There is more to be said about the sweeping electoral victory of Hamas in the Palestinian legislative elections of 25 January 2006 than the fact that it came as a total surprise to its political rival, Fatah, Israel, the United States and Europe to name but a few. The rise to “official” power of Hamas illustrates the fact that since the 1993-Oslo agreement, the hopes of Palestinians living under occupation have been deceived. The call to Palestinians of the PLO and Fatah to choose the road to Statehood through negotiations, to opt for patience and restraint in exchange for a permanent settlement has run its course: since Oslo, more land was confiscated; more Palestinians were killed; more settlements were built; and the construction of a separation Wall that heralds a massive annexation of Palestinian land continues unabated. The so-called “Palestinian Authority” produced at Oslo and marketed as the precursor of a sovereign Palestinian State has proven its incapacity in leading the Palestinian people, in administering resources entrusted to it, and above all, in compelling Israel to negotiate in good faith. Since Oslo, Israel has elected as its Prime Minister a man found “personally responsible” by the Kahane Commission of Inquiry set up by the Israeli Knesset, for the Sabra and Shatila butchery that left 3,500 people dead. His election, contrary to Hamas’ electoral victory, did not stir vivid international reactions.
In a way, the election of Hamas could signify the desire of the majority of the Palestinians leaving under Israeli occupation to renew with a pre-Oslo political platform: the national liberation of their homeland. And for that, they have voted for a political force that, in many respects, remains a national liberation movement akin to so many before it: one that believes in political negotiations in tandem with an armed struggle. That was also the platform of the PLO prior to the 1993 Oslo accords. Because if Oslo has created a momentum towards peace it has also set in motion a constraining political scheme that was heretofore unknown to national liberation movements whose primary purpose is to free its people from occupation rather than govern democratically without a state. But the Oslo momentum was broken and not even the “Road Map” drawn by the Quartet (United States, Russia, the Secretary General of the United Nations and the European Union) was able to sustain it. By creating the “Palestinian Authority”, Oslo has offered Palestinians, including the late Yassir Arafat, the obligations of a sovereign State, the appearances of a sovereign State, the symbols of a sovereign State, and the trappings of a sovereign State –but without the authority and powers of a sovereign State. Thus, the Palestinians had a “President”, a “Government”, an “elected legislature”, a “police force”, etc. In many respects, this situation made it easy for Israel and the United States, and some Arab Governments, to exert undue pressures on the “Palestinian Authority” to produce miracles without, however, the real means to deliver. It allowed for the humiliation of Chairman Arafat, the siege of the “Presidency” and the political neutralization of Arafat and his political clout amid, in the end, very little international protest. The semblance of statehood also confused international public opinion and weakened its support for the Palestinian cause. In the end, this situation killed politically Arafat, the man who embodied the struggle for Palestinian nationhood. Ultimately, it led to the death of the “Chairman” whose body could not even be laid to rest where he and his people had wanted –El Qods. By shunning Arafat, the US administration and the Israeli government brought about the political rise of Hamas, a movement that grew out of the humiliation and desperation of a new generation of Palestinians.
Today, Hamas is pressured into giving up its arm struggle. It is pressured to disarm its militants. It is pressured to rescind its charter and recognize the existence of the State of Israel. It is pressured into acceding to all the demands that Israel and the United States have –and will- put forward in order to receive the economic assistance channeled to the Palestinian Authority. Not too long ago, the same concessions were exacted of the PLO. But Palestinians are still not able to see the light at the end of the tunnel as the prospects of a contiguous and viable Palestinian State seem ever more remote, so much so that a state of desperation is slowly driving some political forces into inducing the Palestinian youth into suicidal strategies. Israel and the United States, followed by other members of the Quartet, boycotted the Palestinian Authority and Arafat not because Fatah had its armed wing, the Al Aqsa Brigades, but because the absence of negotiations allowed Sharon to build settlements and his separation wall.
Instead of exerting more and more pressure on the Palestinians and their duly elected representatives, the Quartet should start realizing that the Road Map has run its course and failed: it was supposed to lead to a final status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians by the end of 2005. We are now in 2006. It has failed not because the Palestinian Authority has failed (although it had its failures), but because the onus was always on the weak party –the Palestinians. If the Quartet is indeed serious about peace between Israelis and Palestinians and seeks to promote stability in a part of the world whose instability is in no small measure driven by the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis alike, maybe it should realize that putting pressure on the radical political forces in Israel that are in power today may prove more fruitful than pressuring those who feel that they have, in the first place, nothing to loose. And if Washington could realize that its blind support for Israel does not further peace, a big leap toward peace would have been made. For with over 4 billion of yearly financial aid to Israel, the Whitehouse has a lever on Israel it can only dream of with respect to Hamas.