A PALESTINIAN VIEW
by Daoud Kuttab
Whether those supporting the moderate leadership of Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas admit it or not, Hamas appears to
have won. Now, before Islamists around the world start celebrating,
it is important to note that the region, let alone the world, is far
from embracing hard-line fundamentalists. Hamas, for the record, has
made some important ideological and practical changes, the most
important of which was the "tahdiya" (ceasefire-like quiet).
The signs of Hamas' victory can be seen all over. From the success of
the siege-breaking peace boats to the partial opening of the Rafah
crossing with Egypt and the serious talks Hamas leaders are holding
with Egyptian and Jordanian intelligence chiefs.
Part of the reason for Hamas' success is the fact that the region and
the world have little choice but to accept the reality that emerged
in February 2006 and that Hamas in June 2007, with its takeover of
Gaza, served notice was not going away.
Another reason is global and regional changes. The Russian-Georgian
struggle exposed Washington's geopolitical weakness, a result of its
military overstretch in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also comes at a time
when George. W. Bush, a president with the lowest approval ratings in
decades, seems to have blinked. America is near agreement on a
timetable for a withdrawal from Iraq and Washington clearly lacks the
stomach for a confrontation with Tehran. The Iranians have called
Bush's bluff and seem to have succeeded.
Israel too has blinked. To its north, Israel has been incapable of
preventing Hizballah from re-arming, while Tel Aviv consented to a
prisoner swap not long ago that clearly favored the Shi'ite group.
The Lebanese national unity government, meanwhile, is yet another
sign that hard-line rejectionist regional and international positions
are not producing results.
Politically things are stalled. Israelis are now preoccupied with
elections for a new leader of Kadima and will soon enter what
promises to be a long-winded coalition-building process. The
Americans too are busy with their presidential elections, and
Palestinians are due to face presidential elections in January and
could well face parliamentary elections as well.
In this shifting strategic landscape, Jordan and Egypt--staunch US
allies that they are--have nevertheless shown enough independence to
begin to tango with the Palestinian Islamists. If Condoleezza Rice,
the US secretary of state, considers the Lebanese unity government (a
Hizballah victory) a good thing and if she backs the release of
Palestinian prisoners accused of killing Israelis, she certainly
can't stop Jordanian intelligence from reaching agreements on ground
rules with the Islamists.
Hamas has clearly made some important politically moderating
decisions and ideological and practical calls, yet the group is still
far from gaining legitimacy in the region. Such legitimacy will only
be delayed by actions such as the recent round up of Fateh leaders in
Gaza and the banning of Ramallah-based Palestinian publications.
But changes in the Middle East are palpable at different levels.
Regionally it seems clear that little major change is going to take
place. Perhaps Syria will move slightly to the pro-US camp but not by
much. Within each country, however, the region is still very
volatile. The information revolution coupled with the large
percentage of young people in the Arab world dictate to all leaders
the need for new and more inclusive strategies.
Such new strategies will require groups like Hamas to be much more
careful in their actions than in the past, and Hamas will pay close
attention to the example of Hizballah. There is currently a very
clear offer on the table by Arab countries vis-a-vis the Palestinian-
Israeli conflict. If Hamas moderates its views, its rhetoric and,
most importantly, its actions to accommodate said offer, the Islamist
group will find a much more welcoming Arab leadership than it might
have found in the past.
Leaders of Jordan and Egypt understand that they can't blindly follow
the policies of a discredited American government and a failed
Israeli leader to break the Islamists. They say all politics is local
in America. The local angle is also important here.
- Published 1/9/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian columnist, is the director general of
Community Media Network, a media NGO that is registered in Jordan and