Sunday, May 28, 2006

A post-Intifada period?

Has Palestine entered a post-Intifada period, as Muhammad Abdel Shafee' Issa claims in Saturday's al-Hayat?

I'm not sure about that, but Hamas' participation and victory in last January's elections certainly have brought about significant changes.

Among these changes is a reported internal dialogue that is taking place within the movement. This ongoing dialogue explains in parts some of the drastic turns the Islamist movement has been making in recent weeks, both in regards to Israel and the domestic situation.

According to al-Hayat, the dialogue started about the time Hamas won the election and includes a thorough discussion of the militant movement's political positions, the possibility of negotiations and it's stand in regards to international and past Arab summit agreements.

Hamas' political office has established a "red-line" of not recognizing Israel "at this stage," reports al-Hayat, even if it means that it will have to give up power and return to being a movement strictly dedicated to "resistance and political opposition." What "this stage" means is explained by another official who states that recognition of Israel now would be "giving up our position for a piece of bread" and that it would be changing the nature of the Palestinian cause from one of national liberation and self-determination to one of "food assistance and salaries."

Al-Hayat quotes a third Hamas official (all of them unfortunately unnamed) saying "In the end we'll recognize Israel, but not for free. Israel has to first recognize our right to establish an independent state on all the lands occupied in 1967, and to really withdraw from these lands. At that point (Israel) will have its recognition, and on top of it, security."

The most likely scenario is that Hamas will, in principle, soon accept the so-called Abdullah plan, named after the Saudi King who proposed it at a 2002 summit in Beirut. The Abdullah plan agrees to a complete recognition of Israel by all members of the Arab League on condition that Israel withdrawal from all of the territories it occupied in the 1967 war. Acceptance of the plan will signal Hamas' de facto acceptance of Israel, and put it firmly in the official Arab consensus camp. Israel will undoubtedly reject this position, as it did the Abdullah plan when it was announced, because it knows it can get more through force and the backing of the United States.

This would be a shame because the Abdullah plan appears to offer the best hope for real regional peace, but also because Hamas' being part of a genuine political process is moderating the movement and bringing about change. The paper quotes a high ranking member of Hamas saying, "In the past we were a political movement that enjoyed the greatest degree of freedom in setting our positions, but now we are a government, responsible for an economy, employees and domestic security." With power comes responsibility, and this responsibility forces a moderation in both ideology and behavior. Democracy does work in mitigating militancy and extremism, but you have to give it time to run it's course.

Fateh members claimed they were going to do carry out a similar introspection when they lost the election, with some Fateh members seeing it as a good opportunity to try to rebuild the party and make it both more efficient and effective. I have to wonder if such a process has really started, or if they are too busy simply planning on how to get back into power.


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