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Rafi Dajani on Hamas


By Rafi Dajani
Orlando Sentinel, Opinion
January 30, 2006


Last week's Palestinian elections were notable for their orderly
and peaceful manner and their high turnout, all under the
challenging conditions of a 38-year Israeli occupation. Neither
this nor a strong showing by Hamas was totally unexpected. What was
unexpected, even to Hamas itself, was the magnitude of its victory,
sweeping Fatah out of the position of preeminence it held for more
than 40 years.

Overnight, Palestinian politics entered uncharted waters.

Anger with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah had been
mounting since the death of Yasser Arafat. Without his unifying
presence, the Palestinian people became much more expressive in
their criticism of PA corruption and cronyism. Hamas, which had
been delivering efficient social, educational and health services
to the Palestinian people for years, capitalized on this with wins
in West Bank municipal elections. Add to this Fatah infighting
between the grassroots "young guard" and the "old guard" clinging
to power, and the stage was set for the stunning election results.

But Hamas' victory was also the result of the failure of other
critical parties. In the year since his election, Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas has been steadily shut out by the Israelis
and offered little more than verbal support by the Americans. The
result was that he was not able to provide the Palestinian people
with any tangible reason for electing him. In fact, the
Palestinians' conditions had worsened, with a deteriorating
security and economic situation, the encirclement of East Jerusalem
with Israeli settlements and the separation barrier, and a
unilateral Israeli approach that dimmed hopes for a Palestinian

The United States kept its involvement at a bare minimum.
Ironically, when the United States engaged, things happened, such
as midwifing the Gaza border-crossings agreement, overcoming
Israeli objections to Hamas' participation in the Palestinian
elections and securing the rights of East Jerusalem's Palestinians
to vote in the election.

With Hamas' victory, the question now is whether the organization
will adopt the process of political negotiation and renounce the
use of violence. Undoubtedly, the past year has seen a gradual
change in Hamas. Despite continuing Israeli assassinations, Hamas
has not engaged in a suicide bombing since August 2004. Its
elections platform made no mention of Israel, focusing instead on
addressing corruption and instituting reform. Its candidates, a
quarter of whom were women, included Christians and independent
professionals. Elected municipal Hamas officials are already
coordinating with Israeli authorities. Hamas leaders have hinted at
negotiations with Israelis through a third party. All these signs
point to a pragmatism that needs to be encouraged. Hamas faces new
responsibilities and expectations by the Palestinian people.
Primary is addressing the will of the Palestinian people, not only
the 95 percent of whom, according to polls, place corruption as a
top priority, but also the 80 percent of whom reject a return to
violence and the 70 percent of whom support a two-state solution.
Hamas will find that advancing statehood and even improving
Palestinians' daily lives will necessitate dealing with Israel, the
United States and the European Union, all of which will have
legitimate pre-conditions before that happens.

With Hamas an established fact, the prudent course for the
international community is to adopt a "wait and see" approach while
a new Palestinian government is formed and a platform is set forth.
After that, a process of conditional and gradual engagement should
be followed to facilitate the conversion of Hamas into a political
party and the disarming or integration of its military wing into
the Palestinian security services.

Hamas has shown it is strong. Now it needs to show it is wise.

Rafi Dajani is the executive director of the American Task Force
on Palestine, an organization advocating the U.S. national interest
in a two-state solution.

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