Interpreting the Palestinian Vote: The “Can’t Win” Syndrome
In the aftermath of Hamas’ surprising (at least to most of us) victory in the Palestinian legislative elections, a lot of commentators have decried the Palestinians’ supposed preference for terrorism over peacemaking, rejectionism over recognition of Israel, and so on. These pundits express disappointment at the Palestinians’ choice, and recommend a “get tough” policy with our now-confirmedly-hostile neighbors.
There’s one problem here: Most of these commentators are right-wingers who, until the last few days, frequently reminded us that Fatah was just as much a terror organization as Hamas, that Abu Mazen was basically Yasser Arafat in a suit and necktie (and with the charisma of a tree-sloth, but that’s beside the point), and so on.
You can’t have it both ways, guys. Either Fatah is a vicious terrorist organization intent on Israel’s destruction – more or less like Hamas, in other words – or it isn’t. If it is, then the Palestinians who voted for Hamas over Fatah didn’t do so because of Hamas’ pledges to eliminate Israel (since Fatah feels the same way); they voted for Hamas because Fatah was utterly corrupt and incompetent, and Hamas gave them some hope of better, more honest government.
If, on the other hand, Fatah really was a “peace partner” for Israel – meaning that voting for Hamas was a rejection of peace and coexistence, an endorsement of terrorism, and so on – then why were you guys so hostile to Fatah when it was in power?
As I’ve said before, I tend to view the difference between Fatah and Hamas, terrorism-wise, as more a matter of degree and nuance than anything substantive. While Fatah – or at least some parts of it – may be slightly more amenable to compromise and coexistence, it’s more than a little silly to pretend that Yasser Arafat’s old outfit is some sort of Palestinian Peace Now. Given this – and assuming that Palestinian voters are no dumber than the average hedgehog – it seems rather foolish and unfair to accuse the Palestinians of “rejecting peace” by voting for Hamas rather than Fatah. If neither party contesting the elections could rationally be seen as opposing terrorism and promoting a final settlement based on compromise and accommodation, the election results cannot be viewed as expressing any clear opinion on these issues.
The Can’t-Win Syndrome
According to some of my fellow Zionist opiners’ world-view, it would seem that the Palestinians, unless they roll over and play dead (metaphorically, of course – or maybe not), can do no right. Everything they do or say is viewed exclusively in terms of their conflict with Israel and the Jews, generally in order to highlight their refusal to countenance Israel’s existence, their acceptance of violence as a means to achieve their national goals, and so on. If the Palestinians choose Hamas over Fatah, the decision can be understood only as an endorsement of terrorism and irredentism, never as a choice between possibly-good administration and abysmal administration.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Palestinian hostility towards Israel is merely a figment of the right-wing Zionist imagination. The fact that there was no significant contender in this election running on an anti-terrorism, pro-compromise platform is sad. The fact that any such contender would have been murdered at the polls – perhaps literally – is sadder. But given the choices that were presented to the Palestinian electorate, there is no valid reason to interpret the election results as having anything much to do with Israel or with terrorism.
In this light, I’d like to pose a little challenge to anyone who disagrees with me. Try to answer honestly: If Fatah had won the Palestinian parliamentary elections, would you be congratulating the Palestinian voters for “choosing peace” as loudly as you now condemn them for “choosing terror”?
(This post can also be found at the Guns and Butter Blog.)
Categories: Palestine, Hamas, Fatah, Hamastan.