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Illiberal Democracy in Palestine

Michael Hirsh's only point in this Newsweek editorial on last week's Hamas seizure of Gaza hinges on what has become the conventional wisdom about Palestine: It's not ready for democracy. Isn't the Bush administration to blame for angling for legislative … Read More

By / June 18, 2007

Michael Hirsh's only point in this Newsweek editorial on last week's Hamas seizure of Gaza hinges on what has become the conventional wisdom about Palestine: It's not ready for democracy. Isn't the Bush administration to blame for angling for legislative elections when everyone in the know and on the ground  said it would lead to the ascendancy of the Islamists?  Further, how does that stunning catastrophe make relevant again the old question of what to do when the democcratic process yields un-democratic results? Sometimes known as the "bullet or the ballot" dilemma, it came up previously in Algeria in the mid-90's, and one can still keep score of a person's politics by his take on how the Islamic Salvation Front should have been dealt with. 

Anyway, Hirsh sheds no new light on the subject:

Why does the disaster in Gaza matter? In part because the defeat of the secular—and more moderate—Fatah forces could, along with the insurgents' success in Iraq, inspire Islamist radicals in the region and around the world. Hamas is not the Taliban, and it knows that an uptick in rocket attacks against Israel will be met with a harsh response. But, as Bush said in his second Inaugural, the whole point of promoting freedom is to blunt the hopelessness and anger that breed radicalism. Gaza faces 50 percent unemployment in the best of times. Qaeda-like splinter groups that have carried out kidnappings of foreigners have already begun to appear. Further isolating the territory is not likely to fill its residents with faith in the future.

Well, Hamas is already a Qaeda-like splinter group, likewise descendent of the Muslim Brotherhood and with an ideology formulated by middle-class university students, so that nightmare's already real. But now that the group retains total responsibility for the governance of Gaza, it may yet have fashioned a rod for its own back.

One of the longstanding concerns of Hamas's so-called "inner wing" was that it would one day be in charge of the region and have no one else to blame for the problems there. Fatah was an easy foil as an opponent, and it remained so all throughout Hamas's win in 2006  since Arafat's party still controlled security and other key services of state.

All that's changed, however, accountability for the continuing squalor and misery of Gazans shall belong to Haniyah and company and to them alone. Call it the blessings of unilateralism.

Humanitarian aid — in the form of food, water, electric generators — should of course be provided to the people of this clerically ruled islet on the Mediterranean, but it should be made clear to them, and to Hamas, that such aid is dependent on the largesse of external actors and NGOs.

Hamas's victory may prove to be Pyrrhic in the short term and, what is more encouraging, a complete failure in the long term.

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