Saturday, January 28, 2006

More Than a Feeling

Although I have been more optimistic about Hamas entering the political process than I probably should be, I haven’t been good at articulating why. At a basic level, it is just a gut feeling. There is something nagging at me that Hamas entering politics is a positive step. But it has only been recently that I have really understood why I feel this way.

First and foremost, I think change in a situation like this is necessary. For too long both sides have been able to accept the status quo. Of course they claim they don’t like the current situation, but it is rare when major steps are really taken to move towards peace. That is why I was supportive of Ariel Sharron’s wall, and his unilateral pullout of Gaza. Both of those policies have been criticized by members of this blog, but I can no longer hold out hope for perfect solutions nor tolerate the way things exist now. I like big changes that shake people from going about their lives with their heads down and force them to take a long look at what is going on around them.

But there is more to Hamas’ victory that leaves me optimistic. Lately, I have suggested that involvement in politics might moderate Hamas, although I have also hinted to the fact that this hope might be naïve (and others have said the same thing). But what is exciting is that Hamas can no longer hide in the shadows. The popularity of their policies will be very apparent every time they face election. Reckless actions couldn’t be punished by disapproving Palestinian people in the past, where now they can vote Hamas out of office.

Also, talks by Hamas of forming a Palestinian army may seem frightening, but I would much rather see them as a formal military whose actions would warrant legitimate responses instead of keeping them as an underground militant organization that is difficult to identify and fight. Let’s remember that both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas were able to blame their inability to control Hamas (and Islamic Jihad) for breaks in cease fire agreements. But with Hamas in power, these claims will not be in any way credible (although most would argue that weren’t believed before either).

Since the election results have been announced, Hamas has been making statements to the press, and those statements have been far less extreme than I had expected. For example, although they don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist, they have recognized the reality of Israel’s presence and are willing to deal with them. These comments are much less troubling than what is coming out of Iran for example.

In the end, I feel like this development will leave the peace process no worse than it has been recently and quite possibly better. Hamas is no longer underground and will now be forced to defend its decisions in dealing with Israel. If it doesn’t form a Palestinian military, attacks by Hamas can be effectively considered attacks by the Palestinian government, and dealt with accordingly. And let’s not forget, their domestic agenda is much more likely to help the Palestinian people than anything Fatah might have attempted, and maybe in time would provide fewer angry young men willing to become suicide bombers.