The Guardian 1 February, 2006

Hamas victory:
New opportunities or new dangers?

Peter Symon

The clear victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections will result in an intensification of the long struggle of the Palestinian people to win statehood and end the occupation by Israeli military forces and settlers in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip. Just how this struggle will proceed in the new circumstances remains to be seen as the various forces involved wrestle with the defeat of Fatah which has been the leadership of the Palestinian people for decades.

Hamas won not only because of its strong stand against Israeli occupation but also because it was seen to be incorruptible and provided welfare services to the Palestinian people which should have been, but were not, provided by the government. The Fatah government was riddled with corruption and failed to make any progress towards the formation of a Palestinian state.

The election outcome also signals the bankruptcy of the long held policies of successive Israeli and US Governments who, while talking of the "peace process" and the formation of a Palestinian state did everything to frustrate any genuine step towards both peace and the formation of a Palestinian state.

Following the 1967 Israeli war which resulted in the overwhelming defeat of Arab countries and the occupation of the lands that had been designated as Palestinian by the United Nations, the Golan Heights (Syria) and, for a time, the Sinai (Egypt) both Israel and the US flouted the numerous UN resolutions that demanded the return of Israel to its pre-1967 borders. Israel also invaded Lebanon on several occasions and remained in occupation of a strip in southern Lebanon until recently.

Instead of fulfilling UN resolutions, Israel was built up militarily by the US as an imperialist gendarme in the Middle East. Israel built its own nuclear weapons about which nothing has been done by the International Atomic Energy Agency or by the United States while they wage intense campaigns against Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) over their alleged intention to acquire nuclear weapons.

Israel, the US, Britain and other European nations continue to pretend to be in favour of the "road map to peace", but they ignore the fact that for several years the Israeli Government has refused to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority or any other Palestinian organisation. They refused to negotiate with Yasser Arafat and confined him to house arrest in Ramallah before he suffered a sudden illness and died in a French hospital. Many believe that he was murdered by the Israeli authorities.

In the aftermath of last week’s Palestinian elections, Israeli and US spokesmen are again saying that they will not negotiate with a Hamas government. If the door is slammed in the face of Hamas in this way it will signal the continuation of the same failed policies, the continued occupation of Palestinian lands and a resumption of an even more bloody conflict. It also shows that their claim to be the promoters of "democracy" in the Middle East is false and that they only accept an election outcome when representatives favoured by them are elected.

But a Hamas-led government is likely to become a much more formidable opponent as it will not only have the legitimacy of being democratically elected government but will take over command of the Palestinian police and armed forces and the resources of the Palestinian Authority.

There are those who now claim that Hamas does not have the experience to run the state but their members already lead a number of Palestinian cities at the local government level and have been involved in extensive provision of welfare services. Hamas is noted for the thorough preparation of its work and campaigns.

There are also demands that Hamas should disarm. It is really a demand that the Palestinians should surrender to gain "recognition" and "favours" from Western countries. The dismal weakness of Fatah-led governments show that this is also a one-sided demand and that surrender would not be followed by either recognition or relations based on equality. There are no similar demands that Israel should disarm or even that it should withdraw from occupied Palestinian lands.

Much is being made in the Western media about the call of Hamas for the destruction of the Israeli state. The reality is that there is no force in the Middle East that could destroy the state of Israel. It is equally impossible for Israel to succeed in expelling all the Palestinian people who live within Israel and in Palestine, not to overlook the fact that Israel has powerful Arab states as its neighbours and it is necessary for Israel to maintain relations with those states as well.

Following the elections (elections are to take place in Israel in March), the only realistic policy is for Israel to recognise the Hamas government and to start to negotiate a long-term settlement. Such a settlement must include the withdrawal of Israel to its pre-1967 borders, recognition of the right of the Palestinians to form their own state, an end to the seizure of Palestinian land and the construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory, and the release of the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails.

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