Some of The Australian’s far-right readership might be nonplussed to read its editorial
this morning on the Middle East, with its conciliatory tone towards
Hamas: “Hamas, it must be said, has made an efficient job of running
local councils in Gaza … there is still some slight chance that,
politically, it could be brought into the mainstream tent and become a
partner for peace.”

Yes, this is the militant Islamic movement
Hamas, which Australia and the US (and of course Israel) officially
classify as a terrorist organisation. Democracy has given it a sudden
boost, with success in local elections held last week in the West Bank.
According to The New York Times, Hamas won 26% of the seats on offer, including control of several major towns like Nablus and Jenin.

local elections are something of a trial run for next month’s elections
for the Palestinian Authority, in which the ruling Fatah group will
face a strong challenge from Hamas. Fatah has also faced internal
division, with younger activists lodging a separate ticket to that of president Mahmoud Abbas, although it is reported this morning that an agreement has been reached on a common approach.

is an analogy with Egypt, where the recent move towards democracy has
also strengthened the fundamentalists – because they were seen as the
only effective opponents of the authoritarian status quo. As The Australian
puts it, “it is unclear if voters on the West Bank were really
responding to the siren-call of militancy, or were merely sick and
tired of the corruption and cronyism that have been the mark of Fatah’s
style of administration.”

Unlike Egypt, the Palestinians may not be left alone to work out their problems themselves. Israel has threatened in the past to obstruct the elections if Hamas is allowed to take part, and the US House of Representatives voted last week to cut off aid to the Palestinians unless Hamas is disarmed beforehand.

stifling democracy because the wrong side might win is a recipe for
disaster. The uncomfortable truth that no-one wants to admit, but which
The Australian seems to have dimly cottoned on to, is that if
there is to be lasting peace then one day an Israeli government and
Hamas will have to be willing to sit down and talk to each other.