Listening to and reading all the commentary about Hamas’ sweeping victory in the Palestine elections, I am struck by the fact that NO ONE saw this coming. Oh sure, the pundits predicted a good showing for Hamas, a warning shot (so to speak) to the Palestinian Authority to clean up its act. But the actual result was something well beyond everyone’s imagination. The pundits are now saying that even Hamas was not prepared for its big win but they were wrong on the election so I don’t give them much credibility on this election right now.
Which makes me realize that very often what we hear and read is based on at best a limited understanding of the situation. Or worse, news and opinion are based on wishful thinking or outright deceit. I don’t exempt myself from the wishful thinking part of this judgment. I don’t try to deceive. Other than what I read and hear, I have limited knowledge of what I write about. Rarely can I claim first hand experience. So it’s all, opinion, folks.
My reading of the Palestine election results is that the voters were pissed off. Big Time. That shouldn’t be news to anyone following events in Palestine. Looking at conditions in the Palestinian territories (again, second hand), I don’t see where the inhabitants have much cause for hope: a corrupt government that cannot protect its citizens against Israeli incursions, personal security threatened by armed thugs (Palestinian and Israeli) and an economy that provides no opportunity. Why would a rational Palestinian vote to continue that government in power?
Hamas did what every effective political party in history has done before. They organized and hustled. They made a difference in the lives of individuals who had no expectations of their government. It’s as classic as Tammany Hall and Chicago machine politics. You win by demonstrating your effectiveness and concern. And in a truncated state such as Palestine that is at the mercy of outside powers, Hamas was able to demonstrate its effectiveness by providing services to the people who were ignored by their government.
And, no doubt, Hamas’ militant stand against Israel had something to do with their victory. Although the party did not emphasize its pledge to destroy Israel, its militant stance can only have helped. After all, even Americans flock to BushCheney when claims that he is fighting to protect us. Palestinians seem to survey their condition, look at the corrupt, toothless government under Fatah and decide that Hamas would better serve them. Their choice seems pretty plausible to me.
What all this tells me is that, once again, outsiders still do not understand the middle east. What we think we understand is largely a matter of our own projection. We see what we want to see and it gets us into trouble every time. The middle east has often been described as a land of dreams. From Lawrence of Arabia to BushCheney, westerners have projected their own ideas on the land and its people, usually with not so good results.
I won’t offer any predictions. I have no crystal ball and I certainly recognize my limitations when it comes to understanding middle east. I do know that people have pretty simple wants. They just want personal security, to earn a living and support their families. Yeah, I know that a lot else gets into that equation (which is where we get suicide bombers) but I can never get beyond the basics when it comes to human motivation. If I am denied the basic opportunities for existence, then why should anyone be surprised if I act with hostility and anger toward that thwart my ambitions? In Palestine, voters expressed both anger and hope. It’s anybody’s guess which will ultimately prevail. If the past is any guide, it will be the former.
The election itself is an achievement. Reports are that it seemed fair and without incident. If not a first, it is certainly a milestone even if the results complicate an already difficult situation. Israel will no longer have a “partner for peace” in the Palestinian Authority. It’s hard to negotiate with someone who is sworn to your destruction. About the only point would be the manner of your demise. Hamas, for its part, must adjust to running a government, no easy task when the entire world unites against you. Hamas has had success serving its constituents through its own social services and schools. Leveraging that success into a government of an small, fragmented territory bereft of economic resources will be a much greater challenge.
As a rule, I prefer democratic elections to the alternative, even when I believe that the electorate may make decisions that I believe are not in their (or my) best interests. Call it naivete’. Call it faith. Call it what you will. In the end, society must deal with what people think and feel, with the prejudices and ideals that informs their thought and action. The Palestinian elections tell me in screaming headlines that the world does not fully understand what is happening in Palestine. It’s time to learn.postcript
I previously wrote about Jews and Arabs sharing the same land
. It’s a simplistic piece but it goes to the heart of a matter in which two peoples have a great deal in common. This is where I begin the learning process.