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 Friday, January 27, 2006

Democracy in Middle East: A Two-Edged Sword for President Bush

  Read here full article by Paul Richter in LA Times

HAMAS's victory at the Palestinian election was a graphic illustration of the perils of the President's push for greater democracy in the Middle East.

Some analysts said the U.S. would have to rethink the entire approach.

Some U.S. officials acknowledged that the administration was surprised by the Hamas victory, which was not predicted by any poll.

  • Elections in the last year have handed power to a hard-line government in Iran and to religious Shiite parties in Iraq.

  • They have boosted the position of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

  • The vote in Palestinian territories Wednesday was perhaps the clearest example that elections do not necessarily result in governments friendly to Washington.

    However, Bush also seemed to leave open the possibility of a better relationship with Hamas. He said he didn't regard the vote as an endorsement of terrorism.

    He rejected suggestions that the vote was a setback for his strategy of using democratic reform to bring beneficial change.

    Yet it was clear that Hamas' victory had altered the diplomatic landscape overnight in a way that seems likely to diminish U.S. leverage in the search for Middle East peace.

    The election throws into doubt how much Washington can use one lever of its influence — U.S. aid — since federal law prohibits the spending of American money by groups such as Hamas that are designated terrorist organizations.

    The elections also will test U.S. relations with another key partner in the peace effort, the Europeans.

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice likewise suggested that Washington hoped it could prod HAMAS toward acceptable conduct.

    Edward Abington, a former U.S. diplomat who advises the Palestinian Authority, predicted that in the absence of the current leadership, the peace effort would come to a halt. He said Abbas would probably remain in office but become increasingly isolated.

    "The Americans will say they support him, but I don't know how much that will mean."

    Abington called the elections "a huge setback for the Bush administration and its policy in the region."

    Some analysts predicted that Hamas' victory would cause a rethinking among outsiders if not within the White House. David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said there needed to be "some soul-searching in Washington" about whether the administration pressed too hard for the election over Palestinian calls to postpone it.

    New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said the election had to be respected as it reflected the will of the Palestinian people. Mr Peters said:
    "Hamas now has an historic opportunity and responsibility to change direction and embrace the peace process.

    Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei's government has resigned and Hamas is in a position to form a new government.

    Hamas now has the responsibility to represent all Palestinians and embody their need and desire for peace and stability."
    Read here for more

    In Israel, shocked and embarrassed was the best way to describe the mood at Israel Defense Force (IDF) headquarters in Tel Aviv after the top brass learned of Hamas's unexpected landslide victory.

    One senior Israeli Defense Ministry official said the army had clearly failed in its job to accurately "read" the Palestinian street. The mistake, the official said, showed that Military Intelligence (MI) was "out of touch" with what was really going on in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

    "What this mistake shows," the official said, "is that the IDF is not on top of things and is out of touch with what is really going on in the PA territories." Read here for more

  • How HAMAS has attained political power


    The strong showing of Hamas in the Palestinian elections is worrisome to Israel, the United States and most European states.
    However, it is not surprising.

  • The United States classified Hamas as ''a terrorist group.''

  • Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated ''It is not possible to have one foot in terrorism and the other foot in politics. It simply does not work.''

  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that ``it is very difficult for us to be in the position of negotiating or talking to Hamas unless there's a clear renunciation of terrorism.''

    Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader, repeatedly emphasized during the campaign the right to armed struggle to destroy Israel.

    He said,
    ''We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, nor his right to be our neighbor, nor to stay on the land.

    Our principles are clear: Palestine is a land of Waqf (Islamic trust), which cannot be given up.''

    Zahar told a cheering crowd that Hamas participated in the elections to make the newly elected legislative council ``a project of resistance.''
  • Upsetting? Yes. Surprising? No.

    Hamas previously refused to participate in Palestinian Authority elections, believing this was de facto recognition of Israel.

    Following the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004, Hamas reversed this stand, determining to enhance its political power by engaging politically.

    Since Arafat's passing, Hamas' support has grown by approximately 40 percent.

    Five factors contributed to Hamas ascendancy.

    1. Hamas concluded that it could fill a power vacuum after Arafat died. While Arafat's popularity declined during his last years, he was still an icon who was almost impossible to challenge successfully. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), is a man in his 70s, with little charisma and almost no following on the streets.

      Abbas was unable to curb Palestinian corruption. His security forces are unable to ensure law and order.

      Unemployment among Palestinians still seeking work is approximately 20 percent in the West Bank and over 30 percent in Gaza.

      Poverty is more widespread, and basic services are inadequate.

      Arab states have not provided the aid they promised.

      Despite meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President George Bush, Abbas did not move the peace process. Both Israel and the United States concluded that, despite his positive comments, Abbas could not deliver.

    2. Fatah, the party founded by Arafat in the 1960s and now led by Abbas, has become increasingly fragmented.

      Although theoretically united while Arafat lived, splits within Fatah were discernable during Arafat's lifetime.

      Younger members objected to the arrogance of their elders, many of whom had traveled with Arafat and only returned to the region in 1994.

      While the old guard never regained credibility on the streets, younger leaders such as Marwan Barghouti developed their own following within Fatah, but did not achieve sufficient leadership positions within the party.

    3. Hamas earned support even among Palestinians who rejected hard-line positions. Aided by funds from Iran and elsewhere, Hamas provided alternative social services, including education, medical care and welfare.

      Hamas also sought to crack down on many elements of corruption. Its successes in municipal elections enabled it to show that it could work to enhance the quality of people's lives.

    4. Explanations provided by Hamas for Israeli disengagement from Gaza resonated more than those provided by the PA. Khaled Mashal, a Hamas leader, said,
      ''The resistance . . . of our people forced the Zionists to withdraw.''
      This approach legitimized the death of ''martyrs,'' enhanced Palestinians' self-image and set the stage for future territorial gains through further violence.

    5. Hamas is more politically unified than Fatah. Unlike Fatah, which ran multiple candidates in some districts, Hamas did not dilute its vote.
    Hamas will now play a major role in the new government without rejecting any core principles such as accepting Israel's right to exist, renouncing terrorism or disarming its constituents.

    This, in turn, poses major challenges to Washington and Jerusalem.

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