Hamas has won an overall
majority in the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The final result, announced by the Central
Elections Commission on 29 January 2006 ,
gives it 74 out of the 132 seats on the Council, with Fatah
trailing on 45 seats. 78% of those registered
turned out to vote.
There is little doubt that the electoral
process was free and fair by any standard (except in East Jerusalem, where
Israel didn’t permit polling stations and the turnout was less than 50%) and
that the outcome reflects the will of the Palestinian people.
Needless to say, those in Washington and London who have been most
vociferous in their demands that the Arab world adopt democracy have been less
than enthusiastic about the outcome of this democratic exercise. And, before Washington and London engage with the victors,
they are required to renounce violence and recognise Israel, in other words, they
must radically change the platform on which they were elected. So much for democracy.
For the US, Condoleeza
Rice put it this way from Davos on 26 January 2006 :
“… anyone who wants to
govern the Palestinian people, and do so with the support of the international
community, has got to be committed to a two-state solution; must be committed
to the right of Israel to exist -- you can't have a peace process if you're not
committed to the right of your partner to exist; must be committed to a
renunciation of violence.”
The same day, our Prime Minister
lectured Hamas from Dublin  that
it has “to decide between a path of democracy, or a
path of violence”. It would be more
appropriate for him to lecture himself (or the US or Israel) on this point.
The UK wasn’t under Iraqi
occupation when, along with the US, he chose the “path of
violence” in March 2003 and attacked Iraq, “a path of violence”
that has led to the deaths of many tens of thousands of people. Most of the territory in which the
Palestinian elections took place is occupied (by Israel) and there is a
generally recognised right of resistance to occupation, by whatever means, including
force. Or was the French resistance to
German occupation in World War II wrong and was Churchill wrong to render assistance? If not, should we not be supporting the
Palestinian right of resistance to occupation, by force, if they so choose?
(The fact that the conflict in
Palestine is between a militarily powerful occupier (Israel), and a militarily
weak occupied people (the Palestinians), may come as a shock to people who have
been relying on the British media for their information on Palestine, since
this fundamental fact has rarely been mentioned in the widespread coverage of
the Hamas victory.)
As for recognising Israel, what Israel is Hamas
supposed to recognise and accept? The
history of Israel is one of territorial
expansion and the expulsion of Arabs in order to maintain a Jewish majority
within the expanded state. The 55% of
mandated Palestine awarded to Israel by resolution 181 of the
UN General Assembly in 1947 (in which nearly 50% of the population was Arab)
was expanded to 78% of Palestine by Israeli military
action in 1947/8 and large numbers of Arabs were driven out, so that the Arab
minority became manageable.
In 1967, the rest of Palestine was taken over, plus a large
bit of Egypt (the Sinai) and a small
bit of Syria (the Golan Heights). The Sinai wasn’t
abandoned until the Camp David Accords over a decade later. The Golan Heights and East Jerusalem were annexed. The UN Security Council formally condemned
these annexations, which are contrary to the UN Charter, but took no
enforcement action against Israel. These conquests are still part of Israel today. (At this point, one cannot
help but recall what happened to Iraq when it dared to annex Kuwait in 1990.)
The whole of Palestine would have been annexed
long ago, but for the fact that a Jewish state couldn’t be established and
maintained in it, because there were too few Jews and too many Arabs. And a suitable opportunity hasn’t occurred to
allow Arabs to be expelled without causing a fuss internationally. That could only have been done under the
cover of military conflict.
Today, there are approximately equal
numbers of Jews and Arabs in Palestine, and the Arab proportion
is rising, so without Arab expulsions a Jewish state in the whole of Palestine is impossible. One reason for the withdrawal from Gaza was to reduce the
proportion of Arabs in territory directly controlled by Israel.
The likelihood is that there will be
further withdrawals from some other territory in the West Bank for the same purpose. But, there is no way that Israel is going to withdraw
completely. The fundamental reason for
this is that in so far as there is any justification for a Jewish state in Palestine it is that there was a
Jewish state in Palestine 2,000 years ago, the heart of which was Judea and Samaria, the modern West Bank. To abandon Judea and Samaria is to abandon the
fundamental justification for a Jewish state in Palestine.
The Jewish colonisation of the West Bank after 1967 was part of a
process of reclaiming the territory of ancient Israel for the modern Jewish
state. It is not going to be undone
voluntarily by the modern Jewish state. Israel will seek to hold on to
as much of the West Bank as possible.
Whether it chooses to withdraw from
parts of the West Bank as it has done from Gaza (while being able to reassert its
control at will), or formally annexes more territory, or simply remains in
occupation, are practical matters to be determined in the light of the
strategic objective of maintaining a Jewish state incorporating as much of Judea
and Samaria as possible. And the
“international community” will stand idly by whatever happens.
The Arab population of these
territories will have no say in the matter.
And any entity, or entities, established in pieces of territory that Israel chooses to abandon will,
like Gaza, be dominated
These are the actual circumstances
in which Hamas has come to enjoy the support of
Palestinians. The notion of a “peace
process” leading to a two-state solution negotiated with Israel is an illusion. There has been endless chatter in the media
about the consequences for the peace process of the Hamas
victory, as if a “peace process” existed.
There was some excuse for believing in its existence before Sharon came to power in 2001,
but the experience of the past 5 years has removed any excuse long before
now. The Hamas
victory will have no effect on the “peace process”, because there isn’t one.
The “international community” told
the Palestinians that they must renounce violence and accept a two-state
solution, and they would get a Palestinian state. Fatah obeyed, but
they got nothing for it.
Arafat refused to be dictated to at Camp David in 2000, Fatah was told by Israel and the US that the democratically
elected president of Palestine wasn’t a suitable “partner
for peace”. They accepted this and appointed
a prime minister whom the US said was more
acceptable, but this wasn’t sufficient either – Israel said he hadn’t destroyed
the “infrastructure of terror” or some such excuse, and refused to negotiate
with him either.
Arafat died, we were told that a new era had dawned, but President Mahmoud Abbas has proved to be as
unacceptable to Israel as a “partner for peace”
as President Yasser Arafat. Before he lapsed into a coma, Ariel Sharon
described Abbas as “useless”.
Fatah have got nothing for
following the path prescribed for them by the “international community”. And meanwhile Israeli colonisation of the West Bank continues apace.
Is it any wonder Fatah
lost out to Hamas?
Their policy is to continue to plead with the US to persuade Israel to
negotiate with them, even though more than a decade of pleading has brought
them nothing; even though, before negotiations are contemplated, the US has
publicly promised Israel (a) that it can hang on to parts of the West Bank for
ever and (b) that Palestinian refugees have no right of return to this further
expanded Israeli state (see Bush’s letter to Sharon of 14 April 2004 ).
Hamas is not about pleading
with the US to bring about a
transformation in the lives of Palestinians, pleading that is certain to prove
fruitless. It is about helping
Palestinians make the best of the awful circumstances in which they find
themselves under Israeli occupation.
30 January 2006
Labour & Trade Union Review