Hamas and the future of the Middle East - Xtratime Community
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post #1 of 39 (permalink) Old January 26th, 2006, 21:44 Thread Starter
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Hamas and the future of the Middle East

Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections overwhelmingly by taking 76 of the available 132 seats. The ruling Fatah party only won 43.

What do you think this means for the prospects of a lasting peace in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

The military wing of the Hamas party has made it no secret that it seeks the destruction of Israel, prompting the EU, Israel, and the US to dismiss it as a terrorist organization, and Israel and the US said before the election that they want nothing to do with Hamas in Palestinian politics. Of course, there is also concern about a party with such a message having the political majority.

On the other hand, now having legitimate political power, Hamas could be inclined to refocus its efforts on political means. There'll be greater pressure on Hamas by Palestinians to focus even more on things like economic stability and healthcare. Also, in seeking a partner for peace talks, both Israel and the US will be forced to deal with Hamas, and now neither have ruled out negotiations.
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post #2 of 39 (permalink) Old January 26th, 2006, 22:14
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I think Hamas will split. Into the Hamas-Party and the Hamas-Militants. Sort of like Sinn Fein and the IRA. Then the party will "play by the rules" and denounce violence etc. while the militants will keep planting bombs. They'll still be the same movement of course, "unoffically"
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post #3 of 39 (permalink) Old January 27th, 2006, 00:19
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First of all it was a retarded decision to demand democratic elections in a failed state as Palestine (and before you begin with the politically correct blablabla just look at the result). Although the choice of the Palestinian people doesn't differ much from the Israeli choice for Sharon (or the American choice for Bush) it is the wrong choice.

More important however is that it is the expected (even logical) choice. The interesting question therefore is not 'how will it go from here?', but why the hell did certain forces wanted this to happen (after all answering that question will give you an almost perfect view on how it will go from here).

Not that it has any chance of happening, but it is now the Western (European and American) duty to keep (or better go) talking without any restraints. The only chance (as Andrix implied) is to take Hamas into 'the bath', corrupting them with power so that they will give in a bit.

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post #4 of 39 (permalink) Old January 27th, 2006, 00:43
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I quote Salah Abdel Jawad, a political scientist from Palaestine, a deciding factor will be the "intelligence of the west" and "hamas are not the taliban"...

You don't solve a conflict (especially not such a long ongoing one) by saying "those people are murderers, we won't even talk to them", that's the total opposite direction. I am sure a lot of people responsible, on both sides, don't have clean records.
But the only thing that will ever solve this mess are dialogues. If it means dialogues with the Hamas, so be it.

Of course Israel and the western world can be shocked all they/we want and label them as savage beasts, but then we would label hundred thousands of voters as well.

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post #5 of 39 (permalink) Old January 27th, 2006, 03:56 Thread Starter
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At least now both sides will be forced to play together... and to play together nicely at that. After all, if one side fails to cooperate, the other will be more than happy to say to the world, "I told you so!" whether that is if Hamas continues to insist on its terror campaign or Israel and the US stick their fingers in their ears and repeat "We don't deal with evildoers!"
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post #6 of 39 (permalink) Old January 27th, 2006, 04:52
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The Palestinian people have spoken. I'd like to see how Bush et al handle this one...

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post #7 of 39 (permalink) Old January 27th, 2006, 06:08
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well Hamas winning the election was kind of expected, i'd be more interested in who wins the Israeli election before commenting on the future of the Middle East

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post #8 of 39 (permalink) Old January 27th, 2006, 08:43
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Well this is certainly an interesting situation. We may have a dead end scenario ahead of us. Since the Isreali goverment wants to deny the existance of Hamas and Hamas want's to deny the existance of the Israeli goverment.

As Andrix said Hamas will probably split, but no doubt will be very radical and wont back down to any Israeli demands...
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post #9 of 39 (permalink) Old January 27th, 2006, 09:27
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Originally Posted by Andrix
I think Hamas will split. Into the Hamas-Party and the Hamas-Militants. Sort of like Sinn Fein and the IRA. Then the party will "play by the rules" and denounce violence etc. while the militants will keep planting bombs. They'll still be the same movement of course, "unoffically"
I was thinking the same.

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post #10 of 39 (permalink) Old January 27th, 2006, 09:51
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Hamas has won becasue it has two wings to it, the military wing which in the eyes of the people stands up to the Israeli occupation and just as important it has a social / wlefare wing . This element is important as it provides medical, educational and social services to the people. These are functions that Fatah as the government shoudl have provided but it was too busy lining its own pockets to care about the people.

The irony is that in its infancy and prior to its military wing taking prominence, Israel encouraged and supported Hamas. It saw Hamas as a counterweight to Fatah.

Hamas is now dfaced with a tricky situation. It will form the government and as such will be responsible to enure that Israel is not attacked. It cannot turn a blind eye to attacks on Israel as any retaliation by Israel will be targetted at Hamas.

The statements of Blair, Bush and Israel have another sense of irony. They do not wish to talk to terrorists. This has not stop Britain in the past and its a bit rich coming from Israel, most of whom's PMs have been ex terrorists.
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post #11 of 39 (permalink) Old January 28th, 2006, 15:14
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It may well turn into a situation like Lebanon where Hezbollah have had make changes from a resistance group to a political party. Hamas have already made some noises about dialogue taking the front seat in their policies. It wouldn't surprise me if the founding charter was changed to suit the fact that they won.

From an Israeli point of view, I think it becomes a slight wake up call. They could have helped the ruling Fateh more than they did and made them more effective internationally in the eyes of the Palestinians.

But I think the biggest mistake is to see this in an international/foreign policy light - the reason Hamas won over Fatah was the corruption and incompetence of Fatah, who spent too much money buying favours and bribes whilst ignoring the plight of the Palestinian people on a whole. Hamas has emerged as the party of the people because it's charity/welfare programmes are implemented and make a difference to the poorest stratas of Palestinian society. Hamas was elected because the areas where it dominated the council ran in smoother way doing "normal" council things like having rubbish collected. Whilst Fateh has been consumed by a internal fight between the "Tunisian" old guard and the new blood, Hamas have consolidated their position as the party who most understands the dynamics of the street. They emerged in the first intifada as an internal party when the eminent Palestinian politicians were exiled in Tunis and they have grown from strength to strength among the Palestinian people.

I think the whole world was stunned by this election result including Hamas who thought they would gain enough votes to be brought into a coalition as the smaller party. The Palestinians have voiced their frustrations with the status quo that has impeded them for the last decade. The world has to take heed and stop promising the Palestinians the moon and actually deliver something concrete.

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post #12 of 39 (permalink) Old January 28th, 2006, 15:43
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Originally Posted by Natalya
Hamas have already made some noises about dialogue taking the front seat in their policies. It wouldn't surprise me if the founding charter was changed to suit the fact that they won.
It wouldn't surprise me either but I haven't seen any reporting of Hamas making noises about dialogue. The reporting in the west has been quite the contrary, so much its scarry.

Originally Posted by Natalya
From an Israeli point of view, I think it becomes a slight wake up call. They could have helped the ruling Fateh more than they did and made them more effective internationally in the eyes of the Palestinians.
Agreed. I think they never expected Hamas to win and just didn't see a need to change their position.

Originally Posted by Natalya
the reason Hamas won over Fatah was the corruption and incompetence of Fatah, who spent too much money buying favours and bribes whilst ignoring the plight of the Palestinian people on a whole.
100% agreed. I also think that they never expected Hamas to win and never saw the need to change their bad goverment.

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post #13 of 39 (permalink) Old January 28th, 2006, 15:46
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I fail to understand why the world was so shocked by the result. I wasn't. I mean don't these people read a newspaper now and again?
However, it is always funny to see people once again fooled by exit polling. You think they'd catch on that most people lie to the questioners for one reason or another.

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post #14 of 39 (permalink) Old January 28th, 2006, 16:35
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Originally Posted by barça
It wouldn't surprise me either but I haven't seen any reporting of Hamas making noises about dialogue. The reporting in the west has been quite the contrary, so much its scarry.
For good, insightful articles on the Middle East go here

I had this sent to me via their e-mail list which is a good summary of the failures of Fatah at the beginning of this month

Broken Ranks in the Palestinian National Movement

Robert Blecher

January 1, 2006

(Robert Blecher is director of scenario planning at Strategic Assessments Initiative and an editor of Middle East Report.)

The long-awaited shakeup has finally come to Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority and the largest component of the Palestine Liberation Organization, though not in the way that champions of internal reform had hoped. Having failed to push their agenda from within, Fatah rebels formed a separate list for the Palestinian Legislative Council elections scheduled for January 25, 2006, calling on the public to arbitrate their disputes with party elders. With defeat looming for senior officials of the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas moved to reunite with the rebels, but backroom politicking has not been able to quiet the tumult within the party.

Fatah today is a fractured amalgam of coalitions and personal networks without a clear head or a transparent decision-making process. The Fatah General Congress -- the supreme body within the movement empowered to select the two governing party organs, the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council -- has not met since 1989. As a result, the most powerful elements of the formal party apparatus have remained the preserve of those who, prior to the formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994, directed the PLO from exile in Tunis. During the long tenure of Yasser Arafat as head of Fatah and the PA, the party’s various committees and councils, with no real authority, were reduced to instruments of personal gain. Arafat again and again put off convening the Congress in the name of national unity, despite vociferous demands from the Fatah Higher Movement Committee, led by the veterans of the 1987-1993 intifada.

More than a year after Arafat’s death, Fatah has yet to take action to rebuild the structures that sustained the Palestinian national movement over long years in exile. This institutional weakness has been cast, misleadingly, as generational competition between the party’s elders and the “young guard” who, having spent all of their lives in the West Bank and Gaza, earned their political capital through on-the-ground activism. Interpreting the conflict as one between rival leaderships -- with the former exiles pitted against the imprisoned Marwan Barghouti and PA Minister of Civil Affairs Muhammad Dahlan -- misses the point. In fact, this ballyhooed rivalry is merely a byproduct of Arafat’s personalized style of rule and the consequent institutional anemia of the party. The struggle to remake the movement’s internal architecture should not be confused with or by the personal struggles among the leadership.

As Mouin Rabbani, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group, points out, “The battle within Fatah is waged by multiple antagonists, not two, meaning that rather than the possibility of a neat split, the fragmented party is facing the prospect of disintegration.” This state of affairs has turned the negotiations over the Fatah electoral list into an exercise in revolving-door diplomacy: even as Abbas succeeded in returning the most prominent of the Fatah rebels to the fold, other party affiliates bowed out. The catholic umbrella that is Fatah is growing increasingly unable to accommodate all who have previously sought its shelter, thereby eroding the party’s status as the flagship of the Palestinian national movement. More broadly, given Fatah’s preeminence on the Palestinian political scene, the disarray in Fatah’s ranks has had profoundly destabilizing consequences for the PA and the Palestinian national movement as a whole.


Since assuming power, Abbas has followed in Arafat’s footsteps, delaying changes in party and PA governance in the name of national unity. Indeed, his confirmation as acting president and PLO head in November 2004 generated widespread complaints about process, which were tabled in the interest of a quiet transition. Barghouti’s on-again, off-again presidential bid in the runup to the January 2005 election won by Abbas was more of the same, as the robust competition and mass mobilization necessary to energize the party’s base was headed off by the dual obstacles of Israeli occupation and the unity imperative. Procedural reform was ritualistically invoked, but endlessly deferred. Unlike Arafat, however, Abbas has also used elections to diminish the clout of the party structures that benefited from Arafat’s patronage and, in turn, acquiesced in his autocratic methods. The president’s bet is that he will still emerge on top.

Meanwhile, Abbas’ party has lost significant ground to its main political rival. Highlighting Fatah’s weakness, Hamas racked up impressive gains in four rounds of municipal elections. This trend reached its apogee in December 2005, when Hamas captured a whopping 73 percent of the vote in the traditional Fatah bastion of Nablus. The success of Hamas’ well-oiled political machine confirmed suspicions -- and, in some quarters, substantiated fears -- that the Islamists will take a sizable number of seats in the upcoming Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections.

Hamas’ approach to electoral contests starts well before election day, with careful construction of candidate lists. The party has attracted some of Palestine’s best talent by offering financial and institutional backing to reputable persons and -- taking a page out of Fatah’s book -- by forming coalitions with independents of sterling quality without imposing ideological litmus tests. Fatah, by contrast, has offered voters only “the same old, same old,” in the words of one wistful Fatah-affiliated observer.

Once in power, the Hamas affiliates have delivered on many of their promises from city hall. The day after the December election in the Gazan town of Dayr al-Balah, the newly elected Hamas mayor turned out his supporters to clean up the long-neglected streets, leading to another wistful appreciation: “You don’t need money to do right by the people.” International consultants, for their part, report smooth working relations with the Hamas-run localities.

Fatah’s partisans have been banking on the assumption that the Islamists’ reputation for effective local management will not necessarily translate into victory at the national level. Polling results tend to confirm that many of the same Palestinians who cast their votes against corruption and for efficiency in the municipal elections will look for other qualities, including diplomatic savoir faire, in the legislature. Moreover, the future of international donor assistance, widely recognized as the barrier between solvency and bankruptcy for the PA, was already at issue in the municipal campaigns. In Gaza, loudspeakers blared the message that only Fatah could ensure the continued flow of international aid.

Some observers blamed the poor Fatah showing in the municipal elections not on Hamas’ better reputation, but on Fatah’s faulty tactics. By fielding a surfeit of candidates, these critics say, Fatah divided its base and opened the door to the Islamists. But in the runup to the PLC elections, Fatah has not demonstrated that it has learned from its mistakes.


Former Finance Minister Salam Fayyad was the first of the PA mainstays to strike out on his own. His efforts to impose donor-demanded “fiscal discipline” on the PA were undermined when Abbas, responding to international pressure, attempted to buy quiet in the Occupied Territories by incorporating Fatah’s young militants into the security services and hence adding them on to the PA payroll. The demand for additional salaries, ironically, provoked donor complaints that grated on Fayyad, a former World Bank official who had long been the darling of Western donors for his attempts to rein in spending. With his room for maneuver constrained and his legacy as a reformer imperiled, Fayyad was loath to damage his reputation further by placing his name next to the unpopular “Tunisians” on a slate of candidates for office. Instead, he formed a new list, at first dubbed Freedom and later called simply the Third Way. The mere fact of a party by this name indicates another stage in a profound transformation in Palestinian politics. In sharp contrast with earlier periods, almost half the Palestinian electorate today describes itself as unaffiliated, freeing independents to strike out on their own rather than seek the patronage of a large party. Hanan Ashrawi, among others, has signed on to Fayyad’s list.

Should Fatah win a legislative majority or form a coalition with other secular lists, Fayyad is the odds-on favorite for prime minister. Fayyad’s credentials would win back some of the diplomatic capital squandered by the PA’s lackluster performance in 2005, though on the Palestinian domestic scene, his tightfistedness has cost him some credibility. Some less affluent Palestinians question his priorities, accusing him of squeezing the poor as he worked to reform the PA bureaucracy. “People say Salam Fayyad is the IMF’s man,” offers one dissenter. “When a high official needs to get paid, it happens fast and efficiently, but families of prisoners and the poor have to wait for months for a piddling amount of money. Is this reform? Holding onto the money of the poor? The elites like him, because he shows the seriousness of the reform effort, but for ordinary people, the situation is worse now.”

More important than Fayyad’s list was the formation of a breakaway Fatah list calling itself the Future. The Fatah rebels, unable to force the General Congress to convene in advance of the legislative elections, settled for party primaries that were to have been held in early December. But the primaries were aborted due to the concerted efforts of Central Committee members fearful of losing their sinecures and Fatah dissidents who felt the vote would be rigged against them. The attempt at an ad hoc solution thus backfired, stoking the anger of the dissidents whose demands were once again frustrated.

Without official results to rely on, the Fatah electoral slate was formed in backroom deals, in an atmosphere of distrust that was even more intense than usual. Abbas tried to negotiate a unified Fatah list with West Bank party chief Marwan Barghouti, who was jailed by Israel for his intifada activity in 2002. Negotiations broke down when Abbas acquiesced in the Central Committee’s demand to retain widely reviled names on the national list. But when Abbas submitted the official Fatah list, Barghouti’s name appeared at the top, a move that also backfired since Barghouti felt it aimed to capitalize on his good name and to appeal to his ego even as it marginalized his political agenda. In anticipation of failure, Barghouti had meanwhile struck a separate bargain with the other leading “insiders” who came of age during the first intifada. When the deadline for declaring candidacy passed, the Palestinian Electoral Commission found itself in possession of two separate lists, each headed by Marwan Barghouti.


A decisive split within the Fatah ranks could have proven catastrophic for the party. To understand why, it is necessary to know something about the changes to the Palestinian election law passed in the wake of Arafat’s death in November 2004. Previously, representatives to the PLC were chosen in winner-take-all elections in the West Bank and Gaza’s 16 districts. This practice encouraged the formation of patronage networks based partly on the extended family. Abbas, recognizing the need to bring greater legitimacy to the PLC and thereby the PA, tried to push through a system of proportional representation, in which the entirety of the West Bank and Gaza would comprise a single electoral district. Voters would vote for a party list and legislative seats would be meted out in proportion to vote totals. This system, it was thought, would encourage an issue-oriented national politics, diminishing the importance of parochial interests. But the current crop of incumbents, whose seats depend mainly on their local standing, filibustered to prevent passage of the proportional system. Abbas could not break the filibuster, and the PLC elections, originally scheduled for July, were postponed. In the end, the president was compelled to agree to the compromise scheme that Hamas and the other factions had already signed on to in Cairo in March: half the seats would be apportioned through a national proportional representation system, while the other half would be allocated according to the old rules.

The problem for Fatah, in light of the new electoral scheme, would have been twofold. In the national portion of the elections, the fracturing of the party apparatus would have complicated efforts to get out the vote. It also would have cemented the popular impression that Fatah is mired in endemic feuding, which Nablus voters cited as one reason for spurning the party at the polls. In the district elections, multiple divisions among the secular forces would have been even more crushing. The district rolls initially included independent Fatah candidates; if Fatah had split its base, the party would have been trounced in the winner-take-all voting by the highly disciplined and united Hamas. Hamas faces no competition from its Islamist rival, as Islamic Jihad is boycotting the election.

As the full ramifications of the looming split became clear, senior PA officials saw the writing on the wall and unsuccessfully endeavored to convince the rebels to withdraw from the race for the sake of the party as a whole.

When negotiations over the national list fell apart, senior PA officials contacted Washington to sound out the White House’s reaction to postponing the PLC elections, but the Bush administration, disappointed by the PA’s track record over the past year, was not inclined to go out on a limb to save its crumbling rule. Moreover, everyone is concerned that with both the Fatah rebels and Hamas primed for legislative gains, any initiative by the PA leadership to delay the elections could precipitate an unprecedented wave of civil unrest. In the words of a former PA advisor, “They’re worried that all of Palestine will burn.” The Israeli army, for its part, is girding for an increase in militant attacks, not only because the temporary truce concluded in Cairo in March expired at the end of December, but also because when Palestinian factions feud, Israel is often dragged into the fray. With Israel continuing its operations against not only Islamic Jihad but also Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, an armed offshoot of Fatah, the stage has been set for a return to the free-for-all violence of the intifada -- this time complicated by a more intense intra-Palestinian struggle.

Opposed to Hamas participation in the elections, the Israeli government has announced that it will not allow East Jerusalem residents to vote on the grounds that the entirety of Jerusalem is sovereign Israeli territory. Israel has taken this stance despite having countenanced Palestinian voting in East Jerusalem on previous occasions, including the 1996 legislative elections and the January 2005 presidential election. As a means of combating Hamas, the Israeli decision will be counterproductive: Hamas has limited support in Jerusalem, but the arbitrary measure exposing the PA’s weakness vis-à-vis Israel will likely increase the proportion of the national vote that goes to the Islamist party. The move, rather, seems motivated by domestic considerations: as Israel heads into its own election campaign, the government wants to look tough on Hamas. The embattled PA leadership immediately seized upon Israeli obstinacy as a potential pretext for postponing the vote; both Hamas and the Fatah rebels, by contrast, insisted that the vote go forward. Given the prevailing atmosphere of chaos, Marwan Barghouti even recommended that the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades be pressed into service to protect election commission bureaus and polling stations.

With few other options for staving off an overwhelming defeat at the polls, Fatah set about reuniting its ranks. The Central Election Commission refused, on procedural grounds, to accept a revised Fatah list after its deadline had passed, but the Palestinian High Court agreed to briefly reopen the electoral rolls to compensate for hours lost when gunmen forced the suspension of registration during the primaries. For a time, it appeared that Abbas might succeed in suturing the party together. Future was returned to the fold, and senior party and PA figures such as former Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei were convinced not to run against the unified Fatah list, as was important West Bank politician Husam Khader, who had also considered striking out on his own. Yet tensions remain. When the news leaked out that party stalwarts such as Intisar al-Wazir and Nabil Shaath retained prominent slots on the unified Fatah list, violence again flared. Another breach opened with the announcement by Fatah’s Jerusalem candidates that they plan to withdraw their names in protest at their low ranking on the list.


Meanwhile, the question of how the US and Europe would respond should Hamas capture a majority of seats has come to the fore. This question circulated in diplomatic circles throughout 2005 without any resolution. So long as the dilemma was confined to the municipal level, the PA’s donors and diplomatic backers could equivocate, but with substantial national gains for Hamas potentially on the horizon, they will have to take a position. For the European Union, the quandary posed by the municipal elections was somewhat less severe, since member governments have the option of funneling money directly to the PA. This adjustment, in fact, meshes neatly with the plan to give the Palestinian Ministry of Planning a more prominent role in aid coordination. The US government, however, cannot send aid directly to the PA without a presidential waiver.

As the January 25 elections approach, donor governments seem to be hardening their stances. Congress was first out of the blocks, calling in a non-binding resolution for Hamas to be excluded from the elections and threatening to cut off Washington’s subventions to the PA should Hamas participate in the government. Given existing constraints on US aid, however, the vote was largely symbolic. Of potentially greater import was the announcement by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana: “It would be very difficult for the help and the money that goes to the Palestinian Authority to continue to flow [if Hamas won a majority]. The taxpayers in the European Union, members of the parliament of the European Union, will not be in a position to sustain that type of political activity.” The PA relies on the EU for approximately one third of its annual budget. Given that even this subsidy does not save the PA from its perpetual financial crisis, an abrupt halt to EU funding could sound the death knell for the Authority. In a December 28 press release, the main Western backers of the PA, the so-called Quartet of the US, the UN, the EU and Russia, tried to fine-tune the rhetoric, calling upon the PA cabinet to exclude any “member who has not committed to the principles of Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism.”

The EU threat may prove to be bluster, an attempt to influence the votes of Palestinians who appreciate the importance of donor assistance. If the EU does follow through on its threat, member governments may find a workaround, as a European Commission official in Jerusalem has informally suggested. Instead of going directly to the PA, EU monies would be channeled to the World Bank, which would in effect become a stand-in paymaster for PA accounts of all kinds. The Bank already disburses the salaries of PA employees so as to reduce corruption.

In the words of the European Commission official: “The Bank knows as much as the minister of finance does about managing the public finances of PA. There are a number of trust funds, and with the four or five that exist, it could run the emergency services. As I see it, the Bank is already preparing for this, though if you ask anyone who works at the Bank, they’ll tell you that they are here to support the PA. But you have to admit that the structure is in place. The Bank plays a much bigger role than I have seen it play anywhere else.”

Should the Bank take over, Palestine would be well on its way to becoming a full international trusteeship. The UN Relief and Works Administration already meets the basic needs of Palestinian refugees in camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; the Bank would henceforth do the same for the non-refugee population. With the “peace process” in the “formaldehyde” of unilateral Israeli initiatives, the PA would exist only as an institutional fig leaf to mask the brute reality of Israeli occupation, administered by international organizations. Hamas, for its part, is trying to head off this possibility by multiplying the signals that it may pursue a more accommodationist line -- including negotiations with Israel -- should it join the government.

Such a shrinking sphere of Palestinian self-governance would owe at least something to the pattern of deferred promises of reform of the Palestinian Authority and its ruling party. The big losers, of course, have been the Palestinian people. Donor pressure has given a certain impetus to long-standing Palestinian demands for reform, but until there is sufficient internal pressure as well, change will remain cosmetic. In this respect, Hamas has much to contribute, having been energetic in pursuing efficiency and clean governance.


By bringing Future back into the Fatah fold, Mahmoud Abbas hopes to shore up his party’s base of support and, by extension, the PA. Will he succeed? And if so, what might that mean for party reform? Marwan Barghouti is a truly popular figure -- he polls higher than any other politician in Palestine -- but not all rebels enjoy the same reputable standing in the eyes of the Palestinian public.Yet even the less popular among them have sought to reinvigorate the movement’s governing institutions. Barghouti recently apologized for Fatah’s past failures, opining, according to the Palestinian daily al-Quds: “The coming elections constitute a new democratic intifada that will lead to the rejuvenation of the Palestinian political system. They will produce a new framework and new institution that will represent all the most vibrant centers of power among our people.” Intra-party wrangling offers an opportunity for change, despite the reservations that some have about the process and the names behind it.

The prospect that the January 25 balloting will be delayed seems to have faded, despite Israel’s vow, which stands as of this writing, to block voting in East Jerusalem. The Quartet’s December 28 press release expressed its disapproval of Israel’s stance, saying: “Both parties should work to put in place a mechanism to allow Palestinians resident in Jerusalem to exercise their legitimate democratic rights, in conformity with existing precedent.” Israel may not want to lock horns with Washington on the issue. Al-Quds has reported that the Israeli government has indicated some willingness to compromise.

In any event, Abbas seems determined to hold the elections on schedule, partly because the PA’s global reputation can ill afford the blow of cancellation, but also because the erstwhile Fatah rebels insist upon it and because he is not averse to seeing the entrenched leadership of the PA eased out. The dilemma faced by the Palestinian president is that those whose gains he hopes to exploit may end up weakening his own position if they perform too well. Palestine could very well emerge from the January elections with internal checks and balances on the power of the PA executive, but because they will have come about through ad hoc politicking rather than serious institutional reform, they may produce a paralyzed Palestinian Authority rather than a more democratic one. Indeed, the multiple fractures within Fatah and the challenge posed by Hamas may necessitate the reimagination and fundamental reorganization of the Palestinian national movement writ large.

CORRECTION: The e-mail version of this article incorrectly stated that Salam Fayyad would be the favorite for prime minister if Fatah lost its legislative majority and had to form a coalition. It should have said that Fayyad might be prime minister if Fatah wins or chooses to form a coalition. We regret the error.

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post #15 of 39 (permalink) Old January 28th, 2006, 16:41
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And also an article that came out in August regarding the choices/changes facing/in Hamas

The New Hamas: Between Resistance and Participation
Graham Usher
August 21, 2005

(Graham Usher, a contributing editor of Middle East Report, covers Palestine for Middle East International and al-Ahram Weekly.)

In March 2005, Hamas, the largest Islamist party in Palestine, joined its main secular rival Fatah and 11 other Palestinian organizations in endorsing a document that seemed to embody the greatest harmony achieved within the Palestinian national movement in almost two decades. By the terms of the Cairo Declaration, Hamas agreed to "maintain an atmosphere of calm" -- halt attacks on Israel -- for the rest of the year, participate in Palestinian parliamentary elections scheduled for July and commence discussions about joining the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In the eyes of many, the Islamist party had not come so close to reconciliation with Fatah since it emerged as a political force in the late 1980s, and certainly not since Fatah became the dominant party within the Palestinian Authority (PA) created in 1994. "This is a turning point for the region," said top PA negotiator Nabil Abu Rideina of the Cairo Declaration.

In July, Hamas and PA police forces squared off in armed clashes in Gaza that left two dead and scores wounded in the worst intra-Palestinian violence since the second intifada erupted in the fall of 2000, and arguably since November 1994, when the PA police shot dead 14 Palestinians during a Hamas demonstration outside Gaza's Palestine mosque.

What brought about the fall from concord in Cairo to confrontation in Gaza? Was it, as PA Civil Affairs Minister Muhammad Dahlan alleged, an attempted coup by Hamas ahead of Israel's ongoing withdrawal of settlers from Gaza? Or did it happen, as Hamas Gaza spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri claimed, because "some officials" in the PA, "serving foreign agendas," were "seizing the moment to attack Hamas"? Or were the clashes -- as so often in Gaza -- the combustion of miscalculated maneuvers on both sides?

The answers lie in the strategic turn undertaken by Hamas in the last year. Once the fiercest opponent of the 1993-1994 Oslo agreements -- or of any final peace deal that would recognize Israel -- Hamas now publicly accepts that it, too, would negotiate with the Jewish state. Once dismissive of PA elections as the illegitimate child of Oslo, Hamas now plans to participate in legislative contests slated for the coming winter. Paradoxically, these convergences in strategic outlook between Hamas and the PA are the reason why the July battles in Gaza could be harbingers of struggles to come.


The militants of Hamas were latecomers to the intifada that broke out on September 29, 2000. For four months, the temper, tactics and imagery of the revolt were dictated largely by Fatah, especially by its vanguard tanzim "organization" led by the now imprisoned Marwan Barghouthi. Hamas only fully entered the fray with the February 2001 election of Ariel Sharon as Israel's prime minister and in response to his vow to bring security to his people "within 100 days." Though its military wing had mounted a few attacks inside Israel before Sharon took office, it was afterward that Hamas, with a nod from the tanzim, took the qualitative turn to suicide bombings in Israel as the uprising's signature and most lethal weapon.

For PA officials, Hamas' aim was clear: "to replace the PA and PLO as the dominant force in Palestinian nationalism." This ambition was evinced by Hamas' participation in the National and Islamic Forces (an umbrella grouping made up of all the Palestinian factions, PLO and otherwise) while spurning all offers to join the PA. It also showed in the Islamist party's "horizontal" and increasingly autonomous relations with semi-official Fatah militias like the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank.

But no official aim was declared. If there was an organizational goal for Hamas, it was implied to be to forge a "new national movement" out of the debris of the old. If there was a strategy, it seemed to be the "resistance only" path charted by Hizballah in south Lebanon. If there was a political objective, it appeared to be to effect a compelled, non-negotiated Israeli retreat from part or all of the Occupied Territories, again with south Lebanon as the model. "The intifada is about forcing Israel's withdrawal from the 1967 territories," said Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, then the Hamas political leader in Gaza, in October 2002. "But that doesn't mean the Arab-Israeli conflict will be over."

What is beyond question is that these opaque policies were successful in winning Palestinians' support for the Islamist party. According to surveys by Khalil Shikaki's Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, one of the most reliable polling organizations in the Occupied Territories, Hamas increased its popularity by 60 percent in the first three years of the intifada, emerging as a power equal to Fatah in parts of the West Bank and outstripping it in Gaza.

Hamas owed the rise not only to the armed resistance its fighters put up against Israel, the collapse of PA police forces and divisions in Fatah sown by Israel's West Bank and Gaza invasions, and the visceral appeal of its "reprisal" suicide attacks inside Israel. As important was the extensive array of charitable and welfare services that stood in stark contrast to the inefficiency and collapse of the PA ministries. The result, by late 2002, was less a party in opposition to the PA and Fatah than an independent national force bent on establishing "a political, social and military alternative to the existing Palestinian order," in the words of former PA Culture Minister Ziad Abu Amr.

The issue was what to do with such power. Would Hamas seek the creation of a "new PLO" or a rapprochement with the existing one? Party leaders chose accommodation. There were three reasons compelling them to do so.


The first reason was the new regional order born of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that came in their wake. As one European diplomat with extensive contact with the Palestinian Islamists acknowledged: "Hamas, like Syria, feels the cold wind coming from Baghdad and the new licenses granted to the 'war on terror.'" Hamas was especially concerned that its national-religious struggle against Israel not be tarred with the same brush as the global jihadist agenda espoused by al-Qaeda and its spinoffs. In June 2003, two months after the invasion of Iraq, Hamas agreed to a unilateral Palestinian ceasefire with the short-lived government of then Palestinian Prime Minister (now President) Mahmoud Abbas. Unlike the five previous ceasefires, this one had the seal not only of the Hamas leadership in Gaza and prisoners in Israeli jails but also of the leadership in the diaspora.

Nor did any part of the leadership abandon the truce, despite an Israeli arrest campaign that netted some 300 Hamas men in the West Bank. The ceasefire was blown away by a bus bombing in West Jerusalem executed on August 19, 2003 by a rogue Hamas cell from Hebron (an operation the Hamas leadership was forced to disown and denounce). The leadership formally disavowed the truce two days later after Israel's assassination in Gaza of political leader Ismail Abu Shanab, Hamas' main architect of the ceasefire.

The second reason was the unprecedented assault Israel unleashed on the movement following the truce. In seven months, Israel killed Hamas' main military commander in Gaza, Ibrahim Maqadmeh, Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Rantisi, his successor in Gaza. Israel also tried to assassinate Muhammad Dayf, head of Hamas' military arm, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and Mahmoud Zahhar, now Hamas' most senior political leader in the Strip. The Israelis sent clear signals to Hamas officials in Damascus like Khalid Mishaal and Musa Abu Marzuq that they too were fair game. In the final stage, sound intelligence, helicopter gunships and death squads proved thorough at wiping out what remained of Hamas' West Bank military cadre.

The assault was steeled by political and financial sanction. In August 2003, after the Jerusalem bus bombing, the PA froze the bank accounts of Islamic charities in Gaza, as did Britain and the US in their domains. Israeli authorities moved against the "northern stream" of Hamas' sister Islamic movement in Israel, sequestering funds and jailing the charismatic leader Raed Salah. There was also regional ostracism. According to one Egyptian intelligence official, by 2005 Hamas' funding from Arab and Islamic states, with the exception of Iran, had all but dried up. In September 2003, the European Union put the whole of Hamas (rather than just its military wing) on its "terrorism" blacklist, a huge political setback for a movement that has striven to be recognized internationally as an authentic Palestinian party, and a further crimp on its fundraising abilities.

The third reason was Ariel Sharon's decision in February 2004 that, in the absence of a Palestinian "peace partner," Israel would withdraw unilaterally from settlements in Gaza and the northern tip of the West Bank. Publicly, Hamas claims the "flight" as a victory for its strategy of armed resistance. Privately, many in the movement understood that disengagement offered an exit from a "war" that had not only brought overpowering Israeli retaliation but was also wrecking Hamas' own aspiration to legitimacy and leadership. Disengagement supplied the long-awaited moment when Hamas could cash in the kudos it had earned from resistance and welfare and convert them into political and institutional capital.


Yassin presented the new platform in the weeks before his assassination on March 22, 2004. It consisted of three positions that, taken together, constituted a strategic turn in the movement's theory and practice. The first plank was the understanding that Hamas would hold its fire for the duration of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and four northern West Bank settlements, on the condition that the withdrawal is complete (including from the crossing on the Egyptian border). Hamas reaffirmed this pledge in discussions with Abbas in August 2005 on the eve of the withdrawal, and has honored it to date.

The second plank was that, until the withdrawal commenced (or at least until the decision to withdraw was seen to be genuinely irreversible), Hamas would escalate armed resistance in Gaza while curtailing suicide attacks in Israel. This essentially is what occurred in period preceding the Cairo Declaration and subsequently whenever Hamas deemed Israel to be in gross violation of the truce or the PA in breach of understandings reached in Cairo. Usually in concert with other Palestinian militia, Hamas launched high-profile attacks on army outposts and settlements in Gaza and/or rained mortars on Israeli border towns.

The purpose of these escalations was political. They reinforced the regional and Palestinian perception that Israel is leaving Gaza under duress rather than by choice. They demonstrated that Hamas remains a formidable military foe that no domestic or foreign power can quell. They also strengthened Hamas' hand in its "dialogue" with the PA.

One result of this strategy has been Abbas' tacit admission that the matter of Hamas' disarmament will not be broached until after the PA parliamentary elections, now set for January 21, 2006. Another is the acknowledgement by the PA's new and influential foreign minister, Nasser al-Kidwa, that "dismantling the armed groups is not on the table as long as the occupation exists."

The third, and most significant, part of Yassin's new platform stated that Hamas would strive to reach a power-sharing agreement with the PA in any post-withdrawal Palestinian government. In Cairo, this idea boiled down to three prescriptions: a "formula for decision making" pending the parliamentary elections, both in relation to maintaining calm during the withdrawal and in the administration of areas evacuated by Israel in the aftermath; the establishment of a national cross-factional committee mandated to reactivate and redefine PLO institutions to enable Hamas' "proportional" participation within them; and a commitment by Hamas to participate in all PA elections and on the basis of its representation there to become an integral part of the Palestinian political system, including the PLO's National Council and executive committee.


Hamas' new line has already borne fruit, both sweet and bitter. In Palestinian local government elections in Gaza and the West Bank in December 2004, January and May, Hamas lists won an estimated 60 percent of all seats and clear majorities in 30 percent of all councils. The greatest prize was the West Bank town of Qalqilya, where Hamas' "Change and Reform" slate took all 15 positions, a victory seen as a protest not only against Fatah's history of mismanagement but also against Fatah's powerlessness to prevent the encirclement of the town on all sides by Israel's wall. Predictably, these successes have posed a "dilemma" for US and European diplomats, who champion "Arab democracy" on the one hand but are compelled to ostracize the main Palestinian beneficiary of democracy on the other.

The local elections were the first quasi-national ballot in the Occupied Territories since the PA parliamentary elections in January 1996, which were boycotted by Hamas in protest of the Oslo accords. The results confirmed two realities long in the making: Hamas is ready to vie for political power within the PA, and Hamas can now compete with Fatah throughout the Occupied Territories, including West Bank towns like Qalqilya that had been Fatah strongholds.

But Hamas' 2005 electoral triumphs proved an accomplishment too far for Fatah and other regional powers, including the US. Advised by Egypt -- and aided by Abbas' vacillation -- the Fatah-controlled parliament tarried so long over changes to the PA Basic and Election Laws that the date set in Cairo for holding a new parliamentary poll, July 17, lapsed.

An Egyptian intelligence official summed up the argument for delay with unusual frankness. "We advocate postponing the elections until December 2005 (sic)," he said in May. "This will allow the PA to benefit from the achievement of the disengagement, manage an orderly disposal of the [settlement] assets in Gaza and put an end to the existing chaos. The public will then support the Authority against Hamas."

Fatah's reformist deputies agreed, but they also had another motive. They wanted the parliamentary elections delayed not only until after the disengagement but also after the Fatah General Conference that was originally scheduled for August. At the conference, it was believed, a new leadership would be elected. The "old guard" leadership, most of whom lived in exile before the creation of the PA, "would be thanked for its contribution to the cause and told goodbye," predicted Fatah deputy Qaddura Faris. The old guard responded by postponing the party congress until after the "new" parliamentary elections.

Hamas bore these maneuvers with gritted teeth. Others elicited outright protest. In June, PA local courts annulled the results of three Gaza local elections -- in Rafah, Beit Lahia and Bureij -- where Hamas lists had won or thought they had won majorities. Nor was there any real effort made by the PA leadership to set up national committees for reactivating the PLO or overseeing the withdrawal. The only "power sharing" was a pro forma offer in which Hamas was invited to join a "national unity" government -- "and be blamed like Fatah for the corruption," as Abu Zuhri spat in response. Zahhar accused the PA of reneging on every commitment undertaken in Cairo and warned publicly that Hamas had "lost faith" in Abbas.

Crisis became confrontation following a suicide attack claimed by Islamic Jihad in the Israeli town of Netanya on July 12, killing five, and retaliatory Israeli assassinations that killed eight Palestinians, seven of them Hamas men. PA police forces -- including armored personnel carriers -- moved against Hamas guerrillas firing mortars in Gaza, but conspicuously not against the Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades or Popular Resistance Committee militiamen who were doing the same. Hamas forces on the ground saw the PA deployment as a preemptive move to disarm them. They reacted massively, storming PA police stations, barricading refugee camps and mounting military patrols in northern Gaza. Fitna, or civil strife, briefly flared.

Hamas' intention was to give a demonstration that its power was at least as great as that of the PA, not to pull off a putsch. But the Islamist party miscalculated in even this limited objective. Hamas' muscle flexing rallied Palestinians squarely behind Abbas' leadership, particularly his denunciation of "useless" mortar attacks and "factions who attempt to impose their agendas on the PA."

For the first time in a long time, it was Abbas and Fatah -- and not the Islamists -- who had tapped into the popular will. A week after the clashes flared, Fatah and Hamas were reconciled on the basis of understandings no different, no better and no less ambiguous than those agreed upon in Cairo.


Will these understandings hold? Most Palestinian analysts believe Hamas will be true to its word on maintaining calm for "the rest of 2005." Three events could rupture the calm, however, either during the withdrawal or in the aftermath. One is a rigorous return by Israel to its assassination policy. "Hamas will not start a confrontation," comments Abu Zuhri. "But, in the face of massive Israeli aggression, neither will we wait for a 'collective' PA response any more than would Fatah."

Another would be a "provocative" Jewish attack on Palestinians to stymie the disengagement, especially on or near Jerusalem's Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound. The third possible source of disruption would be a PA decision to renege again on the electoral process drawn up in Cairo and now reestablished in Gaza. One of the motives behind Hamas' martial displays in Gaza is to convey that such a move would be unacceptable.

But what does Hamas want from the electoral process? It does not seek leadership, at least not yet. It seeks hegemony. Hamas quietly accepts that the current balance of power in Palestinian society is accurately reflected in polls showing Fatah with around 40 percent of all parliamentary seats and Hamas with around 30 percent, with the balance being held by independents and other factions. Translated into the outcome of elections, these numbers would not make Hamas the dominant force in Palestinian politics. They could, however, make it the hegemonic force in a majority bloc or a "blocking majority" against Fatah.

But to what end? Sheikh Ahmad Hajj Ali is a member of Hamas' Shura Council, the supreme decision-making body in the organization. He sketches a future in which a new Hamas, domestic in thrust, consensual in aim, international in reach, emerges gradually from the old one: "Our aim is governance and one can only govern through the institutions of government. If we are the minority in Parliament, we will monitor the ministers on the basis of their performance, not on the basis of their political affiliation. If we are a majority, we will not monopolize power like Fatah. We will share power in a national coalition, a government that represents all the Palestinian people."

The sheikh continues: "But in all cases our priority now is to address the internal Palestinian situation rather than the confrontation with Israel. We would negotiate with Israel since that is the power that usurped our rights. If negotiations fail, we will call on the world to intervene. If this fails, we will go back to resistance. But if Israel were to agree with our internationally recognized rights -- including the refugees' right of return -- the Shura Council would seriously consider recognizing Israel in the interests of world peace."

That recognition would be new. It is also inevitable, at least if Hamas wants to be the dominant vehicle for Palestinian nationalism and rid itself of the stigma of rejectionism in the eyes of the world. Slowly, painstakingly, but inexorably, Hamas is moving away from its traditional notion that Palestine is an Islamic waqf "from the river to the sea" and even the idea of a long-term armistice (hudna) that would accept the "1967 territories" as a Palestinian proto-state until the forces of Islam are strong enough to recover Palestine "as a whole." Rather, Hamas is signaling that it accepts Israel as a political reality today and is intimating that it would accept a final agreement with Israel "according to the parameters of the [1991] Madrid conference and UN resolutions," says Palestinian analyst Khaled Hroub, an authority on the Islamist party.

Such an agreement with Israel, of course, is what Abbas says he seeks. Herein lies the reason why Hamas-PA relations are so tense and why the situation in Gaza is potentially explosive. The struggle between the PA and Hamas is no longer about the disengagement's significance: it is "the day of victory and the beginning of a new era that was achieved with the blood of our martyrs," say both Muhammad Dahlan and Mahmoud Zahhar. The struggle is about who will claim the political and electoral franchise from disengagement and who will win the right to lead the Palestinians in the next phase. Will it be Abbas and Dahlan and their strategies of diplomacy and governance? Or will it be Hamas and its legacy of resistance?

Sorry for the cut and pastes, but I think they are relevant and valuable for the topic.

Out beyond ideas
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post #16 of 39 (permalink) Old January 28th, 2006, 17:55 Thread Starter
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It would not surprise me if there were an urge in some quarter to use Hamas' victory as evidence to argue that all Palestinians are terrorist sympathizers that want Israel destroyed, but of course the reasons for the victory are much more complex than that. In my opinion, those reasons have much more to do with the domestic policy of Hamas and the fact that it runs many educational institutions and provides people with food, medicine, and other supplies. People will vote for the politicians they feel have their best interest at heart.

That interest includes peace and stability -- mutually beneficial for both Israel and Palestine -- so I would expect Hamas to tone down its rhetoric and military operations against Israel. A legitimate fight against Israeli oppression or not, terrorist tactics with which to fight that fight are never going to earn the international sympathy necessary to ease the burden of the Palestinians.
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post #17 of 39 (permalink) Old January 28th, 2006, 19:01
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Originally Posted by Tim
It would not surprise me if there were an urge in some quarter to use Hamas' victory as evidence to argue that all Palestinians are terrorist sympathizers that want Israel destroyed
Already under way - there was letter in the Independent from someone stating the election result highligted that all Palestinians were wolves in sheep's clothing wanting a "Palestine" (his use of quotation marks not mine) from the river to the sea.

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post #18 of 39 (permalink) Old January 29th, 2006, 17:31
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Originally Posted by RIO
I fail to understand why the world was so shocked by the result. I wasn't. I mean don't these people read a newspaper now and again?
However, it is always funny to see people once again fooled by exit polling. You think they'd catch on that most people lie to the questioners for one reason or another.
Thats an interesting point. Were many Palestinians embarassed that they voted for Hamas?

Hamas will try to keep Abbas as President to put a good face for the West on their authority in the hope of still recieving Western aid. The West will put tough "strings" on their aide and Hamas meeting those demands will fail and that will lead to Iran and Saudi's picking up the slack making Hamas even more subservant to those countries interest. Sharons party will still win and Isreal will attempt to negotiate but fail and just proceed with a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank taking more chunks of land as a reult of this from the West Bank then they would've asked for before. Hamas will go along with a cease fire only to rearm and start another bigger conflict down the line.
I think a large scale war in the near future is inevitable.
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post #19 of 39 (permalink) Old January 30th, 2006, 15:25
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Why should Hamas winning lead to a war? Why is the victory of Hamas a vicotry for terror? Does not Hamas have a big social and welfare programme? Would it have been better to re-elct a corrupt regime?

Yuo cannot give people the right to vote and then criticise their choice.
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post #20 of 39 (permalink) Old January 30th, 2006, 15:27
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I've read an interesting letter in a paper today... main message of the letter was:
What's democracy?
After a long while Palestina has got elections and chooses democratic their own people to lead the country, then it's not accepted by almost all democratic Western countries
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