Monday, January 30, 2006

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.)

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At Tue Jan 31, 12:34:00 PM GMT+2, Blogger westbankmama said...

Dan - show me right wing bloggers who thought Fatah was any better. Look at Muqata and Joe Settler's posts from Jan. 26. Look at my comment on Treppenwitz. Just three examples off the top of my head.

The main difference between the two parties is the participation in Fatah of secular/non-religious Muslims. To some in the western world this is a "kosher certification" (pun intended) that they are not fanatics. So the secular people are the ones most freaked out.

We "fellow religious fanatics" were not surprised at all.

At Tue Jan 31, 05:12:00 PM GMT+2, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I concur. I also happen to think that the Palestinians were really voting AGAINST Fatah as much as they were voting FOR Hamas.

At Tue Jan 31, 05:48:00 PM GMT+2, Blogger Don Radlauer said...


I talked about "commentators" and "pundits" rather than "bloggers" since (A) I can't claim to follow all the right-wing (or, for that matter, the non-right-wing) blogs, even the many good ones; and (B) I don't like criticizing bloggers. We bloggers are "working" for nothing, after all, and I'd much rather kvetch about the logic of someone who's being paid to do this stuff. I was mostly referring to "published" columnists. (I actually try to avoid being a "critic" in general - it's all too easy to get into the habit of criticizing other commentators for a "living", and it leads to a crabbed, negative personality and perhaps even to facial wrinkles.)

That said, you passed the test with flying colors (in your Treppenwitz comment), since you came right out and stated that the Palestinian vote made sense under the circumstances; Jameel passed cleanly; and Joe Settler squeaked through (although he claimed that Fatah channeled money and weapons to Fatah, which is not correct). Treppenwitz himself, however, needs to take a retest - and as he's one of the major class acts in the "business", I have to assume that he's not the only one. Certainly a lot of the MSM commentators I read made the mistake of interpreting the election results as an endorsement of terrorism and/or intransigence.

I suspect that Israeli bloggers may have done better on this issue than non-Israelis, on average; we have the advantage of seeing a more complete picture than people living far away.

Well challenged!

At Wed Feb 01, 11:24:00 AM GMT+2, Anonymous Anonymous said...


What makes you so sure that there was no element of "endorsement of terror" in the pal. vote?

Leaving Gaza could have been and has been widely presented as victory for Hamas' strategy and proof for the failure of negotiations with Israel.

Why should the pal. voters disregard this positive outcome of terror? I happen to think that endorsement of terror against Israel and the US is quite mainstream in the Arab world.

Shouldn't the Iran-Hamas connection also be taken into consideration?

Whether I qualify as a "right-winger" is for you to decide. I don't feel that I fit any of the rather simplistic molds from "left" to "right".


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