David Brooks examines the “choice” the Palestinians had on election day:
Arafat channeled Palestinian aspirations into a romantic cause. He created symbols: the kaffiyeh, stubble and gun. He created a nationalist mythology, and instilled in his followers a revolutionary mentality: that political struggle is heroic; that lofty militancy is better than mundane governance; that vehemence is better than compromise; that opponents are evil, terrorism is noble and the eventual triumph will be sublime.
Arafat’s organization grew decrepit as he aged, but it never became ordinary. Arafat rejected peace at Camp David because it would have meant giving up the struggle for mere administration. Fatah never really had a place for the prosaic tasks that concern most governments.
And so a rival grew in Palestine. Hamas is attentive to average people, but in one way it is like Fatah. Hamas is also driven by a heroic and revolutionary ideology. It also sees politics in absolutist terms, as vengeance and glory, victory or martyrdom.
The Islamists of Hamas are not as fanatical as the leaders of Iran, the former U.S. envoy Dennis Ross says, but one look at their founding charter reveals a mentality that is hate-filled, paranoid and apocalyptic.
And so while Fatah and Hamas are rivals, neither has a democratic mentality. Democracy in its everyday manifestation is bourgeois and unheroic. It is about partial victories, partial defeats and issues that are never resolved and never go away.
Brooks is right about Palestinian politics: it’s all revolutionary romanticism. Seems to me Iraq is different. There are actually politicians there who want to build a “mundane” country.
Mark Steyn seems to agree:
The Palestinian elections were … clarifying. The old guard — Yasser Arafat’s Fatah cronies — had their own take on the “But some of my best friends are Jewish” routine. For years they insisted, at least in the presence of Americans and Europeans, that they were in favor of a “two-state solution” — Israel and Palestine living side by side — at the same time as they supported and glorified and financially subsidized suicide bombers and other terrorists. Insofar as their enthusiasm for a two-state solution was genuine, it was as an intermediate stage en route to a one-state solution.
Hamas, by contrast, [says]: Why the hell should we have to go tippy-toeing around some sissy phrase we don’t really mean? Hamas doesn’t support a two-state solution, it supports the liquidation of one state and its replacement by other, and they don’t see why they should have to pretend otherwise. And in last week’s elections for the Palestinian Authority they romped home. It was a landslide.
As is the way, many in the West rushed to rationalize the victory. The media have long been reluctant to damn the excitable lads as terrorists. In 2002 the New York Times published a photograph of Palestinian suicide bombers all dressed up and ready to blow, and captioned it “Hamas activists.” Take my advice and try not to be standing too near the Hamas activist when he activates himself.
Oh, no no no, some analysts assured us. The Palestinians didn’t vote for Hamas because of the policy plank about obliterating the state of Israel but because Fatah is hopelessly corrupt. Which is true: The European Union’s bankrolled the Palestinian Authority since its creation and Yasser and his buddies salted most of the dough away in their Swiss bank accounts and used the loose change to fund the intifada. After 10 years you can’t blame the Palestinians for figuring it’s time to give another group of people a chance to siphon off all that EU booty.
So I’d like to believe this was a vote for getting rid of corruption rather than getting rid of Jews. But that’s hard to square with some of the newly elected legislators. For example, Mariam Farahat, a mother of three, was elected in Gaza. She used to be a mother of six but three of her sons self-detonated on suicide missions against Israel. She’s a household name to Palestinians, known as Um Nidal — Mother of the Struggle — and, at the rate she’s getting through her kids, the Struggle’s all she’ll be Mother of. She’s famous for a Hamas recruitment video in which she shows her 17-year-old son how to kill Israelis and then tells him not to come back. It’s the Hamas version of 42nd Street: You’re going out there a youngster but you’ve got to come back in small pieces.
It may be that she stood for parliament because she’s got a yen to be junior transport minister or deputy secretary of fisheries. But it seems more likely that she and her Hamas colleagues were elected because this is who the Palestinian people are, this is what they believe. The Palestinians are the most comprehensively wrecked people on the face of the earth: After 60 years as U.N. “refugees,” they’re now so depraved they’re electing candidates on the basis of child sacrifice. To take two contemporaneous crises, imagine if the population displacements caused by the end of the Second World War and by the partition of British India had also been left to the U.N. to manage and six decades later they were still running the “refugee” “camps,” now full of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, none of whom had ever lived in any of the places they’re supposed to be refugees from. Would you wish that fate on post-war Central Europe or the Indian subcontinent?
So what happens now? Either Hamas forms a government and decides that operating highway departments and sewer systems is what it really wants to do with itself. Or, like Arafat, it figures that it has no interest in government except as a useful front for terrorist operations. If it’s the former, all well and good: Many first-rate terror organizations have managed to convert themselves to third-rate national-liberation governments. But, if it’s the latter, that too is useful: Hamas is the honest expression of the will of the Palestinian electorate, and the cold hard truth of that is something Europeans and Americans will find hard to avoid.
… you’re always better off knowing what people honestly think. For decades, the Middle East’s dictators justified themselves to Washington as a restraint on the baser urges of their citizens, but in the end they only incubated worse pathologies. Western subsidy of Arafatistan is merely the latest example. Democracy in the Middle East is not always pretty, but it’s better than the West’s sillier illusions.