President Bush refuses to negotiate with Hamas on the grounds that it is a terrorist organization. But Hamas is also a political party that won the 2006 parliamentary elections and controls the majority of Palestine. Better than promoting impotent politicians, America should begin to respect the democratic rules it preaches.
Whether the current administration likes it or not, Hamas remains the only political force strong enough to influence Palestine’s tumultuous streets. President Mahmoud Abbas, however a competent and skilled politician, has long lost any power over his countryman while his office has deteriorated from executive to purely representative. Abbas performs beautifully at news conferences with Israeli or American officials, where he charms foreign journalists with his fluent English and western mannerism, but it is Hamas that controls the hearts and minds of Palestinians.
Last Monday the French government announced that some of its diplomats had met with Hamas officials several times since the beginning of this year. Although Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner downplayed the revelations, saying that Paris was far from accepting Hamas as a political partner, he spoke everyone’s mind when he told the Associated Press that “we must be able to talk if we want to play a role.” Kouchner also confirmed what former U.S. President Jimmy Carter reported during his April visit to the Middle East, namely that Hamas was ready to accept the existence of Israel. “They assured (me) that they were ready to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, which amounts to an indirect recognition of Israel,” said the French minister.
President Bush’s refusal to deal with Hamas is incomprehensible, concerning his cabinet’s policy of expanding democracy to the Middle East. Numerous elections in Iraq were no more free and fair than the parliamentary elections in Palestine in January 2006 that gave Hamas 76 seats in the 132-seat parliament. President Abbas’s Fatah, supported by the United States and European Union, won only 43. Nevertheless, Washington forced both warring factions to form a government of national unity where president’s men would keep all the meatier posts. After several months of brawls that soon developed into violent clashes, to no one’s surprise, the cabinet crumbled into pieces.
It seems that democracy is desirable only as long as it gives power to our allies. It would be a mistake; however, to criticize Washington for such an ambiguous attitude toward the electoral process since also the European Union should also blush of shame. When in 1999 the majority of Austrians voted for the far-right Freedom Party, the E.U. decided to punish Austria by expelling its representatives from E.U. commissions. They could come back only after another election won – this time, by a centrist and pro-European party. At the same time, the E.U. cultivated diplomatic relations with semi-totalitarian Russia that knew democracy only from history books.
To quote Winston Churchill, “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Democracy has produced such great leaders as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. But democracy has also lifted to power Adolph Hitler who, before killing millions of Jews and Slaves, won the soul of the German nation. President Bush was right when he said last week that there was no point in negotiating with terrorists and dictators. But he should remember that the democratic process must be respected even if its outcome is far from desirable. Otherwise, democracy will be just a lofty idea in the world of tyranny and despotism.
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