The Palestinian Elections
The international community has witnessed the emergence of HAMAS (an Arabic acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement”) as the winning party in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. A strong showing was expected, but the surprising HAMAS victory now confronts the US with the free election (in which 77% of eligible Palestinians voted) of a movement the US lists among terrorist organizations.
The international community has witnessed the emergence of HAMAS (an Arabic acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement”) as the winning party in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. A strong showing was expected, but the surprising HAMAS victory now confronts the US with the free election (in which 77% of eligible Palestinians voted) of a movement the US lists among terrorist organizations.Official channels of engagement either with HAMAS directly or in the peace process more generally could appear to be a reward for electing HAMAS. Nonetheless, constructive US engagement would be consistent with US intentions for democratization of the region, and is perhaps more necessary now than ever.
The US is right to commend the democratic process, even though the outcome is not to its liking. The US should proceed to engage with its Quartet partners (the EU, Russia, UN) to ensure that any framework for renewing negotiations is not abandoned. Greater deliberate engagement in the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the US over the past few years could perhaps have meant a different result. The occupation has strangled Palestinian commerce and industry, ballooning unemployment. As it stands, the continued deterioration of the Palestinian condition, coupled with US-supported Israeli unilateralism has reflected only negatively on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ government.
HAMAS is now expected to govern responsibly and deliver results for the Palestinian people. Its reputation as a strong provider of social services will be severely challenged if international aid packages to the Palestinians slow or stop. HAMAS ran under the banner of “Reform and Change,” not on terrorism or religious conservatism. HAMAS has discussed removing language in its charter condoning terrorism and denying Israel’s right to exist–and it is imperative that it does so. If it does, and if Israel were to affirm the right of Palestinians to a state, both sides could move beyond a terrible (and potentially very violent) stalemate.
Despite HAMAS’ win, further marginalization of the Palestinians imperils its people and abandons both Palestinians and Israelis hoping for a just and secure resolution to the conflict. Members of Congress have introduced punitive legislation to cut off direct US aid and funding of UN programs for Palestinian refugees and human rights monitoring, although these same members have historically restricted such aid when the Administration was attempting to encourage more amenable Palestinian leadership. Most US assistance is directed through the US Agency for International Development to Palestinian NGOs or through Israeli-controlled accounts. The US should honor its financial commitments made in recent years to alleviate Palestinian suffering and back up US policy to seek a two-state solution.
Palestinians have voted with hope to improve their worsening condition, including progress toward achieving a state. Contact the President and State Department telling them to do these things: first, to affirm their call to HAMAS to renounce violence and recognize Israel; second, to resist Congressional calls to cut off assistance for the Palestinian people; and third, to maintain US commitment to pursue a viable Palestinian state by encouraging moderation of the parties and renewed negotiations.
The Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ
Dr. Peter Makari, Executive for Europe and the Middle East, Common Global Ministries Board of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)