Monday, January 30, 2006
Maybe I'm reading the wrong outlets, but there seem to be a lot of people trying to convince me that Hamas' landslide victory in the PA elections is actually a good thing. There are at least five arguments made why this is so, and all of them strike me as fundamentally wrong-headed.
1. Now Hamas is accountable. They won an election. They're running the show. Hamas has grown in strenght partly because of the obvious failure of Fatah to accomplish anything material for the Palestinian Arabs - forget not having a state, they don't even have reliable electricity and running water. If Hamas fails to achieve anything better, the people who voted for them this time will look elsewhere. Were Hamas not accountable for the (presumed inevitable) failure of their program, they would continue to gain in strength. A Hamas victory is therefore a necessary precondition to Hamas' ultimate defeat, a good thing.
Do I need to point out what's wrong with this argument? I don't mean the slightly complicated reasons why it's wrong: that Hamas may not allow another free election, which would make them not truly accountable; that Hamas' victory may not be due to Fatah's failures to deliver running water so much as Hamas' perceived success in driving Israel out of Gaza; that there is no basis for thinking that should the PA's electorate turn against Hamas they will turn to some more accommodating alternative, as opposed to an even more radical one (this is not impossible: al-Qaeda has, reportedly, begun to operate for the first time in Palestinian Arab cities, and is competing with Hamas and Islamic Jihad by trying to out-crazy them). Forget all that, and just read the last sentence again. The bit about the bad guys' victory leading to their defeat. That is the core of this argument, isn't it? Can you say it with a straight face? I can't.
2. Okay, but that's not the only way accountability could work. Hamas now has strong incentives to moderate - to keep the cash flowing from the US, Europe and Israel, for one thing. Now that Hamas has power, they'll want to keep it. If the best way to keep it is to moderate, then we may see Hamas moderate itself. And that would be a huge victory for the good guys, wouldn't it?
Yes it would. Except that I don't think the incentives to moderate are that strong. Fatah had very strong incentives to present a moderate image - and it did so. But neither Arafat nor Abbas did anything to moderate the actual radicalism of the Palestinian terrorist organizations. Arafat actively supported those allied with Fatah and reached a kind of modus vivendi with Hamas; Abbas had no clout to do anything at all even if he had the inclination. Why can't Hamas play the same game? And, if they don't play the same game, isn't that an indication that Hamas - probably correctly - perceives that the real threat to their power would come from moderation, not continued radicalism? Moderation, after all, would make them accountable. Look what happened to the last guys who tried that strategy.
3. Well, at least the mere fact that there was a free and fair election proves that progress is (or at least was) being made in spreading democracy. One would have thought that Fatah would never have permitted a Hamas victory. That they did proves that the democracy meme is spreading. And that is good news even if this particular result is bad news.
Hmm. I might give this some credence if there were evidence that anywhere in the Arab Muslim world democratization was showing signs of leading to anything but a similar result. Various people have been making happy noises about the possibility of an Assad downfall, or the minor thaw we've seen in Egypt. But the big victors if either country held a truly free election would certainly be the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah. If that's the case, then this alternative argument boils down to a version of one of the two previous arguments, each of which has already proved deficient to say the least.
4. Fine. But if you are so pessimistic, then you must agree with this point: at least it's good to be rid of illusions. Now we know what the Palestinian Arabs want: the destruction of Israel. Israel should therefore have a free hand diplomatically to do what is necessary for her security.
You think so? It seems to me you are also in need of being disillusioned. Please look at arguments #1 through 3 above. Don't those look like good arguments in the arsenal of someone eager to put the onus back on Israel and the West not to blow the latest opportunity for peace? Wouldn't it be terrible if Israel built up Hamas by attacking or isolating them, letting them blame Israel rather than their own policies for the sorry state of the Palestinian Arabs? Wouldn't it be awful if Israel discouraged the moderate "wing" of Hamas by treating them as if they all were terrorists? Isn't there something ironic in the Middle East's only (purported) democracy trying to turn one of the few freely elected Arab governments into a pariah? I've heard all of these arguments already. If you are inclined to oppose Israel diplomatically, you will be supplied with plenty of illusion-maintaining arguments. Hamas' election changes nothing in this regard.
5. I see. It seems you think there are no prospects for diplomatic progress, or indeed for peace, nor do you see Israel's diplomatic position improving in any circumstances. You believe that "it doesn't matter what the goyim think; what matters is what the Jews do." Surely, then, you can see the following silver lining in Hamas' election: it will bring about the inevitable final conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs more swiftly, when the correlation of forces still favors the Israelis. The West may retain its illusions, but not the Israeli people; they will be united in their determination to resist Hamas and preserve their country, whatever it takes.
And what, praytell, does it take? I instinctively resist "the worser the better" type arguments, but I don't disagree that, at the margins, the Hamas victory will further unify Israeli Jews, strengthen the hand of those who favor unilateral separation, and weaken those who favor renewed negotiations. The impact on the right end of the spectrum is more complicated; there are certainly those who will argue that Hamas' victory is the fruit of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and thus proves the follow of unilateral withdrawal, and your guess is as good as mine whether that argument will win more votes at the margin than the opposite, that Hamas' victory only proves that holding onto territories with large Arab majorities is folly because coexistence is impossible. If I had to bet, I'd bet it strengthens the separationists more than the far-right types, but it's not a sure thing. But here's something you don't hear people asking about: what is the likely impact of a Hamas victory on Israel's Arab citizen population? One can only assume that, already radicalized by Oslo and the war that followed it, they will be further radicalized. So you're trading a very marginal increase in unity among the already unified Israeli Jewish population for a potentially significant increase in division between Israeli Jews and Arabs. Remind me why this is a silver lining?
Sometimes bad news isn't good news in disguise. Sometimes it's just bad news.