It’s a good thing that Hamas “won the latest Palestinian Authority election”:http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/01/26/palestinian.election.1604/index.html. I’m all for it. I’m a Jew, and sympathetic to old-fashioned Zionism, but, most of all, I’m an American and, by birthright, I believe in democracy and opportunity for everyone, and this is the best way to give democracy to the Palestinians and opportunity and, even, security, to the Israelis.
We’re big into the form of democracy these days, putting on elections everywhere, as if the administrative fact of the election delivers freedom and equality and a nice house in the suburbs and an SUV in the garage and a private school education for the kids. As we’ve seen in countries around the world, from Colombia to Pakistan to, yes, the Palestinian Authority, elections may only put the corrupt in charge, sustain fractures within society, and lead to nothing so much as alienation and revolt within certain segments of a state’s populace. Parties and groups form to fill the cracks in the ruling society through which these segments fall.
Hamas is a great example of such an organization. The Movement, which is publicly and militantly opposed to both Israel and the formerly-ruling Fatah party, has struggled against both with violence and with a network of schools, hospitals, and food banks that provide services that Fatah has been unable to, thanks to corruption, and Israel has preferred not to. The virtually exclusive availability of these services outside the existing structure of the state organ through which Palestinians were intended to make peace with Israel made that peace unacheivable by providing a party and a reservoir of people whose quality of life, if not survival, depended on the continuance of the conflict.
But, now that Hamas is in power, many things will change. The elected members of Hamas, as well as the Hamas leadership, will have some skin in the game — unless they totally discount the Palestinian Authority as a tool with which to advance their goals, they will attempt to preserve the power of the Authority, which means no Israeli tanks in Hebron. The only way to keep the tanks in their depots is to continue the peace process. And the same is true for Hamas’s constituents too — while they may once have felt that no state could represent them and accomplish their goals, but now they have proof in action that there is a state that can do both things, because the people they’ve trused for years and for whom they’ve voted are now in charge. What could give more hope than that?
It’s a story similar to what we now see in Bolivia, where former coca grower Evo Morales has just been elected. While Bolivia has one of Latin America’s longest- and best-functioning democracies, the question “should we just give up and be ok with being a cocaine exporter?” hasn’t exactly been asked. At the same time, most Bolivian coca farmers are growing cocaine’s basic ingredient because it’s their only option, apart from subsistence farming. The mere act of starting a conversation on this topic means that people who had felt they had no choice but to engage in illegal activities and opt out of the normal activities of the state may find the state suddenly start to represent their true interests.
So, it looks bad, but what we have is the kernel of some hope for the future. Sometimes we need to ask the hard questions and let the unpleasant people pursue their unpleasant policies, because that will lead to the growth of true, inclusive democracy.