the Disillusioned kid: In which the author opines on the results of the Palestinian election
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Friday, January 27, 2006

In which the author opines on the results of the Palestinian election

A comparison of elite reactions to the electoral successes of Islamic fundamentalists in elections in Iraq and Palestine is telling. In Iraq the recent election, which saw the vote for Shia Islamists dwarf that acheived by their secular counterparts, was heralded as a testament to Bush and Blair's selfless crusade for human rights and freedom. In Palestine the emergence of Hamas, not only as a major player in Palestinian electoral politics, but as the dominant force has been greeted by an onslaught of opprobrium.

This contrast highlights the fact that our leaders' supposed opposition to Islamic fundamentalism has less to do with their ostensible concern for women's rights and homophobia than it does with the interests of western imperialism. While the election in Iraq is their latest effort to salvage the occupation which they are desperate to see suceed, Hamas' victory represent's a serious challenge to imperialism's designs for the Middle East.

Don't get me wrong. I have no illusions about the vicious combination of religious obscurantism, misogyny, homophobia, communalism, conspiracism and anti-Semitism peddled by Hamas. There certainly not the sort of people I'd want to be trapped in a lift with. But this election wasn't about what I wanted anymore than it was about what George Bush or Ariel Sharon wanted.

The bases of Hamas' success are several-fold. Firstly and most obviously there is the question of the ongoing Israeli occupation, with all the brutality, humiliation and discomforts that entails. While the Palestinian Authority (PA) has moved away from armed struggle in preference for negotiation, Hamas has continued its military campaign, with numerous succesful "martyrdom operations" to show for it. No doubt, amongst Palestinians who wish to strike back against Israel for the killing/detention/torture of their husband/wife/son/brother that counts for a lot.

There is also the thorny question of corruption amongst the PA. Fatah has dominated Palestinian politics for longer than most Palestinians probably care to remember. Those who have risen through the ranks of the party have done well for themselves, carving out their own fiefdoms and siphoning off money into foreign accounts. Hamas by contrast is made up of deeply committed religious believers. Sure, they may be crazy, but the constant fear that Allah is looking over your shoulder will keep you on your toes. While the PA has been pissing away money for years, Hamas has built up an extensive social welfare network providing schools, hospitals and mosques. Again, much of this may come wrapped up in propagandist paper, but when nobody else is providing these sort of things it isn't going to harm your popularity.

It remains to be seen how the influence of power will affect Hamas. Hitherto they've avoided getting their hands dirty in its murky pools, with only a few municipalities to their name. From now on, however, they can and no doubt will be held responsible for what happens throughout Palestine and, more to the point, for everything which goes wrong. Furthermore, the pressures towards compromise which accompany the move from the radical fringes to the mainstream and the effect this can have on support should not be underestimated. My guess is that sooner or later Israel and Hamas will get around a table for a chat. It'd be better for all concerned that this happened sooner rather than later, but only time will tell.

For what it's worth I think the role of those of us fighting the good fight in the west is straight-forward: (1) Continue to oppose the Israeli occupation, the expansion of settlements and the construction of the "security wall". These things are as wrong today as they have ever been; (2) Do what we can to support progressive elements amongst the Palestinians such as trade unionists who may well find the political space within which they operate contract over the coming months and years. None of this carries any guarantees, but then when have we ever let that stop us before?

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