Shunning Hamas Not in the National Interest
Response to the Palestinian elections in America has been largely negative or confused. Two points, however, seem clear:
1. Despite the most difficult conditions, the elections were clean, efficient and nonviolent. Fortunately, President Mahmoud Abbas did not bow to pressure from President Bush and Congress to ban Hamas candidates, which would have undermined their legitimacy. Instead, the people were allowed to speak and American attempts to predetermine the election outcome in favor of Fatah can be seen as counterproductive.
The integrity of the first Palestinian elections for president and legislative council in 1996 were also monitored by international teams and declared sound. If people choosing their government by free and fair elections is a mark of democracy, the Palestinian record must be acknowledged.
2. As President Bush noted, Hamas's victory expressed voter dissatisfaction with Fatah's leadership. Unremarked, however, was the contribution of US policies to that dissatisfaction: the Bush administration failed to intercede in Israel's expanding settlements, tolerated the theft of large swathes of Palestinian land through its wall, continued to grant enormous aid packages to Israel regardless of its human rights violations, and undercut the Abbas presidency by ensuring that it could not in any way provide a better life for the people. With no hope that Fatah's attempt to negotiate would improve their lives, the Palestinians predictably turned in protest to Hamas, which had provided schooling, health care, and other services to the people.
Since the current American policy of shunning Hamas is widely perceived as continuing to support Israel's unilateralism, it can only cause further hopelessness in the peace process, inspire further protest, and is inconsistent with the nation's interest in a peaceful Middle East.
The American Council on Middle East Policy