Hamas win no surprise

The newspapers tell me Hamas won a surprise victory in the Palestinian elections. I must have missed that. They also say Hamas can be domesticated by European diplomatic chitchat. I missed that, too. Finally, they say this result is a catastrophe. I missed that as well. Someone needs to pay more attention. There does seem to be widespread surprise. On Thursday, a number of newspapers were reporting a Fatah victory in paper editions and a Hamas victory online. Yesterday’s main National Post headline said “Hamas win stuns world.”

I think the world was stunned long before. As writer George Jonas noted, this result ought not to have been surprising. Yasser Arafat’s Fatah administration was corrupt, unpopular and increasingly powerless. Perhaps sophisticated people assumed Fatah would quietly steal the election and planned quietly to acquiesce. If so they quietly underestimated the collapse of administration under Arafat, cowinner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for reasons history will never understand.

Hamas’s victory was not just the product of Fatah’s failures. It was also the product of its success. Sophisticated people have also quietly acquiesced in the poisoning of the minds of two generations of Palestinians by the PLO/PA propaganda machine. But glorifying violence and raw anti-Semitism logically leads to voting for Hamas.

Meanwhile, the notion that Hamas can be domesticated by contact with sophisticated people is as preposterous as it is widespread. The Daily Telegraph editorialized on Friday that “in practical terms there is much to be said for engaging with Hamas, in the hope of steering it toward the renunciation of violence.” And a news story in yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen said Hamas’s “landslide victory might force it to take clearer positions on key issues.”

Really? Yesterday’s Post says the Hamas charter includes this: “Initiatives and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of Hamas. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through jihad.” Also: “After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. Their plan is embodied in the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’.” These statements are open to reproach on a number of grounds, but lack of clarity isn’t one of them.

In any case, as Barry Rubin of the GLORIA Centre has noted, the theory that power moderates fanatics is poorly supported by history. It didn’t happen to Lenin, Hitler, Mao or Pol Pot. Nor, crucially, Arafat. He never renounced terror or cleaned up his administration. Instead, he lied to sophisticated people who then lied to us.

Which is why the election result is no more a catastrophe than a surprise.

Many people have recognized for some time there is no one for Israel to talk to. Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was not a bold gambit to restart peace talks but a grimly realistic recognition of their futility. I cannot say the election of Hamas rules out the possibility of illusions on this point; nothing could. But it certainly makes them harder to entertain and easier to combat.

This conclusion is uncomfortable on several levels. As a short-run practical matter, where do we go from here? As a long-run strategic matter, if Israel’s neighbours remain hostile and its supporters lukewarm, wobbly and in demographic decline, sooner or later a fatal mistake will mean a second genocide. (Europe’s sophisticated diplomatic response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions might have made “later” a moot point.)

Third, Palestinians’ dysfunctional political culture is not only dangerous to others but terribly sad for them. I want it to be different. I want those little girls and boys taught love not hate (and equality; feminists should object that photos of Palestinian protests so often show only angry men). But the truth is their minds are being poisoned and for the time being successfully. Including by an educational system funded by Europeans who periodically cluck their tongues and feign shock when unable to ignore what the textbooks and official TV say about Jews.

Ignoring such things produced this result, and surprise at it. Now perhaps we can pay attention.

[First published in the Montreal Gazette]

ColumnsJohn Robson