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Palestine: Hamas wins election: All change?

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"The United States does not support a political party that wants to destroy our ally Israel. People must renounce that part of their platform."

Thus George Bush greeted the latest result of his administration’s declared policy of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East. The people have spoken; rewrite the manifesto they voted for.

But the US will find it hard to dismiss the landslide victory Hamas achieved last week. Out of 132 seats, the Islamist party, standing in its first election for the Palestinian National Authority, won 76 of them.

The end of Fatah?

The writing had been on the wall for Fatah since the death of its founder Yasir Arafat, a year ago. The secular bourgeois nationalist organisation had ruled through an increasingly despised and corrupt administration. By signing the Oslo accords in 1993, Arafat not only accepted all of Israel’s demands in return for some sort of mini-state for the Palestinians in the far distant future. He also accepted the poisoned chalice of policing the occupied territories on behalf of Israel.

The Israelis correctly calculated that Arafat’s system of largesse, whereby he maintained the personal allegiance of Fatah operatives (and others) by handing out money and positions, would become a source of mass discontent, once this was established as the modus operandi of a state bureaucracy - albeit one without one essential feature of a state - a monopoly of armed force.

With Israel constantly stepping in to destroy Arafat’s forces, with other armed militias not under his control the trappings of statehood were all he possessed. Never was this clearer than when his rule was reduced to a compound in Ramallah regularly strafed and bombarded by the Israeli Defence (sic) Forces

Indeed, the Israelis - and the US - actually calculated that Hamas would benefit from this discrediting. The US has long promoted Islamist parties as a way of sapping the support of nationalist resistance movements: anyone remember the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s relationship to the USA in the 1980s?

In this election Fatah was wiped out in several of its strongholds, like Hebron, Tulkarum, while it only held on to some seats in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem, thanks to the Christian quota system. In fact, only where Fatah was closely associated with the armed struggle, as in Rafah, did its vote hold up strongly.

The present difficulties of the US in Iraq, its attempts to mobilise support for increasing pressure on Iran and Syria means it cannot be seen to deliver another unprovoked kick in the teeth to Arab sentiment. If it is to stabilise Iraq around an elected government, it cannot wantonly ignore the democratic process in Palestine. It will have to begin the process of finding a pretext

The European Union has always played the imperialist soft cop to the US hard cop when it came to pressuring the Palestinians to accommodate themselves to the Zionist landgrabbers. Thus, Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief gave a more guarded response, “These results may confront us with an entirely new situation, which will need to be analysed by [EU foreign ministers] next Monday."

Isolation or learning

Hamas electoral victory certainly came as a surprise to all sides. Palestinians, Israelis and the imperialists had expected a continuation of the Fatah-led government, albeit with a much reduced majority. The elections were supposed to legitimise Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmed to sign away the rights of millions of Palestinians in Israel, the Occupied territories ad the diaspora.

After recovering from the shock the West made the “options” for a future Palestinian government equally clear: a Hamas led government must take the path to “peace", and deliver a permanent end to the armed struggle. Only then can they negotiate with it. Hamas must do only what the PLO did at the end of the 1980s: acknowledge the state of Israel and settle for a “two-state solution". It must in short do what the Palestinian electorate has just voted for it not to do. But, hey! That’s democracy western style.

If they fail to do so in short order then it is clear the Palestinians in the occupied territories will be subjected to what are in effect sanctions, US and European Union funds, which totally sustain the PNA and indeed the Palestinian economy, will be withdrawn, etc. Israel troops will continue their punitive raids on the West Bank and Gaza.

In short, the Israeli government receives, in return for each repressive measure, a free hand, until the Palestinians “come to reason". Thus, Hamas must fulfill the conditions of the USA, EU and Israel, or the Palestinians must put a more collaborationist administration into office.

There is a short term and long term consequence to all this. In the immediate future, at least until the Israeli elections are held at the end of March, Hamas can expect nothing but demands for disarmament, threats to withdraw funding, and brusque refusals to negotiate.

Likud’s leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, and other right wing Israeli and US politicians will point to Hamas’ charter, which contains some chilling anti-Semitic statements, which drags up the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to claim Israel’s eventual aim of world domination.

Undoubtedly, Western commentators will focus on these statements, which obviously run counter to the socialist - and only truly democratic - policy of a single, secular state in Israel and Palestine, with no privileges for Muslims, Jews or Christians. However, their concern over Hamas antisemitism is a convenient cover for ignoring the actual ongoing policy of wiping a state and people off the map, collective punishment and political assassination -i.e. Israel’s state policy from its foundation.

In the longer term, however, Palestinians need to beware that their new leaders are just as capable of negotiating away their rights as the old. The natural trajectory of this petit-bourgeois movement - if the Zionists and imperialists allow it - would be to present some future two-state solution as a stepping stone to the liberation of the whole of Palestine.

Continuation of the old policy

The fact that an official contact admits that an Hamas led government may emerge as “more reliable” also reveals the imperialists’ hand under the table.

Remember, Arafat and Abbas, too, were once considered “terrorists". After they had given some diplomatic guarantees, they were “partners", who sold out their own people, yet only received the trappings of their own state.

Certainly the Hamas can develop in a similar direction, particularly now that their leaders have signed up for the promotion funds of the European Union - should they fulfill their conditions. Under such conditions, Hamas knows that Fatah, an even more reliable partner of Israel, disintegrated. It needs to prove to the USA and the European Union, in a short space of time, that it has greater support amongst, and more effective control over, its own people than its rivals.

In addition, Hamas has also established itself as a more effective means of delivering “social security", and is thus thought capable of cushioning the misery, caused primarily by the imperialism and the Zionist forces. To practice these social policies in the future is still useful, so that neither Israel nor the imperialists have to improve the conditions of the millions of unemployed people, and relieve the misery of impoverished Palestinians with wages and bread.

On the contrary, the Sharon government has, with the building of the Wall, and from their intended “pacification” (departure of the settlers from Gaza; simultaneous strengthening of control of parts of the West Bank), also tried to establish a greater separation of the Palestinian and Israeli populations. Thus, in the last few years, practically since the end of the first intifada, the use of Palestinian workers from the occupied territories has sunk to a minimum. No Israeli party, which is in any way a candidate for coalition government, intends to reverse this process.

No reason for Palestinian jubilation

Hamas’ victory at the polls proves conclusively that the large majority of Palestinians were fed up to the back teeth with the policies of the Fatah led administration.

Some of Hamas’ support was certainly a protest vote - not only against the corruption and nepotism of Abbas and co. - but also, without doubt, also with the whole “ peace process” itself, the permanent concessions to the Zionist state. Certainly also the irreconcilable attitude of the Hamas succeeded in bringing on board the anti-Israel vote. In short the vote was an act of defiance against the Israeli oppressor and its US backers and of contempt for those who have collaborated with them over the past decade or more

The reason for their victory does not lie in the fact that the mass of Palestinians actively endorses Hamas’ political solution - the creation of a reactionary Islamic state. Neither does the reason lie in the fact that the mass of Palestinians are thoroughly anti-Semitic, though the cruel oppression they have suffered doubtlessly has fueled hatred of the “Jewish settlers".

It remains the task of all those among the Palestinian people and who actively support them to explain that antisemitism rebounds onto their own heads. It is the main “justification” the Zionists have for their cruelties, both amongst their own population and in the west. It obscures who the real enemy is - imperialism and its Zionist bourgeois gendarme - and who one of its potential allies is, the Israeli working class.

But Hamas victory is the combination of two quite different factors.

First of all, the population understands that the corruption and nepotism of the autonomous Palestinian National Authority represent a deepening of their misery, but is not, however, the actual cause of it. Hamas received many votes, because it openly addressed the responsibility of Israel and imperialism for the misery, for the 90 per cent unemployment rate that exists in large parts of the occupied territories, etc.

Secondly the election result shows the crisis of the Palestinian left. For a long time the left hid themselves behind the PLO - and indeed, after that, under the Hamas - banner, and failed to offer its own, anti-Zionist and secular, let alone socialist perspective, in the fight for a unitary state for Palestinians and Jews.

Certainly the political rule of the Hamas will bring other social questions to the fore. In the next period, Palestinians in the occupied territories - especially women - will suffer from an intensified Islamification of society. In the case of a sellout to imperialism, Hamas will proceed more sharply against internal Palestinian critics than Fatah did (or was able to do).

Contradictions remain

However, at the same time, the social and national contradictions remain; they, too, will in the next period be intensified.

Whoever forms the next Israeli government, the unilateral building of the Wall and the policy of Sharon’s will continue - with or without the agreement of the Palestinian government. Imperialism - both the USA and the European Union - will fully support this policy.

Also, the social contradictions in Israel will, at the same time, intensify. In this situation, the Palestinian left must once again mobilise. Against the Islamists and nationalists, a new, socialist workers party must be formed, one with close ties to the anti-Zionist movement in Israel - a party, which fights against imperialism, Zionism and capitalism, which brings to the fore the goal of a common socialist state in Palestine.