The Victory of Hamas, Without the Hysteria
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To escape the maddening hysteria and doomsday scenarios sweeping Europe and the United States, academic and area expert Jean-François Legrain provides a level-headed analysis of the victory of Hamas at the polls.
Viewpoint: Hamas on the Political Scene, by Jean-François Legrain
LE MONDE | 30.01.06 | 13h53 Link.
The events overtaking Palestine today have but two recent historical equivalents: the 1969 takeover by Palestinian guerilla movements headed by Fatah, of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which until that time had been instrumentalized by the Arab states; and the 1976 conquest by the PLO of West Bank municipalities which until that time had been controlled by supporters of Jordan
The January 25th Palestinian elections confirmed a rupture with the defender of national interests for the past thirty-five year --the divorce from an organization and its institutions and officials and, to a degree for future evaluation, its policies. But the separation has not rendered family, clan and local ties obsolete.
As in the past, loyalties use politics in an organizational sense. A notable is recognized as such only when the movement to which he is attached is considered to defend both local and national interests. The PLO played this legitimizing role right up until recent years. The Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, has now replaced the PLO even if, as best we can determine, it has not truly prepared itself to assume all duties.
The causes behind this veritable Palestinian tsunami are well known: the failure of the PLO, rejected as a partner in negotiations by an Israel that is more unilateral than ever; the inability of the Palestinian Authority to provide security for a population facing exactions from armed gangs, most of which emanate from Fatah, Yassir Arafat’s own movement which had become the backbone of the Authority, and … Israel’s targeted assassinations; and, the corruption of a number of officials in the context of worsening endemic unemployment.
A proportional vote from national lists was adopted by the Palestinian Authority for the election of one-half of the 132 seats up for grabs in the Legislative Council. It was meant to stave off a much feared Hamas victory if the old formula used in the 1996 elections were in force --that of a simple majority in sixteen voting districts.
The process achieved some success but it did not prevent the Islamists from gaining an absolute majority. The proportional formula plumbed the doldrums in which other nationalist movements had fallen. “Small” organizations within the PLO Left survived relative unscathed and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) managed to win three seats, followed by the alliance of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the ex-communist Palestinian Peoples Party (PPP) and the Palestinian Democratic Union (PDU) which won two seats. The camp of the reformers, led by personalities rather than by a structured movement, saw a stunning setback: Mustafa Barghouti, who came in second in the 2005 presidential election, won only two seats for his Independent Palestine list. Same for The Third Way, led by former ministers Salam Fayyed, charged by the international community to set in order the Authority’s finances, and Hanan Ashrawi, the media reknown spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation during negotiations in the 1990’s.
The size of the defeat delivered to Fatah results from voting in districts that used a simple majority instead of lists. Hamas won 46 seats and to this total may be added 4 seats won by independents supported by the movement. Fatah won only 16. No candidate sponsored or supported by other lists or independents won.
Despite its political and social heterogeneity, Hamas has succeeded in becoming a force that has associated to its victory some independents to whom it gave support while rejecting independent Islamists or those having parted company the Palestinian Authority. Thus, outgoing elected official Ziyad Abu Amr and Christian Husam al-Tawil won in Gaza as well as Hasan Khuraysha in Tulkarem --all three of them independents. Meanwhile, Sheikh Yaqub Qarash, who ran for a seat in Jerusalem, lost. Qarash had encountered troubles in Jordan for his involvement with radical groups in the 1990's. Former minister Imad al-Faluji (North Gaza) and Sheikh Ramadan Tanbura (also North Gaza), founder of a phantom Islamic party created in 1995 with the support of Yassir Arafat to undermine (already!) Hamas, also lost at the polls.
The defeat of Fatah also brought down high-ranking officials from among its historical leadership as well as personalities known as “reformers”. The inanity of the young guard/old guard dichotomy was also stunningly revealed. Even those who were careful to reject the Fatah label before throwing their hat into the ring, and thus becoming “independents”, were swept away.
Also among the high officials swept aside were former Secretary General of the Presidency Ahmad Abd al-Rahman (Jerusalem) and Arafat’s personal spokesman Marwan Kanafani (Gaza). Only three of the 22 former ministers running for office were elected. The only member of the PLO Executive Committee (PLOEC) who ran for office on the regional lists, Ghassan al-Shaka, lost in the city of Nablus, where he had served as mayor.
The entire roster of officers of the highest rank who at one time or another had been in charge of security forces lost, with the exception of Muhammad Dahlan, the Chief of Preventative Security named minister --but possible voting fraud is being investigated. Dahlan’s colleagues at the head of Preventative Security, like Amin al-Hindi (Gaza), the former chief of intelligence, or the one in charge of the security budget under Yassir Arafat, were rejected by the people.
The leaders of the first Intifada, these ex-shababs (Intifada youth) who had supported some form of integration within the Authority, even though criticizing it, were not spared defeat at the polls
The defeat also removed reform leaders within Fatah: Qaddura Faris (Ramallah), an outgoing elected official who had teamed up with the imprisoned Marwan Barghouti, and Nabil Amr (Hebron). Four drafters of the Geneva Accords (2003), an outline of a definitive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, met the same fate.
The era which is beginning is full of uncertainty. Drawn into a spiral of victories in the recent municipal elections, Hamas, without a doubt, underestimated its ability to achieve an absolute majority in the first legislative elections in which it participated. Henceforward, it must now take on the executive responsibilities incumbent upon it and which until very recently, it had not even considered.
Based on the Islamic identity of Palestine (and not that of the “destruction of Israel"), the proposal made in 1995 by Sheikh Yassin, founder of Hamas, to live in peace with Israel without a limit on duration following the evacuation of Israel from all of the territories occupied in 1967 must be taken into account. The will and the capacity of Hamas to force observance of a unilateral cease-fire over the last nine months on the part of its military wing doubtlessly constitutes a sign of its sense of responsibility. It is now up to the international community to live up to its engagements to guarantee the coexistence of two states in Palestine.
Jean-François Legrain is a researcher at Orient and Mediterranean House - University of Lyon-II (Lumière) and author of Les Palestines du quotidien. Les élections de l'autonomie janvier 1996 (The Daily Palestines. The Autonomy Elections, January 1996), published by CERMOC --Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches sur le Moyen-Orient Contemporain-- (Beirut) 1999.