Matthew Gray, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the
The electoral victory of Hamas is a
combination of genuine underlying support for radical Islamists among the
Palestinians but is also an intense “no-confidence” vote in Fatah, the party
that dominated Palestinian affairs under Yasser Arafat and which was the main
political force in the Palestinian Authority until the election.
Polls over the last four to five years have given
Hamas an underlying support of about 20-25% in the West Bank, and 30% or more in Gaza, but having
won around 60% of seats at the latest election, other factors were clearly at
work, the main one being the deep dissatisfaction with Fatah.
The Palestine Authority (PA) under
Fatah is widely (and pretty much accurately) seen by Palestinians as corrupt
and ineffective. Hamas has also done well out of opposing the Oslo process in the
1990s, having always claimed that it would fail and then being proven right.
The Palestinians feel helpless under Israeli occupation, and a Hamas suicide
bombing – however morally outrageous it is – is widely seen as forceful and
potent action, in contrast to PA attempts to crack down on radicalism, which is
seen as playing into Israel’s hands. The collapse of the Oslo process, the
decline in Fatah’s legitimacy, and the rise of Hamas are all correlated.
Where it is all headed is the million-dollar
question. An optimistic view is that the election is good news: whenever
Islamists get into power, they tend to prove no more effective at governance
than secular parties. The mystique of Islamism disappears. If Hamas does not govern well (provide housing, services,
and transparency, for example), it will be out of office at the next election.
If, however, Hamas comes to dominate PA
politics over the long term, one of two things could happen. If it moderates
its stance (or splits into separate political and military wings, as the IRA
did), then some dealings with Israel
If Hamas retains its opposition to the existence of Israel,
settle in for a very long period of stagnation and conflict: the US and
Israelis will not deal with it, and Israel will
probably make unilateral separatist decisions without the Palestinians.
case, the Palestinians may still get their state, but it will be a fragmented,
economically-unviable bantustan, with borders and external links set and
controlled by Israel, and permanently disabled by the low-level conflict that would ensue.