Ahmed Yousef: Engage With Hamas

By Dr. Ahmed Yousef

GAZA CITY – The Palestinian National Authority apparently joins the list of elected governments targeted or toppled over the past century by interventionism: nations that had the courage to take American rhetoric at face value and elect whomever they would. No doubt some in Washington persist in the fiction that the United States is following a "road map" to democracy for Palestinians, just as others believe the Iraq war has been a sincere exercise in nation-building. Neoconservative strategists have miscalculated, however, and Hamas is stronger than ever.

For the first time in months, Gaza is secure. This may be a momentary peace as Israel prepares an attempt to retake parts of Gaza. Yet neither blunt force nor U.S. subterfuge will extinguish Palestinian aspirations for self-governance, free from outside interference.

Hamas’s actions to secure Gaza from the horrific recent violence of the Palestinian contras have been out of self-defense. The assassinations of Hamas officials and supporters, attempts on the life of the elected prime minister, and kidnappings and bombings by some in President Mahmoud Abbas’s paramilitary groups had to stop. The PA has a clear legal right, indeed an obligation, to prevent this violence, by force if necessary, and to protect the Palestinian people.

It is not Hamas that has "outlawed" the government. (When has an elected party with a voting majority ever resorted to banning the government to get its way?) The success of the Reform and Change Party is neither a chimera nor a momentary lapse in reason on the part of the electorate. Rather, it is the result of four decades of hard work in Palestinian society. It reflects the trust of the people. Those who collaborate with the occupiers to void the electoral process will not succeed. Abbas’s "state of emergency" and his U.S. and Israeli arms will not prevail in Gaza or quench the thirst for political freedom in the West Bank.

Some critics raise the red flag of "al-Qaeda" and say that Hamas and parliament are a stalking horse for Salafi jihadists. I defy them to demonstrate one instance in which Hamas’s military structure has struck against any force outside the theater of the occupation. The struggle has always been against the Israeli agenda of ethnic cleansing and conquest. Hamas is a movement of Palestinian liberation and nationalism — Islamist, yes, but in the sea of contending faiths that is the homeland, where is the sin in loving one’s creed?

Likewise, those who demean resistance to the occupation as little more than a proxy for Iran, Syria or Hezbollah are ignorant of history. The long-suffering Palestinians have gratefully accepted assistance from neighbors both near and far, Arab and Western, Muslim or otherwise. Slighting the generosity of those who sympathize with the Palestinians is hypocritical given America’s billions of annual aid dollars for Israel, money that has only purchased tragedy.

Palestinians want, on their terms, the same thing Western societies want: self-determination, modernity, access to markets and their own economic power, and freedom for civil society to evolve. Those who warn of "failed states" and "Hamastan" as a breeding ground for terrorism forget where blame for failure belongs — at the feet of the American administration, which has chosen to isolate, rather than deal with, the elected government.

The Bush administration never intended to honor the outcome of fair and transparent elections in the occupied territories. The embargo, designed to punish the electorate for its choice, was the first step toward crushing new democratic institutions. The second has been to find collaborators for the American agenda and to supply them with advisers, funds and weapons for their campaign of destabilization. The final step will be to truncate Gaza from any proposed Palestinian state and make it a de facto prison for all "undesirable" aspects of Palestinian nationalism. This will culminate in provocations designed to trigger a military response from Israel, which will "justify" a war on Gazans. This would be tragic for all concerned, and the international community, especially the Arab League, must not allow such an outcome.

What can be salvaged from the wreckage of the multiparty system? Those who have dissolved the government and joined with the occupiers are embraced by the Bush and Olmert administrations, which have released Palestinian tax revenue and taken other steps to shore up the Abbas government’s legitimacy and proclaim it the future of a Palestine shorn of troublesome Gaza.

Yet it remains that Hamas has a world in common with Fatah and other parties, and they all share the same goals — the end of occupation; the release of political prisoners; the right of return for all Palestinians; and freedom to be a nation equal among nations, secure in its own borders and at peace. For more than 60 years, Palestinians have resisted walls and checkpoints intended to divide them. Now they must resist the poisonous inducements to fight one another and resume a unified front against the occupation.

We urge the Bush administration not to repeat the mistakes that have become hallmarks of its actions in the Middle East. Allow the Palestinian people to chart their own course, free from the influence of those who seek little more than to perpetuate the status quo. The alternative is unacceptable.

-Ahmed Yousef is a senior political adviser to Ismail Haniyeh, who is contesting his dismissal as prime minister by Mahmoud Abbas.

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