Is It really So Surprising? –
Hamas Victory In Palestine
By Brita Rose
08 January, 2006
While the world reels from the victory of Hamas in the democratic elections of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) on Wednesday, January 25 th 2006, and Palestinians from all sides come to terms with this stunning turn of events, should we really be surprised?
The world was shocked by the Hamas victory, but given the Israeli occupation, the deterioration of the political climate in Palestine and more importantly, the rising success and popularity of Hamas as an advocate for its people, this result is really not surprising.
Hamas won decisive victories in the recent local elections of the West Bank in December, 2005, winning municipal seats in at least two major Palestinian towns and made strong showings in two others. The Palestinian electoral commission said that in the biggest city, Nablus, Hamas took 73% of the vote, while the mainstream Fatah organization took 13%. Nobody expected such a landslide, but the writing was on the wall for a strong Hamas.
The strengthening of Hamas is not a new phenomenon. Owing to its strong unwavering resistance to the Israeli occupation, its formidable social welfare programs, and reputation for keeping a clean house Hamas has enjoyed increasing popularity among Palestinians over the last few decades. Whatever one thinks of its deplorable methods, it is, as it has long been, a highly successful force to be reckoned with for a number of reasons. Besides, is it not in the interests of the world to take note of any group willing to sacrifice their very lives and those of their children.
On the regional front, Hamas' strong outcome continues a trend of gains for Islamic-based parties in the Middle East . In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood recently secured a position as the only significant opposition to President Hosni Mubarak, by winning about 20 percent of seats in parliamentary elections. Radical Islam is a growing phenomenon, and though not of the same ilk as Al Qaeda – with its extreme mandate for Islamic reform that will stop at nothing – nationalist groups, such as Hamas, maintain a measured and targeted mission - to free Palestine. Where politics and secular nationalism has failed them, they believe Islam and the strong arm of force will win their cause.
On the internal front, opposition party, Fatah (leading constituency of the dwindling PLO) was already a sinking ship that cleared the way for new headship. Disillusioned with its calcified, corrupt and inept leadership, the party's 'young guard' become increasingly restless. This new group, supporters of the jailed militant leader Marwan Barghouti, wanted reform which led to the formation of a new party – 'Future'. But the future was not to be theirs. Hamas' sweeping victory benefited from Fatah's internal strife by leaving a power vacuum ripe for the taking.
On the home front, Hamas is a voice for the people where Fatah failed them. Decades of corrupt leadership and siphoned funds left a people, already shattered by life under foreign occupation and embittered by their own failed leaders, hungry for change. But more than that, Hamas have a legacy of caring for their people. The 1967 conquest by Israel began a new era for the Muslim Brotherhood and marked the semi-official birth of Hamas, which, owing to the desperate socio/economic conditions in Gaza post 1967 found fertile ground for a more militant, secretive and effective form of radicalism. Hamas was still an accommodating non-violent, social and educational entity. But by the 1980's the preparation, networking and political influence of the group was set so that by the time the 1987 Intifada erupted, Hamas officially declared itself as the combat wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine, produced a public charter and launched its Jihad.
Thus Hamas (meaning zeal) was established as a response to the continued Intifada against the occupation. The Brotherhood's members were known for their correct conduct, benevolence, and anti-corruption, whose funds went towards the religious moral purpose of helping the poor. This social conscience filtered down to Hamas. The Brotherhood, and later Hamas, founded Islamic charities and supervised religious schools, nurseries, kindergarten's, libraries and mosques. Its zakat (charity money) helps needy families and students. Its waqf (religious endowments) and mosques are vehicles for their activity which was religious, social and charitable. 1973 saw the funding of the Islamic center 'Mujamma' for development, administration, education, and morality in Gaza, and included a women's wing, clinics, blood banks, day care, medical treatment, meals and youth clubs offering indispensable social care to the needy - particularly those of refugee camps. It also offered financial aid and scholarships for Palestinians studying abroad in Saudi and the West, thereby cultivating its youth for membership.
Hamas' nationalist agenda was to control all of Palestine, implement jihad and later Sharia (Islamic law). It thus combined ideology and pragmatism; Islam and politics, while maintaining a social welfare program to address communal concerns. It infused a religious authentic Islamic message into the familiar and the traditional, but consequently it faced the tension of holding to both religious ideology and political considerations for its survival. This reality has led to modifications, and on occasion to suspended attacks and cease fires, such as the latest, in deference to diplomatic efforts (often only to be resumed again after an Israeli assassination.)
Israel has encouraged and perpetuated the growth of radicalism. In fact Israel has funded Hamas from the early days. Launching attacks on Palestinians assures retaliation and thus justifies the occupation. The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) are operating under the old strategy of divide and conquer. Hamas was a counterbalance to Fatah, and the longer the factions fight amongst themselves, the less likely they are to have the wherewithal to - God forbid - establish an independent Palestinian state.
Terrorism is not the root problem, it is a by product of the occupation. In an interview Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, senior official of Hamas, says "We've told the Israeli's again and again, that if they stop killing our kids, our civilians we will not use this suicide (bomber) weapon. It has been our response to the Israeli massacre of Palestinians." Another Hamas leader, Abu Shana, adds "Hamas is focusing on an agenda for Israel's withdrawal from the lands taken in 1967, the establishment of a Palestinian state and a solution for the refugees. If these things are implemented, the Palestinians will be satisfied, and they will be busy for more than 20 years building their state." Writer Sela Avraham points out, "Often, people, movements, and nations terrorize the entire world just to become part of it."
On the international front, Palestinians are tired of the failure of the West and the international community to act on their behalf. U.S. policy and its continued support of the Israeli Occupation play an underestimated role in the resurgence of radical Islam. On-going humanitarian abuses, the subsequent humiliation, indignity and socio/economic effects of the illegal occupation, as recognized by the Geneva Convention, has attributed to the call to Muslims everywhere - to return to early Islam - that of the "Righteous Ancestors".
With their newly found power Hamas will no doubt see the need to become more moderate, as it has in the past. History testifies that this is a group that hears the voices of its people, the majority of whom are not radical. But until it organizes its leadership, the Palestinians will continue to depend on the $40 million funds received annually. If the various donors - Japan, Germany, Austria, Korea, Luxemburg, Canada, the E.U. and The U.S. Agency for International Development cut these funds, the consequences would be devastating.
The U.S. wants Hamas to disarm. Up to 31,800 civilians have been killed in Iraq so far. Up to 3773 Palestinians have been killed in the territories since 2000. If we follow that logic should not the US pull out of Iraq and Israel out of the West Bank before Hamas deal with them? At the risk of seeming more hypocritical, the U.S. - the strongest advocate of democracy in the Middle East, and no stranger to torture and bloodshed itself, needs to recognize this democratically elected party and work with them towards peaceful means. If Britain did not deal with the IRA, there would be no peace in Ireland today. But we know from history America would rather deal with a dictator than a democratically elected government that does not serve its needs. If the US is to place any conditions on Hamas it will equally need to hold Israel accountable and will likely need to soon rein in a newly empowered Israeli Likud.
Though the Hamas charter still states that the entire land of Palestine belongs to Palestinians, which means that it won't recognize Israel, it does not imply obliteration as some imagine. Hamas dreams of controlling the entire area, just as Zionists dream of claiming the entire holy land for themselves. This is a stalemate. But these are the positions of extremists on both sides. Moderates see the necessity for compromise and the existence of two states. Remember the PLO once called for the destruction of Israel. Hamas leader, Rantisi explains "We can accept a truce with them, and we can live side by side and refer all the issues to the coming generations." He reiterated that "The main aim of the Intifada is the liberation of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, and nothing more…We haven't the force to liberate all our land."
Meanwhile if Hamas can subjugate its militants to the PA, break its alliance with other militant groups, like Islamic Jihad, and think beyond its current charter of land domination, it will have as good a chance as any at succeeding in finding a solution to the conflict. This is not the end of the peace process, which is no worse of than it was a month ago – going nowhere. If Hamas channels its energies on more realistic goals like negotiating with the international community and a nation that already exists like it or not, it will gain respect. If it pursues a two state solution - which the majority of Israelis and Palestinians now desire anyway, that could open the door for foreign donations and international support towards not only daily sustenance, but the goal of developing a new Palestinian state.