Hamas WinThis weekend I spent a bit of time, which is more than I usually spend, watching the TV, because of the Hamas win in the Palestinian elections. I saw a press conference with Hamas leadership, and then I watched a three-person panel of two PLO (Fath) people and one Hamas person. This was quite interesting. (The panel was on Al Jazeera, the press conference was on Al Alam, which is an Arabic-language news station funded by Iran.)
Fath is trying its damnedest to paint Hamas as silly and non-serious. The two Fath people on the panel sounded unbelievably condescending as they talked about how Hamas could not possibly fix all the issues facing Palestine while at the same time they admitted that Fath had a "problem with corruption" (which they managed to make sound something cosmetic like wearing the wrong color tie). They made it sound as if Hamas were Aymen Nour or some other johnny-come-lately doing the elections as a sort of lark, instead of a social/political/ideological movement decades old that has had grassroots support from Palestinians not just because it confronts Israel but because it has helped them with social services like clinics.
Yasser Abed Rabboh, who was one of the panelists, and is looking rather youthful compared to the other old guard PLO people, took the cake when he condescendingly suggested that Hamas concern itself with "domestic" issues leaving Fath to deal with the peace process and foreign relations, and "ask" Fath members to take over the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Interior (which to me, is a domestic ministry itself, but what do I know).
The press conference was interesting too if only to drive home the point that Hamas are not a bunch of firebrand screamers but savvy politicians. The Hamas spokesman came across as firm, not crazy, when he spoke of the necessity to reclaim Jerusalem, somehow without calling for Israel's destruction or saying anything definitive about Israel one way or the other. He also pointed out that if the West were to withhold aid, then Hamas would do without it. (Later I heard, from Internet rather than media sources, that Hamas is already planning to get aid from Iran if the West boycotts it. This would not be a good plan from the Western standpoint, so if anyone in the West were to listen to me, I would advise that they not take the absolutist attitude on this issue before at least trying to work with the new, democratically elected Palestinian leadership, whether they would have preferred them to win or not.)
It will be interesting to see what will happen next. I have rather muted hopes for anything positive to come out of this - based on my own pessimistic views - but am praying that I will be wrong. (Briefly, those views are that a) Israel/the west will never allow Hamas to actually do anything positive because that would be the greatest threat of all, the threat of a good example of an alternative to Western models, and b) I do not have really high hopes for religious-based political movements in the long run as I think when they are in power they tend to become really reactionary, and focus on scapegoating of certain powerless minorities, and public enforcement of private morality issues, and usually try to limit women's role in open society, and thus end up not being particularly good for solving their societies' problems. Again, I'd love to be proved wrong on both of these points.)