Let's hear it from those moderate Palestinians
A while back, I speculated on how many Palestinians who voted for Hamas in the recent elections were playing a voting game.
An article from the Telegraph had quoted a young Palestinian voter as experiencing post-election regret:
Like many others, a young Fatah activist wished yesterday he could go back in time and replay the Palestinian elections all over again.
"I voted Hamas so that my own Fatah Party would be shocked and change its ways," he said, giving his name only as Mohamed, in the Palmeira cafe in Gaza City. "I thought Hamas would come second.
"But this is a game that went too far. Nobody thought Hamas would win - even them. I know lots of people who voted Hamas, who regret it now. If I could vote again, I would vote for Fatah."
At the time I wrote, "I wonder how large a group he represents."
I still wonder. And I still haven't read anything that would allow me to answer the question with anything approaching authority.
But I have read two more articles that would indicate--if the Palestinians they feature are at all representative of the majority--that the Mohamed quoted above may in fact be extremely typical of Palestinian voters, and not just in his name. An awful lot of them--at least the ones who seem to find their way to journalists to be interviewed, agree with him on the reasons they cast their precious votes for Hamas.
Case in point: an article that appeared one week ago in the Boston Globe, entitled "They voted for Hamas but were surprised by its victory."
Here are some excerpts:
Muayad Abu Ghazaleh, 36, is the ultimate Palestinian swing voter. A lifelong backer of Yasser Arafat's Fatah party, he grew so disgusted with its cronyism and corruption that in parliamentary elections on Jan. 25 he cast his ballot for Hamas, never suspecting the militant group would actually win.
What he wants from Hamas now, he said, is good government, plus something that the group's charter says it can never deliver -- a peace deal with Israel.
Swing voters such as Abu Ghazaleh -- who doesn't share Hamas's vision of Islamic rule and unending war with Israel -- handed Hamas its surprise victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections. Now those voters are confronting the confusing reality of the day after.
Many say they voted with specific and sometimes contradictory hopes -- for a government that won't let Israel push it around but will ultimately make peace -- that they now have to square with Hamas's uncompromising record. While these voters say they believe Hamas will turn more pragmatic as it moves from violent outsider to governing party, Hamas leaders so far have not given any indication that they plan to abandon their more fiery tenets.
Whether or not Hamas will abandon these "fiery tenets" is a question I've answered here (and my answer is "probably not"). But the intentions and hopes of the Palestinian voters who actually cast their lots with Hamas are another thing.
The Globe article is, unfortunately, quite mum on how its author, Anne Barnard, selected her pro-Hamas but relatively reasonable-sounding Palesinian voter interviewees. It's even more silent on whether we should consider them to be representative of anything more than the particular point of view the writer wishes to promote. And I haven't seen any polls on the matter.
So it may be a case of quote selection by Ms. Barnard. Or it may be a real phenomenon: that the Palestinian support for Hamas itself is much less than the vote would indicate, and that a huge number of voters were voting as a protest against the corruption of Fatah, never expecting that Hamas would actually win a majority, much less the solid majority it now owns.
According to the article, many of these voters have the (somewhat delusional, IMHO) hope that Hamas--perceived by them as a sort of "strong horse"--might actually be able to get results if they could ever be convinced to enter into negotiations with the Israelis. How they might thus be persuaded is left rather vague--and rightly so, since, as the article points out, there is absolutely no sign that this might be the case.
But that doesn't stop some--such as the following Hamas voter--from hoping:
''We want peace," he said. ''I have children. I want to live. I don't want the Israel Army to come in here. The extremists [in Hamas] are very few. I love Jews and Israel, I just don't like their politicians."
The article makes the excellent point that, even if it were theoretically open to moderation, Hamas now is riding high, and therefore has little to no incentive to listen to such voters.
Some voters realize this, including a man named Zakaria, who actually ended up as campaign manager for a Hamas-backed candidate. Now he is experiencing a sort of "buyer's remorse;" he sounds rather worried:
Ameed Zakaria, a lifelong Fatah member who dresses in the uniform of Palestinian secular nationalists -- leather jacket, jeans, no beard -- broke from the party to manage the campaign of a Hamas-backed independent candidate. He wanted Hamas to win a solid opposition bloc; the competition, he felt, would shock Fatah into reforming corruption, while the burdens of office would make Hamas more pragmatic.
''I want Hamas to get into the heart of the event, rather than shouting from the sidelines," he said. ''They will have to admit reality. It's not good for Hamas to keep saying, 'We want Palestine from the river to the sea' " -- its demand for a Palestinian state that would not only include the West Bank and Gaza but also replace Israel on the map.
But when Hamas won outright, taking five of the six district seats in Nablus, Zakaria began to fear for the secular order -- and for the prospects for a pragmatic deal with Israel.
''They use religion for political purposes," he said last week.
As I wrote earlier, it's always dangerous to vote for someone in whom you don't believe, thinking it will register only as a protest. If enough people do the same thing, you may find that you've actually voted the bums in. To the voters, it probably seemed impossible that Hamas could win, and that therefore a vote for Hamas would be a relatively harmless protest. A miscalculation, and perhaps a fatal one.
The following is the only indication I could find in the article of how many of these protest votes there might have been:
Yasser Mansour, who ran Hamas's Nablus campaign and won a parliament seat, now spends much of his time offering reassurances. Nearly half of Palestinians are independents without strong loyalties to Hamas or Fatah, he said. ''These are the people who gave us the victory."
So, it's those swing voters again. If Mansour is correct, there may be a great many of them among the Palestinians. And one can't really say they had much of a choice, either: Fatah hatred and proven corruption vs. Hamas ultra-hatred and promises (most likely empty) of ending corruption.
If we can trust the article, there doesn't seem to be a groundswell of popular support for an Islamic state among the Palestinians. Note the article's conclusion, from brokerage manager Numaan Khosrawi, who voted for a secular party:
"But if [Hamas members] start trying to control Palestinians' lifestyles," he added, "it will be their grave."
I'm afraid this is bluster; Hamas would have even less hesitation than Fatah did about killing off the opposition. But it seems, at least, that there may be more internal opposition than originally thought. And that--if we can believe the sincerity of the people quoted--does offer some hope that there is more than a small chink in the seemingly monolithic Palestinian support for those who would like nothing better than to blow all Israelis to kingdom come.
I offer as a companion piece this article from the NY Sun. It gives more background on the vote for Hamas. The article features interviews with two Palestinian expatriates, Khaled Abu Toameh and Nonie Darwish--the former was a Palestinian reporter, and the latter grew up in Gaza City as the daughter of a man who was head of Egypt's fedayeen.
Here's what they have to say:
Mr. Abu Toameh's views are shaped by what he has seen as a reporter - not so different from what the Palestinian Arabs who voted for Hamas have seen. He sees former Arafat officials like Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan - "icons of corruption, warlords" - depicted by some Western Arabists as a "younger generation, reformists."
"The Palestinians don't buy it," Mr. Abu Toameh said. Mr. Dahlan, with no official government position, moves around Gaza in a 12-car convoy with 70 bodyguards. "People look at him and say, 'This is all the CIA money.' I think Mohammed Dahlan is one of the main reasons why people in Gaza voted for Hamas."
Much of what Mr. Abu Toameh and Ms. Darwish have to say is unconventional. "A lot of times we hear, 'Is America going to pressure Israel for peace?'" Ms. Darwish said. "I don't hear the media asking, 'When are the Arabs going to pressure the Palestinians for peace?'"
Mr. Abu Toameh said American policy in advance of the Palestinian elections can be summed up as "If you don't vote for the same thieves who have been stealing your money for ten years, we are going to punish you."
He said that the linkage between Gaza and the West Bank is more in the minds of Western diplomats and even Israelis than in the culture of the Palestinians. The West Bank feels more Jordanian, Gaza more Egyptian. They are "two separate entities," Mr. Abu Toameh said...
Both Ms. Darwish and Mr. Abu Toameh emphasized the limits to free speech and freedom of the press in the Middle East. "If I speak in the Arab world, I will be shot," Ms.Darwish said. Mr. Abu Toameh notes that an independent free press does not exist in the West Bank or Gaza. "They burn it down. They beat you up," he says. "The media there is controlled by the PLO."
So we cannot discount the existence of those "moderate Moslems," those "moderate Arabs," and those especially elusive "moderate Palestinians." But with their voices quite understandably muted, we have no way of knowing how many there actually are.