January 28, 2006

Israelis and Palestinians: Listening to the Words

In the aftermath of the Hamas electoral victory, there have been all sorts of dire predictions, as well as some hopeful ones. On the one hand, some say that like it took Nixon to go to China, like it took Menachem Begin to make peace with Anwar Sadat, that it will take Hamas to make peace with Israel. On the other, some predict renewed major conflict with the armed wing of Hamas, an escalation of violence and a renewed effort to wall off the West Bank and separate Israelis from Palestinians as permanently as possible.

Perhaps what we might want to do is listen first. Listen to what the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are saying. We might want to listen to what Hamas says, and what the Israeli government says.

And while we are listening, we need to watch what they all do. Then we will have a clearer idea of where all this is going.

Let's start with the average Israeli and Palestinian people speaking. Here, from the BBC, alternating between Palestinian and Israeli, is some of what they have to say:


Khaled Jaber, office manager
"Hamas winning is a good thing - it is the choice of the people. I think the future will be better under a Hamas government. There won't be any problems in the government as there were under Fatah. Religion is the manual for good government in the world and I think we shall see a good Hamas government."


Ludmilla Mossovtsev, teacher
"It is not good that Hamas won the elections. These people are terrorists and now they are in the government. They blow up buses and should not be running a country. I want peace but I don't think that the Palestinian people want peace and they've shown this by voting for Hamas."


Felicia Barghouti, journalist
"We expected Hamas to do well because it won many seats in local polls. After Yasser Arafat's death, Fatah collapsed. It couldn't work cohesively, there were always problems. People became tired. As for Hamas, I'm not worried society will get more conservative. Hamas is focused on resistance against Israel and on fixing the economy."


David Komer, soldier
"Hamas being in power concerns me. The world doesn't seem to have a problem with Hamas.
Now because they are a valid political party it makes it okay in the eyes of the world that they blew up buses. I won't be willing to negotiate with anyone that advocates the destruction of Israel."


Alla Abu Turk, marketing boss
"It doesn't matter what party governs - what matters is they need experience. I'm worried that Hamas don't have any experience in government and they will have to learn very quickly."


Baruch Sangauker, chef
"Hamas and Fatah are one and the same. But we need to talk to Hamas and if they don't understand our position then we need to be prepared to defend ourselves. It's very important that we see whether we have a partner for peace with Hamas. But I am really not concerned that Hamas are in power."


Nehad Mahmoud, rights worker
"I support Hamas. They will bring new ideas to government. I like Hamas because they are the real resistance against Israel. Hamas are positive whereas Fatah are negative. Fatah were only interested in positions and money, not in the people. The international community will have to talk to Hamas if it wants to speak to the Palestinians."


Rebecca Illulina, student
"I think it's pretty scary that Hamas have come to power. It will be a country run by terrorists and I feel very unsafe having them as neighbours. It's like al-Qaeda running the United States. I think the result is anti-democratic, it's the opposite of freedom. Even freedom needs boundaries and Hamas are outside those boundaries."


Barakat Barakat, civil servant
"Hamas are a change for good. Hamas won this election because people wanted a change.
They are the group that supports the Palestinian people and they are our best friend. Through their social services Hamas help the people. People asked yesterday who is for the Palestinian people and the answer came today: Hamas."


Yoram Shilony, restaurant owner
"I am very happy that Hamas will be in government - they are so fanatical that maybe being in government will moderate them. If this happens, it will be good for Israel. Fatah said they wanted peace but all they made was war. Now Hamas speaks the truth and we know exactly what they think and what stands in front of us."


Akram Baker, business adviser
"This was an exercise in Palestinian democracy but Hamas are going to find the difference between governing and not governing very difficult. The writing was on the wall for Fatah for quite a while now. I think a lot of Hamas' support came from protest votes. People were tired of Fatah infighting and corruption."


Matthew Israel, gift shop owner
"I think it's good for democracy that Hamas are in power, that's democracy. The only problem is that, like Nasser, they want to throw us in the sea. Now they are our enemy, and who can sit down and talk with the enemy? But if Hamas changes its way, then Israel should talk to them."


What the American administration has said:

"I have made it very clear, however, that a political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal." (President Bush, Press Conference, January 26, 2006)

"I think the President made our view very clear yesterday. We don't deal with Hamas because Hamas is a terrorist organization....I think I indicated to you earlier in that statement we do not, and will not, give money to a terrorist organization." (Scott McClellan, White House Press Briefing, January 27, 2006)

How Hamas has responded:

"A senior Hamas leader has rejected demands that the Islamic militant group renounce violence, to prevent aid cuts for the Palestinian Authority. Ismail Haniya, who headed Hamas' election list, said they would not give in to "blackmail" by foreign donors." (BBC, January 28, 2006)

What the Israeli Government has said:

"Israel has said it will not deal with a Palestinian government including Hamas, following the Islamic militant group's sweeping victory in Palestinian polls. Israeli interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ruled out any talks with "an armed terror organisation that calls for Israel's destruction." (BBC, January 27, 2006)


I don't think that at this point in the process of digesting what the Hamas victory means, that we can expect anything less than what we have heard above. What really could we expect all these people to say otherwise? There is nothing new in any of these positions or viewpoints.

But I do take away a sense of two possibilities. One possibility -- all out civil war among the Palestinians with the Israelis brought in militarily -- could make the Intifada look like a minor scuffle. Or the other possibility, a slow moderation of each side coming to terms with the reality that the only sensible alternative is to find a way to peace. Hamas must know that it cannot destroy Israel, and the Israelis must know that it cannot continue to support huge settlements in so much of the West Bank.

I take some hope from something else Ehud Olmert, the acting Israeli Prime Minister, said a few days ago, before the Hamas victory:

"In order to ensure the existence of a Jewish national home, we will not be able to continue ruling over the territories in which the majority of the Palestinian population lives."


Dicky Neely said...

Very interesting post! We have come to grief many times, most recently in Iraq, when we have acted with no clear understanding of the region or its people where we became engaged militarily and politically.
We still have a lot to learn about the Middle East.

MidlifeMutant said...

Democracy is dangerous, huh?