Political Suicide

There has been quite a stew about how to deal with the fact that the terrorist organization Hamas is now the democratically elected leadership of Palestine. Many are suggesting that they should be starved out; Palestine’s economy is so utterly barren that a cessation of foreign aid would have a devastating effect. Indeed, why on earth should Israel and its allies feed a virulent enemy who is sworn to its annihilation?

Quite predictably the Left, who have tilted a long way toward outright antipathy toward Israel in recent years (as witness the late Rachel Corrie, who died defending a Palestinian arms-smuggling tunnel), have delighted in the discomfiture of the West at this unfortunate outcome of the nascent democratic process. If we are going to engage in something as arrogant as trying to increase the number of people in the world who can live in free and democratic societies instead of brutal tyrannies, then it serves us right when the whole thing backfires. How dare we?

Anyway, I had myself been leaning toward ostracization of the Hamas government, as the idea of offering any support to their poisonous ideology seemed completely wrong. But Thomas Friedman, writing in today’s Times, has led me to rethink my position.

Friedman argues that the only people who can effectively disarm Hamas are the Palestinians themselves. If Hamas is squeezed out by pressure from the US and Israel, it will be driven back into the angry streets again, its status as victim reinforced. Friedman writes:

If Hamas is going to fail now in leading the Palestinian Authority, it is crucial that it be seen to fail on its own — because it can’t transform itself from a terror group into a ruling body delivering peace, security and good government for Palestinians — not because Israel and the U.S. never gave it a chance.

… Every poll shows that the main reasons Hamas won were that Palestinians wanted more security, less corruption and better governance — not an Islamic state.

… Israel has an enormous interest in testing Hamas’s ability to evolve. Because if Hamas keeps to the current cease-fire, focuses on better governance and begins to tacitly, but not formally, support a negotiating process with Israel, the benefit to Israel would be enormous. For the first time, the whole “Palestinian street,” Hamas and Fatah, would be represented in the negotiations, making any agreement with Israel so much more legitimate.

These are pragmatic and important points. No longer would a figurehead Palestinian government be able to throw up its hands and say that it is unable to rein in the terrorists. The government will now speak in the name of the “street”.

Here is a link to the essay itself, but you probably won’t be able to get to it – the Times has begun restricting online access to Op-Ed columns to paid subscribers only.

Meanwhile, Dymphna, over at the excellent website Gates of Vienna, has posted an item about an animated comment on the cartoon crisis.

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5 Comments

  1. the one eyed man says

    It took Nixon to engage China, and it took Reagan to engage Russia. Since nobody will dispute Hamas’s credibility (if that’s the word) in fighting Israel, perhaps Hamas is the only entity which can engage Israel.

    Posted February 18, 2006 at 7:39 pm | Permalink
  2. Joe The Barber says

    If we are going to engage in something as arrogant as trying to increase the number of people in the world who can live in free and democratic societies instead of brutal tyrannies, then it serves us right when the whole thing backfires. How dare we?

    No. If we are going to increase the number of people in the world who can live in free and democratic societies, then we can’t pick and choose which democracies meet our “standards.” There’s a tremendous amount of hypocrisy in the USA right now about punishing a people (as if they haven’t been punished enough!) who have expressed their will to self-determination through free and fair elections.

    Posted February 19, 2006 at 8:27 am | Permalink
  3. Larry says

    Sorry, Joe, but there’s also a tremendous amount of confusion in the USA right now about Hamas and the Middle East generally. Let me try some clarifications:
    (a) We can and should, in the first place, judge which putative democracies meet the standards of being “free and fair”.
    (b) We cannot, of course, reject a country as a democracy merely because we don’t like the results — but that’s not what’s happening.
    (c) We can and should judge the results, however, on the basis of their consequences. If a people democratically chooses fascism for themselves, for example, they’re welcome to it — but no one else is under any obligation to support such a regime, regardless of its democracy, and we should actively oppose it as soon as it attempts to agress upon its neighbors.
    (d) Refusing to provide aid and comfort to a regime that espouses terrorism is hardly the same as “punishing” it. Certainly the Palestinians have been “punished” over the years, but largely by their erstwhile allies, the neighboring Arab states, and, sadly and ironically, by themselves (as in this sorry election).

    Posted February 19, 2006 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Hi Joe and Larry, and thanks for your comments.

    Joe, you wrote:

    …we can’t pick and choose which democracies meet our “standards.”

    Why not? As Larry points out, if, say a democratically elected government acts in a way that is overtly hostile to the US or its allies, why should we not act to resist them? The extreme case would be such a government declaring war, but it hardly needs to rise to that level to justify discontinuing foreign aid.

    Democracy is a means by which the people of a nation can collectively decide which policy is in their best interests; it is important for our own interests that we see to it that such nations are aware that selecting policies that are inimical to the US (or to its allies, or to the civilized world generally) might have undesirable consequences.

    Posted February 19, 2006 at 1:43 pm | Permalink
  5. eugene says

    Hi Mal,

    Francis Fukuyama wrote a piece on this Sunday’s New York Times magazine
    (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/19/magazine/neo.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)
    about what is after Neoconservatism. It has some interesting points in the last
    section related to the issues on promoting democracy around the world.

    As a side note, no enemies and friends are forever in politics. Even Menachem Begin’s
    faction during post WWII can be viewed as terrorists group to British Authorities in Palenstine
    as Hamas today to State of Israel. But later we know British cooperated with Israel for
    other purposes in middle east, and Menachem Begin even won a Nobel Peace Prize ….
    So I guess it is very hard for any “reasonable” person to be a forever-radical-revolutionary-terrorists or radical-conservative-patriot without compromises its own dogma, unless pragmatism is not on his/her agenda then we know the rule from evolution :-)

    Posted February 20, 2006 at 10:14 am | Permalink