The recent Palestinian election has everyone predicting gloom and doom for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the foreseeable future, but is it really as bad as everyone says? Hamas, the militant terrorist organization/charity anchor of social life in the West Bank, won 76 of 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament. In the short term this is no doubt a bad thing for peace prospects. With Ariel Sharon out of the picture in Israel and his considerable political weight now unable to move the pile towards a peaceful solution, the election of Hamas could indeed be seen as threatening.
But long term, what does the Hamas victory lead to? Here are a few possibilities we might see:
- Now that Hamas will actually have to govern, will Palestinians continue to support it's most radical elements? Nothing moderates a party quite like having to put up results (though as a friend of mine pointed out, that's what Germany said about the Nazis as well). Will Hamas be able to govern successfully? They have been a strong part of Palestinian society for years, but they have had the luxury of criticizing from afar. Do they have the goods?
- Fatah has finally been forced to shape up and stop being a corrupt, do-nothing governing element. Are they better than Hamas? No doubt. But they have never had strong enough support from the Palestinian people to crack down on terrorism in a real way. Not that Hamas will be better at this since they are the problem in the first place, but Fatah has gotten its wake-up call. Will they answer it and make some real changes so that a legitimate challenge to what will inevitably be shaky leadership by Hamas can be made next time around?
- In the ironic world of politics and peace, is it at all possible that Hamas could be the Palestinian party that brings peace to the conflict? Don't laugh. Could a yet-to-be-named Hamas leader pull a Nixon-to-China and be the hawk that brings about a softening of relations, if not outright peace? On the Israeli side Yitzak Rabin was able to use his reputation as a hawk to bring (albeit temporary) peace in 1994, and Ariel Sharon seemed on his way to doing something similar in the coming months and years. Is there a Hamas leader who can pull the group in from the cold and find a settlement (sorry, wrong word) to the never-ending dispute?
I think there could be something to each of these possibilities, but it will take time. Israeli leadership is uncertain (I'm pulling for a Kadima win) and a group largely seen as a terrorist organization is set to rule in the Palestinian territories. In the short term things look bad.