Hamas wins


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 [1], 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.


Platform change

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 [2]:


“… 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 [3] 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.)


Recognising Israel

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 by Israel.


What “peace process”?

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.


After Yasser 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.


When Yasser 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 [4]).


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.




[1]  www.elections.ps/template.aspx?id=291

[2]  www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2006/59957.htm

[3]  www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page8972.asp

[4]  www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/04/20040414-3.html



David Morrison

30 January 2006

Labour & Trade Union Review