by Matías Bakit to Minaret of Freedom Institute president
El Mercurio newspaper, Santiago, Chile
Q. What are the main reasons for HAMAS’s victory?
A. The main reason for HAMAS's victory was that voters sought an alternative to the corrupt, failing and fractious FATAH regime. The corruption of FATAH was well known, but their use of American tax money for what were really campaign purposes in the days before the election was an embarrassment that drove home the point of their corruption to the Palestinian voters. The main failure of the FATAH regime was their inability to conclude a peace treaty within the Oslo framework. The Palestinians had abandoned their objection to the existence of the state of Israel on pragmatic grounds, that they should obtain sovereignty and peace and they had been given neither. Further, it is widely believed among Palestinians that Mahmoud Abbas is prepared to abandon the Palestinians' right to return to their homes guaranteed by International law. HAMAS was seen as the only viable alternative to FATAH's failures, an organization that had provided the kinds of services the PA could not, that is largely free of corruption, and that would be less prone to unacceptable compromises. Finally, FATAH divided its support among rival factions while HAMAS's united front allowed it to get more seats than their 44% popular vote would command had FATAH been unified.
Q. It is said that HAMAS will be a disaster for peace in Middle East. Is that so? Why?
A. There is widespread concern that HAMAS's commitment to the destruction of the state of Israel, especially given the violent history of its military wing, makes it unsuited to negotiate peace in the Middle East. Further there is the fear that even if HAMAS moderates its views or overlooks them as irrelevant to its new role as representative of the Palestinian people, that Israel will nevertheless refuse to accept it as a negotiating partner. These obstacles, however, may not necessarily be insurmountable. They were, after all, the same argument put forth against PLO/Israel negotiations before Oslo, or for that matter put forth against the possibility of an East-West peace before American-Soviet detente became a reality. HAMAS has already expressed its willingness to include FATAH in the new government, has built bridges to the Christian Palestinians, and showed by its observance of the PA's truce with Israel that it can behave pragmatically even while adhering to its fundamental positions. In any case, Mahmoud Abbas remains the President of the PA for the time being and it is with him that the Israelis must negotiate. HAMAS has already announced that they will not obstruct Abbas' negotiations with Israel. Whether Israel will give HAMAS the opportunity to join in the efforts for peace is a more difficult question, but it is in Israel's interest to do so and America has a great deal of influence with Israel and could be helpful if it chooses to be.
Q. Is there a possibility of a truce by HAMAS?
A. Yes. HAMAS largely observed the PA's truce with Israel despite Israeli provocations. Even the most fanatical Muslim extremists accept that long-term truces are part of Islamic law. This is really in Israel's hands as the Qur'an commands, "If the enemy inclines towards peace, the do you incline towards peace and trust in God."
Q. What would be the effects of the loss of international aid for Palestine?
A. In all probability the loss of Western aid would be made up for by an increase in aid from other sources, less favorably inclined towards Israel, which would remove some of the incentives for HAMAS to show patience with the peace process or with problematical Israeli actions.
Q. What do you think the Israeli State will do?
A. Speculation is best postponed until after the Israeli elections in March. Nonetheless, I think that it is most likely that Israel will proceed with extreme caution. At the moment the world community understands their concerns, but it could hurt them to press their point too far. The country that has been led by Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon undermines itself by protesting that leaders of other governments are associated with terrorism.
Q. What are the chances for peace?A. Peace remains a long shot, but the recent shake-up actually makes peace a little bit more likely. The old situation was a stalemate. Now that the Palestinians have a new, freely elected parliament there is an opportunity for a fresh start, one with the authority of legitimacy. It was said that "Only Nixon could go to China." "Only Sharon could unilaterally remove Israeli settlers from Gaza." By the same token, perhaps, "Only HAMAS can make a lasting peace with Israel."