The Palestinian people have spoken and their voice has been heard. No, the results did not surprise me; I have been speaking about a 55 percent Hamas victory for several weeks. The handwriting was on the walls, but the pollsters and the analysts failed to see it. The majority of Palestinians chose Hamas not only as a protest vote against the corruption of Fatah and the PA, as many Palestinians will tell us.
The people also voted for Hamas because of its political agenda, and the Hamas won because most Palestinians share the belief that the negotiated process based on Oslo was not only bad for Israel, it was perhaps, even worse for Palestinians.
The al-Aqsa intifada received wide public support at its outset from a public that was deeply influenced by the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. In the eyes of Palestinians, 2000 Hizbullah guerillas forced the great and mighty army of Israel to run from southern Lebanon with its tail between its legs.
Hamas government will not be intimidated U.S., EU threats
Likewise, in the eyes of a large majority of Palestinians, Israel evacuated Gaza to the last grain of sand as a result of Hamas’ hitting of Israel inside and outside of Gaza. Israel left Gaza not as a result of a peace process, not as a result of negotiations, not as part of a decision to empower Mahmoud Abbas and his moderate regime. The rise of Hamas is the result of the faulty policies of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The election of Hamas put the final nail in the coffin of the peace process. The only remaining elements of the peace process – the Paris economic protocol under which Israel collects VAT and Customs tariffs and transfers them to the PA treasury will now end. The Road Map for peace is also dead.
Many people are suggesting that Hamas will go through a period of reform and change (as the name of the political party under which they ran suggests).
It is true that Hamas may become more moderate and more practical. Hamas may eventually adopt a position that would allow it to enter into some kind of negotiations with Israel, however, I assess that this is a process that will take years, not days.
Last week Hamas leader in exile, Khaled Mashal met with Iranian President Ahmadinejad; they didn’t only discuss the rising costs of a barrel of oil, they also discussed how much of those windfall profits would be pumped into the Palestinian economy. The Hamas government of the Palestinian Authority will not be intimidated by US and EU threats to stop financial support. Iran’s millions of barrels of oil everyday being pumped and sold all over the world will provide the Palestinian Authority with the ability to withstand any international boycott.
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the new Israeli foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, both stated in their speeches in the Herzliya conference this week that the ultimate fulfillment of Israel’s national strategic vision today is the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel. They both recognize that the only way to reach the end of the conflict is through a negotiated process, but today, it is clear that there is no partner for negotiations on the other side.
Kadima set to gain from Hamas victory
Israel will retain its strategic options for additional unilateralism. Israel will probably continue to act to determine its borders with the Palestinians without negotiations. The decisions that Israel will make will be far reaching, even more dramatic than what the next prime minister probably has in his mind right now – some kind of limited disengagement while holding onto the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank. Israel will not be able to sustain a limited withdrawal and will probably come to the conclusion that it must unilaterally end the occupation.
Will the outcome of the Hamas elections affect the outcome of the Israeli elections? Some people suggest that the Israeli public will respond by turning to the right. I don’t share that assessment. The Israeli public will increase its support for Kadima and for Olmert. The Israeli public understands that it is futile to put demands and conditions on the Palestinians under the Hamas leadership.
The Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu represent freezing the status quo. Those conditions cannot be met and why entrap ourselves into maintaining an unsustainable status quo because of what the Palestinian people have decided. The Israeli public’s determination to support unilateral steps that will strengthen Israel’s defensive position and further increase international support for Israel will strengthen the support for Kadima.
Hamas may try to transport its Qassam rocket war to the West Bank and may even improve the technology of this low-tech non-strategic weapon. Israel will respond to this threat and will have the support of the international community. Without full physical control of the West Bank and Gaza it will be difficult for Israel to prevent a possible ballistic intifada. If this scenario emerges, we may see in the coming years a call for the international community to impose a foreign trusteeship over Palestine in place of the Hamas government. Israel will not be hasty in reoccupying all of Palestine.
Gershon Baskin, Ph.D., is the Co-CEO of IPCRI (Israel/ Palestine Center for Research and Information)