Wednesday, January 31, 2007
By Khalid Amayreh
"......Hamas’s massive victory not only shocked Fatah (the Palestinian FLN), but surprised Hamas itself which never thought even in its wildest dreams that it would harvest up to 75 seats out of the 132 contested seats, making up the Legislative Council.
Now, a year later, and with the specter of civil war haunting and hounding every Palestinian, and with the West, particularly the Bush Administration, hell bent on punishing the Palestinians for electing a government that is not to America’s and Israel’s liking, many Palestinians are wondering if it was wise to hold elections under the Israeli military occupation in the first place.
Many other Palestinians feel that the international community deceived and betrayed the Palestinian people, first by encouraging them to hold elections and then by imposing crippling sanctions when the outcome turned out to be incompatible with American and European expectations.
PIC spoke to Professor Atef Odwan, a political scientist and Minister for Refugee Affairs in the Hamas-led government on how he would , in retrospect, evaluate the past 12 months, particularly since the Hamas-dominated government took power in April, 2005
“The January elections were not the first polls to be organized under the Israeli occupation; and the problem doesn’t lie in the elections, but in Israeli and western policies that makes a mockery of democracy. Indeed, the fact that the US and EU hastened to impose a hermetic siege on us immediately after the elections was a clarion proof if one was needed that these countries are not really serious about the ideals and ideas they claim to uphold and adhere, namely democracy and human rights.”
Asked if he thought that the West deliberately deceived the Palestinians with regard to the elections, Odwan said the matter went beyond mere deception. “The US thought and calculated that the outcome of the elections would be different, but when the outcome turned out to be undesirable from the American view point, the Bush Administration hastened to bully other countries to blockade and isolate the government in the hope that the Palestinian people would rise up to topple it and then replace it with a government that is acceptable to the US.”
Odwan, though a government minister, doesn’t believe that the government is blameless. He says that much could have been done, and that had it been done properly, the overall picture would have been different in many aspects. “In retrospect, I believe that more efforts should have been made to form a government of national unity, a government that should have encompassed all the colors of the Palestinian political spectrum. This would have enabled the Palestinian people to avoid the sanctions. The fact that this didn’t happen was a real mistake, a real blunder.” Asked farther if he thought that it was still possible to correct this mistake, Odwan said that in order to correct the mistake, of which all Palestinian factions, not just Hamas are responsible, strong intervention by Arab states is necessary. “We need sincere intervention from Arab States, such as Saudi Arabia . This could have a true positive effect.”
A somewhat opposing view comes from Abdullah Abdullah, a Fatah MP and former Director-General of the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He attributes much of “the perplexity in our political thinking” to the fact that many people don’t really understand “that we are still in the national liberation phase.” “We have a fledgling experiment, and our constitutional laws are incomplete, and the borderlines between the presidential powers and prime ministerial powers are not well marked and the result of all of this is duplicity of authority.” Abdullah puts much of the blame for “the tribulations of the past year” on Hamas and its “political inexperience.” “The problem is that our brothers in Hamas don’t make a distinction between the political and the ideological. The ideological is absolutist by its very nature but the political is relative. In ideology, I am right and you wrong, period. But in politics, there must be sharing, compromise, give and take. It is the art of the possible.”
Like Odwan, Abdullah believe that more efforts should have been made to form a government of national unity. “I believe that Hamas came with the mentality of the opposition, they should have sought to build up on the accumulative achievements that had been made by the previous government and previous parliament…but they insisted on doing things their own way and this undoubtedly created a psychological mistrust and feelings of dichotomy.”
Abdullah argues that a strong central leadership was very important in order to safeguard Palestinian national interests in this stage of national struggle, arguing that democratic evolution, however important it may be, is always dwarfed by and relegated to a secondary degree when national survival is at stake.
The tribulations of the past 12 months pushed many Palestinians to the edge and shattered many taboos in our national life and thinking. Now, as society is regaining some serenity and mental equanimity, it is imperative that Palestinians, individually and collectively, go through a process of soul searching.....
And while Palestinians have no alcoholic problem, they certainly need to muster all the wisdom in the world to extract themselves and their enduring just cause from the clutches of uncertainty and disunity."