Israel and Palestine after the
elections of 2006
Added on October 4, 2006
President Abbas declared that
Fatah's negotiations with Hamas for a government of national unity have
definitively failed. The reason: At the General Assembly of the United
Nations in New York City at the end of September, Abbas said that Hamas
would recognize Israel. Subsequently, Hamas declared that this was not the
case, that Hamas was not ready to recognize Israel.
Article added on April 4, 2006 (updated on April 7, 2006)
The 2006 Palestinian (article
in French) and Israeli elections have brought major changes to the
political landscape of the Middle East. Although the signs so far are not
very encouraging, with Hamas not ready to recognize Israel, a suicide bomber
blowing himself up and killing four Israelis, Qassam rockets regularly
fired at the Negev and Israeli military forces retaliating as well as Hamas and Fatah
close to a civil war. However, a
crisis is always a chance to rethink past and present policies, it is a
chance for change and in the case of the Middle East a chance for peace.
According to Haaretz, Hamas has so far abstained from terror attacks. It
remains to be seen if they will be able and willing to hinder organizations
such as the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine, the Fatah and "rogue" Fatah cells from attacking Israel and
carrying out suicide assassinations.
Israel has withdrawn from Gaza while Kadima as well as other political forces
seem ready to continue the unilateral steps of withdrawing from other
occupied territories. At the same time, both Israel and the United States
boycott the new Hamas government, since they are unwilling to accept the
right of existence of the state of Israel.
The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) won a absolute majority of 76 out of
132 seats in the Palestinian parliament in the general election in Palestine
on January 25, 2006. Therefore, the radical Islamists enjoy now an unknown
legitimacy. This is almost tragic since, after the death of Arafat and the
second cerebral attack of Sharon, two of the major obstacles to a durable
peace had been "eliminated". And then this surprising vote, partly a protest
again the corrupt Fatah and partly a deliberate choice.
Before falling into a coma, Sharon had engaged himself with a unilateral
withdrawal policy that many observers interpreted as a new policy of peace.
However, it is wise to be cautious. It could well have been a simple
tactical maneuver, giving up Gaza in order to keep the West Bank and
East-Jerusalem, to sabotage the "Middle East roadmap"
as well as the peace process and the creation of a Palestinian state. That
was exactly how Sharon's close adviser Dov Weissglas presented in 2004 the
then prime minister's strategy. We will never if the dynamics of withdrawing
would have driven Sharon to go farther than initially intended. Anyhow, it
remains a fact that only a man of the reputation of "the bulldozer" was able
push Israeli politics in a new direction. Today, most political forces
openly declare to give up additional territories for peace, East-Jerusalem
Founded in 1987 from different movements and associations of the (Sunni)
Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement from Egypt, Hamas denounced the 1993
Oslo Accords for peace and, until today, does not recognize the right of
existence of the state of Israel. Hamas first rose to prominence during the
first Intifada, after which it radicalized itself and carried out numerous
suicide attacks against Israeli civilians in their territory as well as by
the assassination of Palestinians suspected to collaborate with the "enemy".
Initially, the Israeli government tolerated Hamas, hoping it would act as a
counterbalance to the PLO and its leader Arafat.
Since Hamas advocates the creation of a state of Palestine on the territory
of the historic Palestine, which includes the territory of Israel and
therefore implies the
destruction of the state of Israel, the Israeli authorities quickly adopted
a policy of non-recognition, repression and even killing key-figures of Hamas. On March 2003 for instance, the Israeli army killed the paralytic
founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and on April 17, 2004 his successor, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi
as head of Hamas was also killed.
Since "the fish stinks from the head", eliminating the masterminds of
unacceptable policies may have made some sense in the mind of some Israeli
politicians in the past. However, Israel's policy towards the Palestinian Authority as a
whole was not constructive and lacked credibility. Now that Hamas have
democratically won the Palestinian elections, they have a clear mandate to
govern. This is not crisis, but a chance for Hamas to change.
Under the influence of then prime minister Ariel Sharon, the US government
considered Hamas a terrorist organization. This position was later shared by
the European Union. In order to avoid a deadlock, both parties must change.
It is evident that Hamas, which yesterday advocated the destruction of the state of
Israel, cannot change its attitude overnight if it does not want to lose its
credibility among its supporters. However, during the election campaign,
they proved that they have a substantial influence on Palestinians to the
point of being able to stop suicide attacks. Furthermore, let's not forget that
some Israeli leaders of the past have carried out terrorist attacks themselves
during the British mandate over Palestine. In certain circumstances, today's
terrorist or freedom fighter may become tomorrow's statesman. The cease-fire
and de-facto "tolerance" of the state of Israel is a first step that should
not be underestimated. It remains to be seen if Hamas can control or
influence other organizations such as Fatah, the Islamic Jihad or the
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In recent days, the attempt
to push Fatah and others to disarm has failed.
The electoral victory of Hamas on January 25, 2006 reflected the
Palestinians disenchantment with Fatah, whose government was inefficient and
corrupt. The Palestinian Authority (PA) needs Israel in order to be able to govern
Palestine, which is not
a viable state. It depends on foreign aid. In 2005, the European Union gave
500 million Euros to the PA. Many Palestinians still live in refugee camps,
where the unemployment rate reaches 50%. People in despair and with no
perspective are easy targets for extremists. Constructive action is
needed. Many Palestinians depend on Israelis as employers. In daily life,
regarding water and electricity, collecting custom duties and other vital
services, Palestine depends on the cooperation of Israel. They will have to
find a modus vivendi. Furthermore, Hamas has to proof the following
electorate: that it is able to make the passage from a terrorist group to a
political party, that it is competent and able to improve the life of ordinary
Palestinians and will be able to eliminate the omnipresent corruption under the Fatah
We can only hope that after a few months of rhetorical fireworks, both Hamas
and the new Israeli government (probably led by Kadima) will find
constructive ways of living together. After a period of mutual tolerance,
Palestinians and Israelis could reach a mutual recognition, which will offer
durable peace and prosperity in the region. There is no alternative.
Otherwise, Palestine risks a civil war, Israel and Palestine an open
conflict with each other as well as the implication of other regional and
even extra-continental forces. The Israeli elections of March 28, 2006 have
shown that people are exhausted. They are ready to renounce further
territories in exchange for peace. Palestinians want a viable state. This is
a chance, not a crisis.
Results of the elections to the 17th Knesset held on March 28, 2006: Kadima
29 seats, Labor 19, Likud 12, Shas 12, Yisrael Beiteinu 11, the National
Union-National Religious Party 9, Gil (pensioners) 7, United Torah Judaism
6, Meretz 5, United Arab List/Arab Renewal 4, Hadash 3, and the National
Democratic Assembly 3.
Added on April 7, 2006: The U.S. cuts $300 million in aid to the Palestinian
Authority, and the EU decided to freeze payments to the PA because the Hamas
led Palestinian government has neither recognized Israel's right to exist
nor renounced violence. Hamas's charter still officially calls for Israel's