrewd gamble with power and its very identity. “Hamas has proven itself capable of recognizing and respecting certain red lines,” said Hillel Frisch of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. “Hamas has refrained from engaging in terror abroad, has not attacked Americans in the Palestinian Authority (territory) or openly identified with al Qaeda terrorism. It knows that red lines exist in the murky world of realpolitik.” The coming contradictions that Hamas will soon offer – sharia law, but no enforcement; militancy, but observation of a long term truce; demands for Israeli land, but willingness to accept a post-’67 Palestine – give an insight into the changes that could lead to the type of solution both sides keep dodging, such as the 2003 Geneva Accord. Democracy has a way of tempering idealism (and/or fostering cynicism) and Hamas may soon find that it has no choice but to be realistic about its goals.
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.