Defying predictions from both participants and observers alike, final
results gave Hamas 74 seats compared to 45 for the ruling Fatah party. The secular leftist Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine (PFLP) won three seats, while three other electoral lists each won two seats. Independent candidates won four
seats. The high voter turn-out of 78% can be considered a definitive mandate from the Palestinian electorate.
It is hard to overstate the significance of the shift that has taken
place. The Palestinian Authority (PA) under Fatah rule — with a few notable exceptions following the intifada
(uprising) that began in September 2000 — was generally marked by little more than verbal disputes with the Israeli
government. PA security forces coordinated with the Israeli military, arrested political opponents and activists, responded
to Israeli actions on the ground with little more than muted, rhetorical opposition. This facilitated the demobilisation and
confusion of the Palestinian national movement.
The real fear that the victory of Hamas brings to Israel,
the US and EU is simply this — who will they call upon
to control the Palestinian population now that the old PA — however ineffective and unreliable it was from their perspective
— has crumbled?
The popular vote for Hamas is principally a rejection of
the disastrous negotiations process that followed the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Under the cover of “peace” negotiations, Israel continued to encircle and
isolate Palestinian towns and villages with its network of settlements, bypass roads and checkpoints.
The Israeli military controlled Palestinian transit with a complicated system of permits and movement restrictions. These isolated
population islands were given the trappings of autonomy, but effective control remained in the hands of the Israeli state.
Oslo (and the subsequent agreements) aimed at having Palestinians police themselves
while allowing Israel to deepen this system
of apartheid. Peace has simply acted as newspeak to mask the apartheid blueprint.
The PA leadership came to represent submission and surrender under the
banner of peaceful negotiations and empty condemnation of violence. Indeed, immediately prior to the PLC elections, Hamas
leader Khaled Mishaal pointed out that “the experiment of 50 years taught us this road was futile” and Hamas would
not continue to deceive the Palestinian people with this “political fiction”.
Corruption not accidental
Understanding the nature of the Oslo
process is central to explaining the Hamas victory. Most commentary has pointed out that popular sympathy for Hamas is based
upon rejection of the corruption, nepotism and profiteering of the ruling Fatah party following the establishment of the PA
in the mid-1990s. While this fact is certainly true, it provides little explanation of the root causes of this corruption.
What usually goes unstated is that this systemic corruption was a direct and deliberate outcome of the Oslo
a system in which the PA became completely reliant upon foreign funds for its continued survival. Israel
guaranteed the subservience of the PA through control over border crossings and movement between cities, a campaign of massive
land confiscation that devastated Palestinian agriculture, and severed the city of Jerusalem
(which provided 40% of the Palestinian economy) from its West Bank hinterland. Foreign funds, principally from the US and
EU, became the sole means of liquidity for the PA. These funds, however, came with a political price and were designed to
buy compliance with Israel’s ongoing colonisation. Patronage and corruption were the obvious and logical consequences of such a system.
With little opportunity of sustaining a livelihood, individual survival became dependent upon the disbursements and personal
contacts in the PA or Fatah. Around half-a-million Palestinians are reliant upon the PA for their livelihood. Moreover, prominent figures in the PA held control over the large Palestinian monopolies that directly conducted
business with Israeli and other foreign companies. Their profiteering depended upon the maintenance of the status quo.
Perhaps the most notorious example of this was the cement companies owned
by Abu Ala, Palestinian prime minister since 2003. These
companies were later found to be directly involved in building Israel’s
apartheid wall. An increasingly wide gap between the vast majority of the population
and the wealthy elite in and around the PA turned into a vast chasm following the onset of the Palestinian uprising in September
2000. Poverty levels reached 70% in the Gaza Strip, while the conspicuous consumption of an increasingly small elite reminded
the general population that the brunt of Israeli attacks against the Palestinian society was not being borne equally. In contrast,
Hamas activists are seen as honest, reliable and committed to the interests of the poor through their devotion to running
large-scale social welfare charities.
If Hamas makes good of its promise not to sustain the structures of occupation
then this will be a huge setback for Israeli and US interests in the region. The situation, however, defies simplicity due
to the labyrinthine network of factions and interests located throughout the PA apparatus. The PLC is a weak body and considerable
power officially remains in the hands of Abu Mazen and the presidential office. The security forces — in particular
the Preventative Security branch — remain Fatah-led under the nominal control of Abu Mazen.
A number of commentators have raised the fear that the election results
could herald a repeat of the 1991 Algerian experience, where the election victory of the Islamic party FIS was overturned
by a military coup and led to prolonged civil war. Any repeat experience in the Palestinian context would undoubtedly see
the involvement of the Israeli military and security apparatus in both provoking and maintaining internal armed strife.
There is no doubt that Hamas is aware of this threat, repeatedly stating
that it supports a government of national unity and refusing to being drawn into armed clashes with other Palestinian factions.
Nevertheless, covert Israeli support for such an eventuality is a real and concrete
possibility. The push to keep the Palestinian security forces under the control of Abu Mazen could perhaps lay the groundwork
for such a scenario.
US support for key PA security chiefs such as Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril
Rajoub is an open secret and both have been prominent in the post-election armed demonstrations by Fatah supporters in Gaza
and the West Bank. These demonstrations have condemned the Hamas victory and called for the resignation
of Abu Mazen and the Fatah central committee. However, in a statement released
on January 28, Fatah’s armed wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, sharply criticised the organisers of the demonstrations
as “ones who spread corruption and greatly contributed to the humiliating Fatah defeat”.
The key question will be how Hamas manages the contradiction between
its commitment to the national liberation struggle and maintaining the structures of the PA. The economic dependency of the
PA will not disappear with the Hamas victory, although the political character of this relationship has been made strikingly
obvious with threats by the US and EU to cut funding. Central to the coming period will be what happens to the broader Palestinian national
structures of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the possible reinvigoration of the right of return movement.
Both Hamas and the PFLP campaigned around the importance of renewing Palestinian
structures outside of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Indeed, the PFLP included in its election program
that the PLC elections should form the mandate for the West Bank/Gaza Strip representation for the Palestinian National Council
As the Palestinian parliament in exile, the PNC is the highest leadership
body of the PLO and supposedly represents all Palestinians in exile. It has, however, been moribund in recent decades. The
PFLP has called for elections by Palestinians across the world to elect the rest of the PNC and to re-establish it as the
primary force for Palestinian decision making.
In an encouraging sign, Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal clearly
identified this as an important strategic orientation of Hamas in an opinion piece published in the January 31 London Guardian.
He wrote: “Our message to the Palestinians is this: our people are not only those who live under siege in the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip but also the millions languishing in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria and the millions spread
around the world unable to return home. We promise you that nothing in the world will deter us from pursuing our goal of liberation
and return. We shall spare no effort to work with all factions and institutions in order to put our Palestinian house in order.
Having won the parliamentary elections, our medium-term objective is to reform the PLO in order to revive its role as a true
representative of all the Palestinian people, without exception or discrimination.”
Through their votes for Hamas, the Palestinian population of the West
Bank and Gaza Strip has overwhelmingly stated that the “peace” negotiations have merely been a cover
for the deepening of Israel’s apartheid system. The
clear message of Hamas representatives in the week following the election is that the “peace process” —
as understood by Israeli and Western powers and dutifully regurgitated by the mainstream press — has nothing to do with
a genuine, just peace. It remains to be seen whether the rest of the world will heed this message.
[Adam Hanieh is a member of Al Awda, the Palestinian Right of Return
Coalition, and co-author of Stolen Youth: The Politics of Israel's Detention of Palestinian Children (2004). This
article has been abridged from <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/bullet013.html>.]
From Green Left Weekly, February 8, 2006.
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