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Jewish World Review
Jan. 30, 2006
/30 Teves, 5766
Questions Hamas may not be able to answer
Their winning may well be their undoing
As soon as the Palestinian commission for elections declared Hamas as a winner of the legislative elections in Gaza and the West
Bank, a hurricane of questions slammed international media, Governments, politicians, and analysts. Among officials of the
Palestinian Authority: what's next? Will Hamas ruin the advances in international recognition? Within Israel: Is the Peace process
dead? How can we deal with a Terrorist Government? In the West: Is Democracy a weapon for radicals in the Arab world? And in
America: How to deal with Hamas? These and more dramatic questions are the direct result of a political earthquake that seemed to
shake off the foundations of the new US policy in the region: People are eager for freedom. But in the Palestinian territories, voters
gave Terror a resounding legitimacy: Why, and more importantly, what is to happen?
Before democracy-critics rush to rapid conclusions, let them be attentive to the complexity of the democratization process. First,
elections aren't the only tool to produce democratic societies. They are the institutions that checks and balances the
democratic culture. Voting opportunities within societies that lacked the practice for decades systematically produces a
proportional reality to the layers underneath. In short, if the most organized, well disciplined and better financed forces are given
the opportunity to show their strength at the first electoral test, and the incumbent government is plagued with corruption,
don't expect major surprises. This is the case of Hamas today. Let's review the road to its electoral victory.
Hamas' founders are the heirs of the Muslim Brotherhood, al ikhwan al Muslimeen, launched in the 1920s in Egypt by Hassan al
Banna. Its ideology was inspired by Salafism, which also inspired its sister current out of Arabia, Wahabism. So, we're talking
about two centuries of doctrinal legacy and 80 years of organizational experience. The Muslim Brotherhood was already active at
the inception of the Arab Israeli conflict in 1947. An off shoot of the movement created Harakat al Muqawama al Islamiya (HAMAS,
Movement of the Islamic Resistance) in 1987, to lead an active role in the struggle against Israel. It paralleled the surge of other off
shoots across the Arab world in the 1980s and 1990s: The NIF of Turabi in Sudan, the GIA and the Salafi Combat group in Algeria,
the Gamaa Islamiya in Egypt and later on the Islamic Jihad of both Palestine and Egypt. In the mid 1990s, a mix of the above groups
produced al Qaida. However, while the Bin Laden galaxy mutated into an international organization of Jihad, Hamas was a
"nationally" based Jihadist movement.
By the late 1980s, Hamas was gradually operating a socio-economic infrastructure financed by Saudi Wahabis. This jumpstart gave
the movement an ahead social leap over its competitors, including the PLO. Later in that decade, into the early 1990s, Tehran's
Mullahs opened a giant financial account in support of Hamas. The Baath of Assad hosted its headquarters in Damascus. Three
regional streams fed the organization with state- sponsored strategic support for more than two decades, allowing Hamas to
compete with, and eventually defeat Yassir Arafat's Fatah. The Jihadists of Palestine didn't start from scratch on the
material level: Two capitals backed them, powerful circles in Arabia displayed generosity towards them, and out of the West,
supporters excelled in fundraisers, taking advantage of Hamas skilled propagandists.
Rejecting the Oslo Peace Process in 1993, Hamas sunk most Palestinian-Israeli agreements with car bombs. While the PLO was
signing treaties with the "Jewish enemy," the Jihadi organiation was striking deep behind those "Zionist lines." Hamas
focused solely on the "Palestinian arena" making sure not to engage in direct Terror against the US or Europe. In the 1990s,
Arafat's men were getting richer and were treated as VIP internationally including by Israel, while Hamas was stealing the
"passion of the intifada" from the old Fatah. Its hospitals and schools-turned madrassas served the masses, while the PLO
barons stole them. In parallel it took the group extreme violence against the Israelis, mostly civilians, to beat the Palestinian
Authority on the "struggle" level. A full circle was established: The schools and services were controlled by Hamas and it
produced more supporters; the terror strikes kept the Jihadi flames alive, while the PLO sunk in corruption. It became clear to any
seasoned observer, that at the first electoral opportunity, the young, dynamic, economically supported network will displace the
old, undecided, and financially corrupt Government. In fact, between the PLO and Hamas, there were no other alternative: The
international community turned a blind eye on the third generation of Palestinians. The Europeans and their Arab allies stood by
Arafat, and the Tehran-Damascus axis and the Wahabis backed Hamas. Asked to select their legislators, the Palestinians had these
two camps to choose from.
The dice has rolled now. Hamas obtained the largest slice of seats in the representative assembly. But by projecting itself that high
in the process, it flew higher than the comfortable atmosphere it was used to: the underground. As one of Hamas' leaders said
on al Jazeera after the victory was announced: "As we were in the underground we will continue to act above the surface:"
Nothing will change, he added. A representative of the ailing Fatah responded: "Everything is going to change for you.
We've been there, saw it all." The prophecy of the vanquished camp may well turn true.
In that very revealing al Jazeera forum, the Hamas spokesperson attempted to smooth down the "victory." Facing a number of
young activists questioning already the position of the group on the religious scarf and other liberties, he said "we understand
the fears of the youth and females on social issues. We're here to say that there will be no imposition of unpopular measures."
In the first few hours after Hamas' ascendance, Palestinian future tensions were already at the table.
"Freedom is guaranteed by the Koran," says Hamas using the verse: la ikrah fil deen (no compulsion in religion). But most
Palestinians are secular, and the youngest among the latter are modernist. I have seen both, living side by side: But how about
Hamas' immediate challenges? There are many scenarios.
Saib Oreikat, Mahmoud Abbas' main negotiator said Fatah will become a "supportive opposition." Other PLO cadres do
not want to help Hamas in Government. In Tehran, Ahmedinijad is jubilating: Now he can see "Hamastan" as a basis for his
future attacks against Israel. Syria is relieved for this breath of fresh air coming from the south. So is Hezbollah: The Jihadists are up
and running in the Eastern Mediterranean, they fantasize. Hamas has brought hope to the axis of Jihad from the Sunni triangle to
Beirut's southern suburb. But inside the group's "war room" wise men are advising for moderation in display. They
have hard choices to make, much harder than blowing up buses across the green line.
At their first press conference after "victory" Hamas chiefs said "al fawz mina allah" (Allah granted us this victory)
signaling that the next steps are going to be inspired by the divine as well. They insisted that the results are a referendum in favor of
They collected 80 seats (60.6% of the votes), or so depending on how to count the allies seats, and hence they can form a
Government. But will they? Many scenarios were advanced by the Bir Zeit University scholars: 1) A fully Hamas Government. 2) A
national unity cabinet. 3) A Government of technocrats. or 4) Chaos at will.
The near future will tell us.
But Hamas announced its long term agenda: Jerusalem is the capital and the return of all refugees. But they omitted to define the
Palestine they want. More important they didn't say a word about Israel: does it or does it not exists? This question will be the
hardest to answer by an organization which existence is about the obliteration of the Jewish state. If it doesn't recognize Israel,
the world will isolate Hamas. If it does admit the idea, it will loose its raison d'etre.
And while awaiting the "holy spirit" to advise the Jihadi group in this regard, a Hamas controlled Government will have to
deal with the following:
The Peace Process with Israel: Will it resume it or not?
The alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Syria: will it keep it or not?
Religious state in Palestine: will it enforce it or not?
However, the devil is in the details. And the most explosive ones are the security agencies, fully controlled by Fatah's powerful men.
It is going to be very difficult to dislodge them. For Hamas can send suicide bombers inside Israel at will. But inside the Palestinian
territories, everyone knows everyone and Terror is not the sole exclusivity of Hamas.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Dr. Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington and the author of Future Jihad www.futurejihad.com Comment by clicking here.
© 2006, Dr. Walid Phares