The surprise success of Hamas in the Palestinian elections – getting 76 out of 132 seats and putting Fatah in the shade – is another demonstration that the great imperialist powers are having more and more difficulty in controlling the growing chaos in the international situation. Despite having to stand as the Change and Reform movement, having been banned as a terrorist organisation, denounced for its killing of more than 400 Israelis in some 60 suicide bombings, and threatened by the US and the EU, as well as Israel, Hamas is now the dominant force in the Palestine Authority (PA) with the prospects of its armed wing being integrated into the Palestinian forces.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Israel’s foreign minister said that “The elections were meant to give power and strength to dismantle the terrorist organisations and not create a situation where these organisations sit in the parliament and then become part of the executive authority” (Guardian 26/2/6). Yet now the talk is of how Hamas can be transformed into a respectable political party, like other Israeli and Palestinian parties that had their roots in terrorist groups.
Although the victory of Hamas was a shock, political commentators soon acquired the wisdom of hindsight to explain what had happened. Opinion polls showed that there was an overwhelming concern about corruption in Fatah, the PLO and the PA. Fatah was divided and discredited, seen as responsible for years of economic disaster, particularly with widespread unemployment and the PLO was known for the reality of its repression. In contrast, Hamas had always focussed on Fatah corruption, had sustained a year-long cease-fire, put forward policies of reform in health and education, and could point to their already existing councils where they had a reputation for improving roads and similar municipal reforms. They even employed a conventional spin doctor at great expense to advise on the best public image to present.
No liberation, no independence, no gains at all
Hamas didn’t only succeed at the ballot box. They had enthusiastic leftist and nationalist cheerleaders throughout the world. In Britain for example the Socialist Workers Party declared that “the Palestinian people gave Bush and Rice a sharp slap in the face last week when they voted for Hamas” (Socialist Worker 4/2/6). They reported that “Hamas militants are seen as immune to corruption” and that the movement, after success in local elections, “gained a reputation for its work in health education and welfare. Hamas controlled municipalities were held up as models of efficiency.” As for suicide bombings, they are just details in a “fierce resistance”.
It’s true that US imperialism is taking time to work out the best response to the success of Hamas, but that’s not a slap in the face. But, for the population of Gaza and the West Bank to have exchanged its illusions in the corrupt old guard of Fatah, for the principled, efficient forces of Hamas, still labouring under the spell of nationalism, is no gain for the exploited and oppressed. The SWP point out that the US “was pumping money into the Palestinian Authority in a desperate and doomed effort to save Fatah”. Yet with the defeat of Fatah the US started “urging Arab states to continue funding a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, even though Washington is threatening to cut its own aid…The US plea to the Arab world is because it does not want the West Bank and Gaza to descend into chaos as a result of choking off aid” (Guardian 31/1/6). So, for all the condemnation of Hamas, the US actually sees a vital role for the terrorists, as a force that can impose capitalist order in the areas where it has influence.
This also puts into focus any claims by Hamas to be a force for liberation. On the same day that the US was reported as urging Arab states to fund the PA, the head of the political bureau of Hamas wrote a “message to the Muslim and Arab nations … We expect you to step in and compensate the Palestinian people for any loss of aid” (Guardian 31/1/6). No difference of opinion here between a very big power and one that’s only just emerging. Of course Hamas make the same claims as any other bourgeois forces, that they are “immune to bribery, intimidation and blackmail” and that their activity is just the same as other capitalist projects that have employed the lies of national liberation. “We have seen how other nations, including the peoples of Vietnam and South Africa, persisted in their struggle until their quest for freedom and justice was accomplished. We are no different.”
The examples are instructive. In Vietnam the North was backed by Russian imperialism, the South by the US. More than two million people died. The North won because the US withdrew its support from the South, as China’s move from Russian to American bloc was a far bigger prize than anything Vietnam had to offer. Gains for the people of Vietnam? None. And things got even worse after the collapse of the Russian bloc. As for South Africa, the archaic faction of the ruling class that was still attached to apartheid was removed from its dominant position and the South African capitalist state started operating with some changes of personnel in its political apparatus . This has brought no benefits for he poor and exploited. So Hamas replaces Fatah. There’ll be no improvements in the lives of those who voted for a change of faces in the Palestinian parliament.
The SWP say that “what will happen as a result of Hamas’s victory is anybody’s guess”. They think it’s a positive step, but have no idea where it’s leading. Other voices suggest other scenarios.
For example, a letter written to the Guardian (30/1/6) asks “Do you think Israeli leaders are regretting helping out Hamas in its early days? This initial Israeli support for Hamas in the 1980s was to weaken the PLO and Fatah. It may have taken 20 years but it certainly has worked now.” This is because “With a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, an Israeli government is relieved of all pressures and will continue to act as it pleases”. The letter’s author is from the Council for Arab-British Understanding, but that doesn’t entirely invalidate his point. It’s useful to remind people of Israel’s role in the formation of Hamas, and right to emphasise the way it undermined the PLO. However, while the Israeli government will insist it can’t talk to terrorists or those who don’t recognise Israel’s right to exist, the Palestinian Authority will still have a role to play. Without it there would be direct conflict between the Israeli state and the Palestinian population.
Pressures in the Middle
East will not be ‘relieved.’
They are actually intensifying. The war in Iraq shows every sign of continuing for years. The threats
to Iran from the US are growing. The succession to Sharon is unclear. Syria retains its interests in everything that happens in
Israel/Palestine. The one thing that is clear about Hamas’s advance is that it
will further add to the instability in the area. Whether it becomes a more
conventional party or uses its new position as a springboard for further military
confrontation, it can only exacerbate the underlying conflicts in the area. These
should not be attributed to the inability of Israeli and Palestinian, Jew and
Arab to get on together, but to the persistent intervention of all the great
powers in the area. The names might change but capitalism’s drive to
imperialist conflict only worsens.