Middle East Roundtable /
A Palestinian View:
A struggle for Palestinian society
by Ghassan Khatib
This Monday, March 27, the dream of many Palestinians and
the nightmare of many others will materialize when a Hamas majority in the
Palestinian Legislative Council grants a vote of confidence to a Hamas
government that will probably lead the Palestinian polity for the next four
This new reality has many significant implications for all aspects of life
for Palestinians as well as for their regional and international relations.
While there is some confusion internationally as to the level of diplomatic
support and contact the international community will now maintain with
Palestinians, certainly there will be a regression in the tremendous strides
Palestinians have taken internationally in past years. This will favor
On the economic and financial front, however, the international community,
despite internal differences, at least seems to be seeking out new methods
and approaches to maintain "humanitarian" support of Palestinians. This is
happening out of fear that otherwise the Palestinian Authority will face
imminent and total collapse and a corresponding and consequent humanitarian
crisis will ensue.
There is also no doubt that Palestinian-Arab relations will be negatively
affected. The regional trend is for Arab governments to follow US-led
international attitudes when it comes to aid to the Palestinian people and
their authority. There is, however, an irony here, because most Arabs appear
to identify with the elected Hamas government, contrary to their regimes.
The most interesting change will be on Palestinian-Israeli relations. Israel
has declared its intention to boycott the PA. It will, however, undoubtedly
maintain indirect contacts so as to avoid the possible collapse of the PA.
A Hamas government works to the advantage of Israel in that Israel will
claim itself released from any political obligations to the Palestinians.
This will be used by the Israeli government to further justify its
unilateral strategy, which was started by Ariel Sharon and appears set to
continue under Ehud Olmert and the next Israeli government.
The most significant and dramatic consequences of the new Hamas government
are internal. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that
usually prioritizes the need to change the mentality, ideology, way of
thinking and way of life of individuals, communities and society at large.
Hamas has always believed that the successful pursuit of national
aspirations can only be undertaken once a "real Islamic society" is in
For those many Palestinians who are ideologically secular and/or politically
in favor of a solution based on two states in accordance with international
legality, the political consequences of the Hamas government are not the
main problem. An anti-peace process government in Israel has been firmly in
place for the past several years, so there is nothing to lose on that front.
What is at stake is the shape and direction of Palestinian society.
That fear is only magnified by the fact that all non-Palestinian anti-Hamas
forces are concerned primarily with the security issue. This in turn gives
Hamas the leverage to make a trade-off whereby it gives concessions on
security and politics in order to have free reign on the social agenda.
The fact that Hamas seems to have stopped its military activities against
Israel since the elections is an indicator of this direction, and there is
no doubt that this is the primary concern of Israel. From previous
experience, the American attitude and behavior is directed by the Israeli
It's likely that this Hamas government will survive. While it's true that
the PA is dependent on foreign aid, it is possible that the new government
will buy its survival with security and political concessions. With the
current security behavior of Hamas, Israel is likely to reciprocate with
positive gestures that are echoed by the international community.
Israel is only interested in pursuing unilateral steps and this might suit
the new Palestinian government. This government would like to expand the
space in which it can operate without having to get involved in negotiations
or contacts with Israel that might contradict its rhetoric.- Published
27/3/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet
publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and
acting minister of health, and has been a political analyst and media
contact for many years.
Bitterlemons-international.org is an internet
forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its
specific concerns. It aspires to engender greater understanding about
the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers
and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the
region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at