Hamas: A Step forward or back?

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Hamas: A Step forward or back?

Yousef Munayyer

Special to American Arab Forum

The headlines came pouring in. “Shock” was the theme in most of them- utter disbelief. To me this was the first indication that Hamas’ victory in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council was justified. If you were shocked, or even surprised at the outcome of these elections then like much of the international community you are totally disconnected from the Palestinian people. This outcome has been in the making for a long time.
We can not forget that Hamas has had a well funded and experienced campaign manager: Israel. Every action Israel has taken in the past six years has played into the hands of Hamas. Some have naively argued that only the withdrawal from Gaza boosted Hamas over the top but the reality is Hamas has earned Palestinian popular support long before the Gaza withdrawal.

Some have also suggested that corruption in Fateh has led the election of Hamas. Surely allegations of corruption have hurt Fateh but that it was the deciding factor is a myth propagated by the west and Israel to redirect the blame. Israel aided in the creation of Hamas to factionalize the Palestinian movement. Today they behold the fruits of their labor.

So why did Palestinians vote overwhelmingly for Hamas? For a change, for a catalyst, for something different than the devastating conditions within which they live. The question remains whether or not Hamas will be able to provide that change.

Many have said Hamas is much smarter politically than other Palestinians parties. I had doubted this for years as I watched their leaders assassinated in broad daylight until they decided to go underground. Yet if Hamas is as smart as they are made out to be they will know they can not provide a better life for Palestinians through waging war against Israel. It is clear that Israel is the dominant force and it will continue to use force as it chooses.

Immediately Hamas will be thrown into a world of words. They will be asked to recognize Israel’s “right to exist”. This is a concept I still do not understand. Rights are granted by law, God, or the barrel of a gun (depending on your particular belief) but now where can I find it written that any “state” has a right to “exist”. The question in itself is ridiculous. It takes the right of existence, granted only to human beings, and applies it to a state which in this case exists at the expense of other human beings. Lunacy aside Hamas will still have to play the game.

Hamas will be forced to change. They are no longer and outside party yelling in. Now they are part of the political system with responsibilities and expectations. This is a framework they are not accustomed to and have no experience in. The true challenge for Hamas will be avoiding falling into the trap that Arafat fell in. In balancing between denouncing terror and resisting the Israeli occupation Arafat found himself cornered in a basement in Ramallah with no protest from the United States. In terms of relations with the US, Hamas has to dig upwards to get to that point. In essence, Hamas must play a more difficult balancing act than Arafat did.
Unlike the PLO, however, Hamas is a homegrown organization. An offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood, morphed in Palestinian refugee camps, the Islamic Resistance Movement is living with the people. The PLO spent years fighting for the cause outside of the occupied territories.

From Bierut to Tunisia the PLO represented a population they were physically distant from. Some would argue that even upon their arrival to the occupied territories they remained distant. With all this being said where we stand today is not very different from where we were last week, a month ago, or 20 years ago. The only things that continue to change is the increasing number of lives destroyed, settlements expanded, and years of ongoing occupation. The powers that be will try to tell us things are different and that the players have changed. I continue to look at the map, the people, and the geography and still, over all these years I see only two players the occupier and the occupied, the colonizer and the colonized.

The late Yasser Arafat told the United Nations in 1974 that he had a rifle in one hand and an olive branch in the other. The Palestinian Liberation Organization was eventually recognized and set at the negotiating table. For many Palestinians, the past 15 years of negotiation have produced no results. Today, a young Palestinian population, many of them too young to remember the hijackings of the 70s, let alone the Nakba of 1948, has elected a party which looks much like the PLO did only 20 years ago.

Many will attempt to factionalize the Palestinian people now. The election changes the conventional wisdom with which many approached the conflict. Do not be confused: this is still a struggle for freedom and land – It always has been. We will see the media use the results of this election to portray a religious conflict yet nothing could be further from the truth. The key issues have not changed. After years of being neglected by the international community and inferring that international law and ideas of human rights applies to everyone but them, the Palestinian people have grown tired of the status quo. The biggest question is whether the leadership of Hamas will be able to provide results with even less to work with than their predecessor.

Hamas must play a leading role but not a dictating role. As long as the Palestinian national interest directs the agenda Hamas can be just another Palestinian party fighting for the same cause. The only thing we know for certain is that any success for Palestine will come through unity and all it failures will come from the divisions imposed upon it by its enemies.

Yousef Munayyer is a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Political Science and History with a minor in Middle East Studies and a certification in International Relations.

Mr. Munayyer is a regular contributing writer to American Arab Forum, send comments to info@aafusa.org