DR MOHAMMAD MANZOOR ALAM analyses the outcome of Palestinian polls and proffers some timely advice to the anti-Hamas powers

The resounding victory of Palestinian freedom fighters’ group, Hamas, in parliamentary elections marks a turning point in Middle East history. As usual it has raised eyebrows from Tel Aviv to London, Rome to Washington.

Once again the West is over-reacting to a rather understandable phenomenon. Before reacting in their set, habitual ways, they should take into account the fact that Hamas has been voted by a people under occupation, a people who despite the severity of their situation, have preponderantly favoured peace.

Recent surveys show three-fourth of Palestinians favour peaceful relations with Israel. If they have reposed greater faith in Hamas, that does not mean they want to stop the peace negotiations. The results only show that they were fed up with the burgeoning incompetence and corruption of Fatah in which they had reposed their faith so far.

Maximalist positions have been the hallmark of Israel-Palestine relations from the beginning. Early Israeli leaders, from Ben Gussion to Golda Meir, publicly declared that there was no such thing as Palestine and no such people as Palestinians. Hence the question of “talking to” a non-existent people did not arise, nor was there any need for peace with a people who did not exist. On their part, the Palestinians (and other Arabs) did not feel the need to recognise the state of Israel, nor its right to exist.

Both sides knew such maximalist positions would not work. Even the all-powerful Israel had to accept that Europe and the United States just could not go on supporting their unjust treatment of Palestinians till eternity, and they had to at least look like making some gesture of peace, if not really doing something to that effect. Hamas, in fact, is no more anti-peace than Rabi Kahane’s people, the Likud and other extreme Israeli groups, which have been given a legitimate place of their own in Israeli political life. 

Excluding Hamas from mainstream politics would be as disastrous as banning the victorious FIS from Algeria’s political life and hounding a moderate Islamist Necmettin Erbakan and his Welfare Party from Turkish political life. We must recognise that Hamas has already lowered its rhetoric, and election observers like former US President Jimmy Carter have certified the polls as satisfactory.

So far we have the positive stance of President Mahmoud Abbas, who thinks that Hamas can be trusted with forming a government that respects international accords and allows progress towards ending occupation and the ultimate formation of a Palestinian state. Hopefully, Israel would not start a fresh round of provocations against Hamas and allow things to settle down. That would encourage Hamas to recognise the fact that as a party in power, or in a coalition government, it cannot run a private militia. The decision to have a national army, police and paramilitary force would come from within, which would automatically alleviate the need for a private militia.

Meanwhile, London, Washington and Brussels have to recognise that as long Israel believes in its right to Eretz Yisrael (Greater Israel that stretches from the historical Palestine to Madinah Munawwarah) there will be people on Palestinian side who will have their own delusions of grandeur. Did the West ever try to reason with Israel not to nurture the delusions of Eretz Yisrael (which amounts to derecognising the existence of Arab states within the Eretz)?

 Now is the time for Western powers to jettison their partisan, anti-Arab stance of decades and act like honest brokers, instead of acting like spokespersons of Israeli foreign ministry. Meanwhile, the Palestinians and other Arabs have to stay united and eschew maximalist positions that, in any case, are unattainable in the real world of politics. g

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