Linda Heard is a British editor, journalist and columnist currently based in Cairo where she is a correspondent for the English-language Saudi daily The Arab News. Besides the writer’s weekly column in the Gulf News and regular articles in Shindagah magazine, her political commentaries have been published in Ahram Weekly, the South China Morning Post, Athens News, Palestine Chronicle, CounterPunch, Alternet, Online Journal and Outlook India.
Read here article by Linda Heard
The strong message coming out of Israel, which has long self-styled itself as “the only democracy in the region”, and Western proponents of Middle East democracies is that true democracy doesn’t pay.
Israel, the US and the EU all agree that the Jan. 27 elections, which produced a landslide Hamas victory, were free and fair, but this wasn’t good enough for them.
The outcome was simply NOT TO THEIR LIKING.
So now, the Palestinian people must be punished for making the wrong choice.
The Palestinians have been subsisting under siege for more than half-a-century.
Yet their spirit remains undimmed as we saw on Jan. 27 when, encouraged and supported by the West, they went to the polls hoping for a better future.
Why did they choose Hamas is a question that many are asking.
Some so-called experts believe the Palestinians wanted to punish Fatah for the party’s perceived graft as well as its failure to deliver either security or peace.
On the other hand, Hamas has displayed a social conscience providing the poor with food, medical treatment and education for their children.
While some leaders of Fatah have constructed grand multistory villas for themselves and regularly stuffed their Swiss bank accounts, their Hamas counterparts have espoused simple living and vowed to combat corruption.
Whether Israel and the West like it or not, Hamas is now in the driving seat.
This is not the time for hysteria.
Israeli-Palestinian politics has reached a watershed and what happens from here on will design the future perhaps for decades to come.
The West’s refusal to talk to Hamas and its threats of cutting aid unless Hamas disarms and recognizes Israel is NOT the way forward.
Rather than break the will of Hamas, this stance is likely to further radicalize the group and throw it into the arms of Tehran, whose leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has expressed the wish to see Israel wiped off the map.
When considering their policies vis-à-vis Hamas, Israel, the US and the EU should bear in mind the unilateral ten-month hudna (cease-fire) adhered to by Hamas and its willingness to join the mainstream and pursue a political agenda.
These are good indications that Hamas is now willing to adopt a more moderate line.
Furthermore, Hamas is urging Fatah members to join its new government and promises to fill ministerial seats with technocrats, with whom Israel and the West can do business.
But Israel has threatened to withhold millions of dollars representing customs and VAT reimbursements and announced it intends to pursue its policy of assassinating Hamas leaders even if they are appointed ministers.
Khaled Meshal, the group’s current leader, has himself been a victim of this policy.
In 1998, Meshal was targeted by Mossad agents masquerading as Canadians and injected with a lethal toxin.
His predecessor Abdel-Aziz Rantissi and the spiritual leader of Hamas Sheikh Ahmed Yassin were both victims of targeted Israeli missiles.
Amid such a hostile climate, it is unreasonable to expect Hamas to disarm, embrace Israel and tear up its controversial charter overnight.
When Fatah stretched out its hand, Israel wanted to grab the whole arm and still refused to return to the peace table, so why should Hamas expect preferential treatment?
Israel, the US and the EU need to open up lines of communication with Hamas.
The new German Chancellor Angela Merkel showed the stance she plans to take when refusing to meet with Hamas representatives last Sunday during a visit to the region.
Does Ms. Merkel honestly believe that such rejection of a democratically elected body will bear fruit?
I don’t think so.
Refusing to face the new Palestinian reality is not only hypocritical when Europe has been actively encouraging unfettered elections, but also puerile.
The Israeli public is nervous.
It's own ballot is on the horizon and if it perceives Hamas as a serious threat, it could once again opt for the hard-line Likud, led by archhawk Binyamin Nethanyahu, who has already compared the Hamas win to the rise of Hitler.
It’s time for the US and Europe to quit their bully boy roles, get out of the name-calling schoolyard and show the Israelis that while the way forward won’t be strewn with rose petals, it doesn’t have to be littered with bullets either.
Where are the wise men?
Where are the lateral thinkers?
If the only solution Israel and the West can come up with is starving a people who are struggling daily to combat poverty, then shame on them.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006