January 31, 2006
Hamas' Electoral Win Shouldn't Surprise UsÜand This Is No Time to Change Our Strategy
Dear Friend of FLAME:
Unlike so many pundits, we at FLAME were not shocked at the decisive Hamas victory in last week's elections in the Palestinian territories. We've been loudly publicizing the political bankruptcy of the old-guard PLO and the corruption of the Palestinian Authority for more than ten years. The really shocking thing is how the Palestinian Arabs put up with such turpitude for so long. Now comes Hamas, which, no matter how much horror and barbarism you attribute to them (and few groups are guilty of more), at least they speak their mind. Yasser Arafat and his scion Mahmoud Abbas were the consummate double-dealers. They made nice to the West---from the Oslo Accord to the recent "Road Map"---indicating a hedgy openness to make peace and accept Israel's right to exist. But when speaking Arabic to their brethren, the PLO and PA hacks never gave an inch on the idea of an Arab Palestine "from the river to the sea," with its capital in Jerusalem.
But it wasn't just the West that these old-guard Palestinian politicians betrayed. While for decades so many on the left made them out to be noble third-world freedom fighters, the Arafatists took well-intentioned U.S. and European money, expressly intended to build the Palestinian economy . . . and they built nothing. They put hundreds of millions of dollars into their own pockets and squandered hundreds of millions more on weapons for terrorists bent on destroying Israel. History has finally exposed these bad actors as inveterate liars and cheats. Who wouldn't want to vote them out if given the chance?
With Islamist Hamas in power, at least we know whom we're dealing with. Again, it's no surprise to many of us that most Palestinian Arabs don't really want a two-state solution and don't want peace with Israel. Rather, they've voted in a party that wants to rid the region of Jews and all other infidels, a party that wants to impose "sharia" (Islamic law) on the world---the same thing Osama bin Laden wants. The difference between the old Palestinian guard and this new one is, Hamas is bold, confident, committed and cut-throat enough to come right out and make its intentions plain.
The question now is, what should the U.S. do? What will the Europeans do? On the one hand, the Bush administration has based its Middle East policy on bringing---or forcing---democracy to the region. Now they've got it, or some semblance of it. On the other hand, they've refused to deal with terrorists, assuming that democracy and terrorism are fundamentally incompatible. Apparently not so.
In the article below, Daniel Pipes, head of the Middle East Forum and Campus Watch, exposes this contradiction and offers the hope that Bush and the Europeans will stick to their position on terrorists. Don't give them money. Don't deal with them. Forgive our skepticism, but while we can imagine Bush staying the course, it's hard to envision the Europeans choking down the fact that Israel has been the only sincere peace partner and that those millions of francs and lira and deutschmarks just went down a rat hole. The temptation, we fear, will be great to throw good currency---now the Euro---after bad. We must fortify our U.S. government, so that it remains firm in its opposition to Islamic terrorism and resolute in its insistence that our European allies do the same.
[The Hamas electoral victory:] Democracy's bitter fruit
Now that Hamas has apparently won the Palestinian elections, the West is hoist with its own petard.
On the one hand, Hamas is a terrorist group that unabashedly targets Israeli civilians and calls for the elimination of the Jewish state. On the other hand, it just won what observers deem to have been a reasonably fair election, and so enjoys the legitimacy that comes from the ballot box. Every foreign ministry now confronts a dilemma: Nudge it to moderation or give up on it as irredeemably extremist? Meet with Hamas members or avoid them? Continue to donate to the Palestinian Authority or starve it of funds?
This double bind is of our own making because, with Washington in the lead, virtually every Western government adopted a two-prong approach to solving the problems of the Middle East.
The negative prong consists of fighting terrorism. A "war on terror" is underway, involving military forces in the field, toughened financial laws, and an array of espionage tools.
The positive prong involves promoting democracy. The historical record shows that democratic countries almost never make war on each other, and tend to be prosperous. Therefore, elections appear to be what the doctor ordered for the maladies of the Middle East.
But that combination has failed this troubled region. The first functional election in the Palestinian Authority has thrown up Hamas. In December, 2005, the Egyptian electorate came out strongly for the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamic party, and not for liberal elements. In Iraq, the post-Saddam electorate voted in a pro-Iranian Islamist as prime minister. In Lebanon, the voters celebrated the withdrawal of Syrian troops by voting Hezbollah into the government. Likewise, radical Islamic elements have prospered in elections in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
In brief, elections are bringing to power the most deadly enemies of the West. What went wrong? Why has a democratic prescription that's proven successful in Germany, Japan and other formerly bellicose nations not worked in the Middle East?
It's not Islam or some cultural factor that accounts for this difference; rather, it is the fact that ideological enemies in the Middle East have not yet been defeated. Democratization took place in Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union after their populations had endured the totalitarian crucible. By 1945 and 1991, they recognized what disasters fascism and communism had brought them, and were primed to try a different path.
That's not the case in the Middle East, where a totalitarian temptation remains powerfully in place. Muslims across the region è with the singular and important exception of Iran è are drawn to the Islamist program with its slogan that "Islam is the solution." That was the case from Iran in 1979 to Algeria in 1992 to Turkey in 2002 to the Palestinian Authority this week.
This pattern has several implications for Western governments:
Returning to the dilemma posed by the Hamas victory, Western capitals need to show Palestinians that è like Germans electing Hitler in 1933 è they have made a decision gravely unacceptable to civilized opinion. The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority must be isolated and rejected at every turn, thereby encouraging Palestinians to see the error of their ways.