2006 January 26 Thursday
Hamas Victorious In Palestinian Territories Elections

The US faith-based initiative to spread democracy in the Middle East as a way to stop terrorism and create a friendlier neighborhood for Israel bears more bitter fruit with a big political victory for the Palestinian Muslim political party Hamas.

Hamas's triumph on Thursday in winning 76 seats in the 132-member Palestinian parliament against 43 for Fatah was widely seen as a political earthquake in the Middle East, triggered by voter disenchantment with corruption.

The same qualities of Arab nations that lead to corrupt governments also make democracy unlikely to improve the situation. Successful democracy is an outgrowth of qualities of a culture which must already be present before democracy is established. Well, some of those qualities are missing from most of the world.

Hamas is a Muslim Brotherhood spin-off dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

Founded in the crowded Gaza Strip in 1987 as an outgrowth of the Egyptian fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, the group, whose name means "zeal," is an Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement. Its birth coincided with the start of the first Palestinian uprising against Israel and its covenant, published a year later, called for a zealous campaign to destroy Israel.

"Holy war," the document declared, is a duty binding on all Muslims whenever "enemies usurp Islamic lands."

George W. Bush has pressured Middle Eastern regimes to conduct elections that bring Islamic victories.

Only a few years ago, political Islam was considered to be on the decline, partly stunted by the 1991 cancellation of elections that Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was set to win. The move by the military plunged the country into a long civil war and devastated the FIS, serving as a bleak warning to other Islamists aspiring for power through the ballot box.

The September 11 2001 attacks also put Islamist parties on the defensive, and gave Arab regimes an excuse for harsher crackdowns.

But as US pressure for democratisation in the region has gained momentum, Islamists, whether militant or non-violent, have been the most adept at capitalising on the popular discontent with existing governments.

The Hamas victory is part of a much larger pattern in the Middle East where democracy brings Islamic election victories.

Recent history shows the pro-American side doesn't always win elections in the Arab world. Far from it: Besides Hamas, which has roots in the Islamist movement and Palestinian nationalism, Islamic parties have done well in recent elections in Egypt, Morocco and Iraq.

The most notorious example may be Algeria, where the Islamic Salvation Front won a first-round election victory in December 1991, only to have further balloting halted. An army crackdown targeted the Islamists and fueled a civil war that claimed more than 100,000 lives, according to the CIA's World Factbook.

Democracy means theocracy in the Middle East.

Martin Walker says there are three reasons why the US and European refusal to deal with Hamas will not last.

There are, however, three powerful reasons why this ban may not last, or at least may not mean quite what it says. The first is that a similar ban on dealings with the Palestinian Liberation Organization did not prevent discreet talks through third parties, usually the Algerians.

The second is West is financial. The spending of the PA government, including the salaries of its officials, health service and construction industry, is very largely dependent on funding from the European Union. The economic collapse and social despair that are likely to follow a complete breakdown of the Palestinian state could swiftly become a humanitarian crisis.

The third and probably crucial reason why Hamas may yet end up talking to the West is that there is a profound contradiction between a ban on talks with Hamas and the Bush administration's commitment to promote democracy in the Middle East.

Walker points out that the Bush Administration will be under intense pressure from Jewish groups to maintain the US ban on Hamas. How can democracy be the fount of moral legitimacy when elections can bring to power governments which would like to destroy other democracies?

If it is the democratic will of the Palestinians to wipe the Israelis from the face of this Earth then how can that will be illegitimate? Western liberals and neocons alike strike the rhetorical pose that the democratic will of the majority is the definition of moral legitimacy.

Will Hamas make sure it never loses future elections?

The world should be on alert, however, for a move by Hamas to slowly take over the machinery of elections to prevent itself from being voted out. That wouldn't be unusual for a fundamentalist Islamic group that relies on a rigid hierarchy for its internal affairs.

In many nations, from 1930s Germany to modern third-world nations with elected leaders-turned-dictators, democracy has too easily been hijacked by those who use it merely to gain power and then hold onto it by manipulation of that power.

Islamists will fail to fix what ails the Middle East. Democracy in the Middle East will be a disappointment for the Arabs and for the neoconservatives around Bush. Who will each group blame for the outcomes?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 January 26 09:30 PM  MidEast Arabs Versus Israelis

Bob Badour said at January 26, 2006 10:38 PM:

As I commented on Daniel Pipes' site yesterday, a Hamas victory is a de facto Palestinian declaration of war on Israel. The leaders of Israel now have the moral and legal responsibility to take whatever measures are necessary to defend the people of Israel.

(I see Hamas got a majority mandate too.)

John S Bolton said at January 27, 2006 12:30 AM:

Didn't they say that we had it on authority that absolutely all the peoples of the world are freedom loving, and anyone who says otherwise is a racist? Commentary writers, please explain how a warlike species of man suddenly bifurcated; when peace love and brotherhood of all mankind, are only waiting for democratic freedom and constitutional protections of downtrodden minorities, to bubble in triumph to the surface?

FriendlyFire said at January 27, 2006 4:41 AM:

Didn't they say that we had it on authority that absolutely all the peoples of the world are freedom loving, and anyone who says otherwise is a racist? Commentary writers, please explain how a warlike species of man suddenly bifurcated; when peace love and brotherhood of all mankind, are only waiting for democratic freedom and constitutional protections of downtrodden minorities, to bubble in triumph to the surface?

This reminded me of what was written in "Black Hawk down" when US talked to the somali people about peace and an end to the civil war.
They found the somalia people want peace but were unwilling to compromise to get it. in short they wanted victory, revenge and vindication for the decade long war.

Ned said at January 27, 2006 6:14 AM:

The Middle East is hopeless - a mishmash of tribal, religious, ethnic and national rivalries. It will never get any better. Those who think democracy will fix it are deluded. The only rule operating here is that might makes right. Every US president since Harry Truman has had a "plan" for peace in the Middle East, and every one has failed. Personally, I don't care if the Israelis bash the Arabs - the Arabs would turn around and do it to them if they could. Not that the ultimate outcome should really matter, at least to Americans. The US has no vital interest here and should disengage totally. Let the fanatics stew in their own juice.

Richard said at January 27, 2006 12:14 PM:

"The leaders of Israel now have the moral and legal responsibility to take whatever measures are necessary to defend the people of Israel."

Right, Bob. I thought that is what the Israelis had been doing since forever, Including helping to set up and fund Hamas. The Israelis can outsmart anybody, including Israelis.

Ned is right.

Randall Parker said at January 27, 2006 6:15 PM:

John Bolton,

Yes, by their own logic if the Bush Administration is unhappy about the outcome of the Palestinian elections then the Bush Administration is racist. How can the Palestinians have made the wrong choice? To say that is to say that the Palestinians do not have the capacity to wisely use their votes in elections.


The Israelis can certainly defend themselves against the Palestinians. They can close their borders for starters. But if Palestinian groups started killing Israelis with mortars, artillery, and/or missiles then the Israelis would have to attack over borders in some fashion.

crush41 said at January 27, 2006 11:32 PM:

Western liberals and neocons alike strike the rhetorical pose that the democratic will of the majority is the definition of moral legitimacy.

Yet with the Hamas victory, they betray that foolish belief.

Jack Straw said "Hamas has a clear responsibility to understand that with democracy goes a rejection of violence."

From the WSJ Jan 27: "The Bush administration has sketched out how Hamas must change to be seen as legitimate: renounce terror, accept Israel's right to exist, endores an eventual two-state solution, and lay down its arms."

Doesn't democracy inherently bring with it these changes?

Lawrence Auster said at January 28, 2006 4:31 AM:

Though it's already been said by Mr. Bolton and Mr. Parker, the point is so good I want to say it too. President Bush and, even more so, his twin brain, Secretary of State Rice, have said repeatedly that anyone who doubts the efficacy of democracy in the Muslim world is being "condescending" toward Muslims. In today's lexicon, that is implying that such critics are racists. Vice President Cheney then made the racism charge explicit in an appearance on the Rush Limbaugh program, as I discussed here:


I think Rice also used the word "racist" herself, but I don't have a source for that at hand at the moment. But whether they said racist or condescending, the effect is the same, to say that anyone doubting the democracy project is a bad person who looks down on darker skinned peoples. Such charges obviously have the effect of discouraging debate.

But where did the notion that having doubts about Muslim democratization is condenscending or racist come from? It came from the underlying premises of Bush's foreign policy. As he said in his important September 2002 National Security Strategy statement:

"People everywhere want to be able to speak freely; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their children—male and female; own property; and enjoy the benefits of their labor. These values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society—and the duty of protecting these values against their enemies is the common calling of freedom-loving people across the globe and across the ages."


So, all good, i.e. freedom-loving, people through all time and all space have a duty to protect the liberal democratic rights of all people everywhere. No exceptions. If you don't think Muslims can adopt liberal democracy you are resisting this universal, cosmic calling. You are denying the universal equality of all humans in the case of Muslims. Therefore you are looking down on Muslims, on the basis of their religion, culture or ethnicity. Therefore you are racist. Bush has thus adopted a national policy which by its own terms prohibits any debate about its fundamental premises.

As I wrote in May 2005:

"The loss of the ability to engage in an even minimally rational discussion about one of the most ambitious and risk-filled projects on which our country has ever embarked suggests to my mind the onset of national political incompetence. This incompetence may in turn portend, or so the thought occurs to me, the imminent loss of national power and national greatness."


One last point is the staggering irony that Bush, whose policy is surely the most extreme liberal policy ever promoted by a U.S. president, is universally called an "extreme right-wing president" by the left.

Bob Badour said at January 28, 2006 6:33 AM:


It's clear you did not click through the link I gave. The People of Palestine declared war on Israel. Israel has no moral obligation to limit its response to its own border. In 1941, the US did not limit its response to the continental US after Germany declared war.

The leaders of Israel have a moral and legal responsibility to win the war. That means utterly destroying Palestine's ability to harm Israel. Screw humanitarianism. Israel needs to block all shipments into and out of Palestine. They need to sieze or destroy every strategically important piece of Palestine.

They need to create POW camps and put every Palestinian male of fighing age who survives contact with Israel in one.

Unlike a situation where some dictator has declared war and forced his subjects to fight, the People of Palestine themselves declared war on Israel. We in the west have responded to dictators with total war, mass destruction of civilian infrastructure and massive loss of civilian life. Israel is in a morally superior position for doing the same right now.

If necessary, Israel needs to push the people of Palestine across the Jordan. I see no reason for Israeli restraint.

As Ned pointed out, the US should mind its own business and let Israel do what needs doing. The People of Palestine expressed their will. I see no reason to protect them from the consequences of their decision. Doing so would strike me as paternalistic racism.

Richard said at January 28, 2006 7:29 AM:

Actually Bob, Ned called for disengagement. If Israel wishes to take our aid, they take with the conditions we have laid out. Not that there have been a lot of conditions.

Are you for the US butting out of military aid as well?

Randall Parker said at January 28, 2006 10:39 AM:


The Israelis would rather use cheap Palestinian labor than entirey cut themselves off from the Palestinians. Lots of Jewish settlers want to build settlements between Palestinian towns and in the middle of Palestinian orchards and farm land.

I'd take the call for total war more seriously if the Palestinians posed a bigger threat and if the Israelis actually believed the Palestinians posed a bigger threat.

Papa Ray said at January 29, 2006 7:36 AM:

Something everyone seems to forget or ignore:

Arabs and Palestinians HATE Israel and the Jews, always have, always will.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Lawrence Auster said at January 29, 2006 12:19 PM:

"Something everyone seems to forget or ignore:

"Arabs and Palestinians HATE Israel and the Jews, always have, always will."

Really? Does "everyone" forget or ignore that Arabs and Palestinians hate Israel and the Jews? The truth, of course, is that a substantial segment of American public opinion is constantly repeating that fact. The ones who forget it or ignore it are the left, the anti-war, anti-Israel right, and, shockingly, in the last couple of years, even many neoconservatives, having bought into Bush's democratization policy and thus put Israel's security on the back burner. Thankfully, however, there are still many others who continue to see and speak the truth about Arab intentions.

Jason Pappas said at January 30, 2006 12:05 PM:

Now that the naked truth shows the vast support for terrorism among Palestinians, we have an opportunity to rally popular support against the administration’s desire to resume appeasement as usual. Many Americans thought it was “only a few” who support terrorism and that Palestinians desired what everyone else wants. That’s been blown away. Can we make something of this opportunity? I argue yes if we are clear on the early signs of appeasement.

Bob Badour said at January 30, 2006 2:54 PM:


I didn't say the leaders of Israel will meet their obligations. I merely pointed out what sort of response this election result justifies.

You seem to be saying that because the political elites in Israel are going to ignore the interests of the Israeli population to maintain a supply of cheap labour that rational people should not even bother pointing out what seem to me to be obvious conclusions. If that is the case, why bother discussing the obvious mistake of massive immigration from Mexico?

Randall Parker said at January 30, 2006 4:09 PM:


What I'm saying is that the Palestinians do not pose that big of a threat and that responses should be proportionate to the size of the threat posed.

I'm also thinking that the Israelis would do more damage to themselves (e.g. because they'd get trade sanctions from the EU for example) by expelling the Palestinians from the territories and that this would harm them more in the long run.

Bob Badour said at January 30, 2006 4:28 PM:


Now, we get to the crux of the matter. European racism/anti-semitism forces Israel to endure attacks and insurgencies from an otherwise easily defeated and openly hostile adversary.

Europe's constant meddling in the region perpetuates this bloodshed for no particularly good reason.

Lawrence Auster said at January 30, 2006 8:57 PM:

I agree with Mr. Badour. The great unspoken truth is that Western opinion, by legitimizing, supporting and funding Arab terrorism against Israel all these years, has allowed this monstrous situation to fester and grow. In any previous time in history, a country facing what the Israelis face with the Palestinians would have expelled them long ago, and the world would have approved it. It's the leftism of the modern West (including Israel's own leftism), plus the power of Muslim oil and the West's fear of Islam, that has resulted in the tiny beseiged country of israel being the most hated country in the world and being forbidden from defending itself from those seeking to destroy it.

Ned said at January 31, 2006 6:45 AM:

i agree with the preceding posts. US/EU aid to the region may actually be hindering whatever chance for peace exists in the region (and it's probably a small one). Previously the aid (on the Arab side) went to the extremely corrupt Palestinian Authority under Arafat, who renounced (in English) the goal of the destruction of Israel while privately encouraging (in Arabic) his followers to continue the intifada. Meanwhile Israel, with strong US backing, feels that it can never lose. I have yet to discover how the so-called alliance with Israel benefits the US or what vital American interests in the region justify this type of commitment. The war in Iraq seems more and more an attempt, not to make the Middle East safe for democracy, but to make it safe for Israel, especially now that Syria and Iran are being threatened. Not that I have anything against Israel - they've carved a prosperous democracy out of pretty much nothing and have consistently fought off their more numerous Arab neighbors in a series of bloody battles. Good for them! I just don't see why their struggle has to be our struggle. Fifty years of "peace plans," "Oslo accords," and "roadmaps" have produced exactly nothing - Hamas is in control for the Palestinians, a fanatical theocratic regime rules Iran and threatens to acquire nuclear weapons (which Israel already has), Syria remains under a Baathist dictatorship and true peace seems as distant as ever. What's the point?

Randall Parker said at January 31, 2006 4:08 PM:


The irony is that the Bush democratization program for the Middle East is making Israel's neighbors more of a threat, not less. The Arab elites have learned they can't win in a war against Israel. The masses are dumber and more likely to push their governments to act on impulse.

Fortunately for Israel Bush's policy is running out of steam as his domestic approval rating has dropped and he just doesn't have the power (or troops) to start new wars.

Ned said at January 31, 2006 5:54 PM:

RP -

I think we see eye-to-eye on this one. BTW, thanks for running a great board (or boards).

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