The US and Hamas: A Sick Diplomatic Fantasy

[Micah D. Halpern, a social and political commentator]

Summary ... It's all right, says the United States, if Hamas wants to run for the Palestinian Legislature. It's all right if they win. We'll deal with them after the election. Those are the sentiments of the Bush administration.

Hamas. Democracy.

Those two words don't even belong on the same page.

And yet, the greatest diplomatic minds the United States has to offer, see a connection. In a complete turnabout, the United States has decided not to be vocal, forceful or interventional when it comes to allowing Hamas to participate in January's Palestinian Legislative Elections.

It's all right, says the United States, if Hamas wants to run for the Palestinian Legislature. It's all right if they win. We'll deal with them after the election. That's when we'll have clout. That's when they'll listen to us.

Those are the sentiments that the United States Secretary of State expressed to the Israeli Prime Minister during her most recent visit to the Middle East. That is the new US policy concerning Hamas and Palestinian elections. The meeting was tense.

Israel isn't buying into this Pollyannish thinking. And neither should we.

The United States cannot have it both ways, no matter how Condi Rice, with a winking nod of approval from her boss, tries to finesse it.

The United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization. That has not changed. The United States has lobbied Western Europe to include Hamas as a terrorist organization on their lists. For months the United States has publicly, privately, loudly, frequently, voiced objection to having Hamas run in the newly democratic Palestinian election. For months the United States demanded that Hamas first give up terror and then embrace elections. They said: Hamas, hand in your guns for a soapbox. And they said it again. And again.

What's happening now? Now, rather than Hamas withdrawing candidacy, the United States has decided to withdraw objection, not to interfere in the internal workings and elections of the Palestinian people. Big brother is playing right into the hands of bad brother.

Big Brother, the United States, has embraced a warped perception of the strength, desires and reality of the Palestinian people and their leadership. The United States is acting out a diplomatic fantasy.

In the real Palestinian world there is strong support for Hamas, the purveyors of child care, soup kitchens, health management and acts of terror. There is strong likelihood that in the January election Hamas can take 25%-30% of the vote. That would deal a severe defeat to the ruling Fatah party and a deadly blow to democracy in the PA.

In her attempt to rationalize the new US policy to Ariel Sharon, Condi Rice offered that a colossal win by Hamas would be perfectly OK.

She said that it would be easier to disarm Hamas after the election because then they would feel the pressure not only from the United States, but also from the entire international community. She said that after the elections Palestinian President Abbas would be forced by the United States to disarm Hamas and that if he failed, he would lose the support of the United States and of the world.

And then Secretary of State Condi Rice said that even if Hamas became part of the PA cabinet and government, the United States would shun contact with them. She forgot to add the childish chide "nyeah, nyeah, nyeah".

And now I ask: Why would Abbas disarm Hamas after the election, victorious or defeated, if he has not yet done so? Abbas' stated aim, after all, is not to disarm Hamas. Abbas is in a win-win situation. If Hamas wins big in the election, the Palestinian president can say that the people have spoken in a democratic manner and they are supportive of Hamas and all that they represent. If they lose, Abbas can say I am strong, Hamas is weak, the Palestinian people have nothing to fear.

And I ask also: Why would Hamas willingly capitulate to US pressure when they have gotten everything they want, when they have grown in popularity, by standing firm against the United States?

And why isn't anybody else asking these questions?

Does anyone really believe that the United States will truly shun the Palestinian Authority if they do not disarm Hamas? After the election? It's preposterous. Heck, they won't even shun members of the PA government who have supported terror. In the end, the Palestinian Authority will have outsmarted the United States. In the end, Hamas will have outwitted and outmaneuvered the greatest country in the world.

And what will Israel be doing as the United States turns its back on morality and democracy? Sharon for his part said that he will not interfere with Palestinian elections. But neither will he lift restrictions on Hamas and the search for Hamas members will continue. To do anything else would be to give Hamas carte blanche to roam without fear of detection or capture. And that, he said, would be counter productive, that would be exactly what the United States is doing.

Democracy should never be so open that it allows non-democratic parties and forces to join elections and thereby destroy it. We call that anarchy.

[ Published in November 15, 2005 ]

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