The more effective regime change?

It is now clear that Hamas has won the Palestinian elections. Equally clear is the challenge this poses to all parties involved: to the outside world (Israel, the EU and the US) on how to deal with an organisation that still officially endorses terrorism and the annihilation of Israel, and to Hamas itself on whether it wants to become respectable and change something on the ground for Palestinians.

My bet is that Hamas will, indeed, choose the respectable route, even if it may take some time before the rhetoric changes accordingly. A sign of this is the fact that it chose to take part in the elections at all, and that it has declared and kept a cease-fire over the past year. This shows that its’ leaders not only have brains but also influence over their followers. Such a decision makes sense, because taking the respectable route is the sensible thing to do also from their own point of view. After all, by taking part in the elections they have achieved more power and a better negotiating position in a few months of campaigning than in decades of terrorist attacks.

If the Hamas government fails, we will be back where we were in an endless cycle of attacks and retributions. But if it becomes a success there could be progress for both sides. Hamas has itself an interest in success, for in order to stay in power it must root out corruption, provide real change and make sure it is re-elected. But it cannot do so alone, and will need help from the external sources that already provide most of the PA’s funding. As a result this could be one of those decisive moments where only a small prod suffices to get the events moving in the right direction.

In recent years, Arab regimes in the region have begun to show some commitment to a real solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore the West and the Arab regimes must work together and avoid the mistakes made when the FIS won the elections in Algeria. This should be the deal offered: recognition of Israel and an end to terrorism, in return for financial and logistic support.

The interesting effect of such a choice by the Hamas leadership would be that this could be the beginning of the end of terrorism in Israel. Real change would then have been achieved – not by a military invasion, not by occupation and suppression (which, if anything, by undermining Fatah accelerated Hamas’s rise to power rather than slowing it down), but by the ballot box.

In a, by all accounts, fair democratic competition, people chose the alternative to a government that had the support of western powers but also showed itself incapable and corrupt. This could be the example the Middle-East is looking for. As an indigenous movement come to power through democratic elections, Hamas seems to be in a better position to become a catalyst for democratic change than the invasion of Iraq.

Update 26 Jan 21:30: A first step in the right direction. According to the Libération blog:

Dès que les résultats se sont précisés, les ambassadeurs du « Comité politique et de défense », COPS, un organisme qui n’a rien à voir avec le Comité des représentants permanents  (COREPER), se sont réunis en urgence. Les Etats réputés « pro-palestiniens » (France, Espagne, Grèce, Irlande, Suède) se sont mis d’accord avec les « pro israëliens » (Allemagne, Grande-Bretagne, Pays-Bas, République Tchèque) pour conditionner la poursuite de l’aide européenne à trois exigences: la reconnaissance de l’Etat d’Israël par le Hamas, la participation au processus de paix et la renonciation à la violence. « Nous allons exiger du Hamas une révolution culturelle », explique un diplomate. « S’il accepte, ce ne sera plus la même organisation et nous pourrons poursuivre notre aide ».

One Response to “The more effective regime change?”

  1. beatroot Says:

    And we should remember that this is very much a protest vote by Palestinians against corruption and incompetence (so they are like most electorates the world over). I spent six months in Israel a few years ago, and the Palestinians are one of the most secular in the Arab world (although that is starting to change now that Arab nationalism as a political force has gone, along with the Soviet Union – so fundementalism is the only way to go if you are fed up with the political mainstream.

    But it also depends on how the Iraeli elections go. If Lakud gets in under Netanyahu then a very nasty situation could develop. And how are Hamas going to handle the recognition of Israel issue?

    The safest thing to say is that it is a very fluid situation.

    Keep up the great posts…

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