It has caused this Israeli some amusement to watch the contortions international observers are putting themselves through to excuse the unequivocal choice for terror just made by the Palestinian electorate. The prevailing theme is that the Palestinian people were reluctantly compelled to overlook the carnage-loving side of Hamas in order to bring some social order to the fractured and disintegrating Palestinian Authority. “Palestine” was well on its way to becoming a failed state, so the people, in desperation, swallowed their discomfort at Hamas’s slightly problematic foreign policy and voted them in for the sake of sewage systems and electrical grids.
Now, it is undeniable that the Palestinians were short on good options, and I am the last person to defend the scandalously inept administration of the useless Mahmoud Abbas. But a choice did exist. If their concern was solely social order, or even social order plus an eventual rapprochement with Israel, the Palestinians had it in their power to demand a corruption-free Fatah that actually gave a damn about the people, their daily lives and their future. There were popular Fatah leaders, particularly “young guard” stalwart Marwan Barghouti, who were adamant that Fatah should be cleansed of dithering, corrupt cronies (and how’s that for a sad commentary – their most moderate prospective leader is himself a multiple murderer). The alternative was to throw the party out lock, stock and barrel and formally bring in the terrorists – an option that would identify the general population squarely with an unapologetic Israel-destroying ethos. The population grabbed that option with both fists.
And that brio is significant. Hamas did not squeak in by a whisker; they were brought in on a landslide. It is the height of folly to maintain that Palestinian local concerns were so great that they somehow blinded the vast majority of voters to the total Hamas package. The people handed Hamas a breathtaking victory, and it is preposterous to suggest that all those people were oblivious to Hamas’s admirably clear foreign policy. The more logical inference is that the foreign policy of the winning party reflects the will of the people. It is deeply odd for Western, democracy-loving observers to willfully infer in this particular case that the voters were only electing a part of the victors’ platform.
There is something extremely off-putting about this eagerness to absolve Palestinians of responsibility for their actions – to suggest that they took this fateful step reluctantly or, more offensively, out of ignorance. This is obviously particularly irritating from our perspective, since we are not generally granted similar apologias for our decisions. As a commenter on Hurry Up Harry astutely observed prior to the election,
When Sharon was re-elected as Prime Minister, many commentators implied that this proved most Israelis didn’t want peace and that because a right-wing leader was elected, that Israelis could only hold themselves responsible for future attacks against them, by offering a gun instead of an olive branch. If Hamas win outright or a considerable percentage in the election, I wonder how many commentators will say that the Palestinians have only themselves to blame for any future violence against them, since they voted against peace and for a terrorist organisation that promotes hatred and aggression? Somehow I doubt there will be many.
Thinker, scholar, author and friend Claire made a similar point in an email to me yesterday:
When Sharon was elected, did a wide swathe of the commentariat ever attempt to suggest that the Israelis did not actually mean to elect the…author of Sabra and Shatila, they were just sort of … seduced by his grand ideas on domestic policy, and frustrated with the opposition?
What all this boils down to, in my view, is a question of context. For the Palestinians, context is used to excuse. For us, context (when it is even allowed into the discussion) is used to condemn.
To illustrate this point, I’m afraid I have to bring up the reality of terrorism – the true face of it, from the point of view of a target. When Palestinians enter Israel and splatter Israeli women and children all over the walls of ice cream parlors and grocery stores, context is everything; the act is nothing. They’re poor. They’re frustrated. They’re dispossessed. They’re economically stagnant. What else can you expect?
When Israel responds to such attacks on its citizens by, say, killing a Hamas leader who has already killed Israeli civilians and is known to be planning further mass murders – or, only slightly less provocatively, by building a wall to keep the murderers out – context is nothing; the act is everything. When the IDF went into Jenin, the history that led up to that operation – the fact that more than two dozen (two dozen!) suicide bombers had entered Israel from that city – was irrelevant.
This imbalance extends backwards into history. The Palestinians’ actions, no matter how nihilistic, gruesome or self-defeating, are excused by their passionate attachment to their historical roots on this land. Our passionate attachment to our historical roots on this land, however, is not relevant to the discussion. Suggesting that it may be is at best a tactic of the religious right wing and at worst an outright lie (which would probably come as a surprise to my great grandmother, a Jew of Palestine whose family can be traced back on this land for centuries).
The result of years of unsolicited apologias, not surprisingly, is a blithe refusal to be held accountable for anything – an absolute absence of any sense of shame, a chutzpah par excellence. This is reflected in, to take just one small example off the top of my head, the Palestinian response to their destruction of the Israeli settler greenhouses purchased for them by James Wolfensohn’s team of donors – that these things happen, but hey, Wolfensohn should keep up the good work. If we want to take sledgehammers to your gifts to us, that’s our business; just keep the bucks coming. It is reflected in the total lack of any scruples or collective conscience about terrorist attacks committed on behalf of the Palestinian people — I don’t recall ever hearing a Palestinian voice, either inside or outside the territories, publicly say “Not In My Name” while Israelis are burying their murdered citizens. And it is reflected in the massive victory handed to a jihadist terrorist organization by the vast majority of the Palestinian people. No apology necessary — the rest of the world will provide it in any case.
For our part, the denial of the relevance of context for our actions has created an interesting dualism: both a stoic “we’ll do what we have to do” unilateralism (c.f. Sharon) and a cringing surfeit of shame (ladies and gentlemen, please meet Yossi Beilin). I would hazard a guess that the tenacity of the peace-at-all-costs camp in Israel is based in part on a desperate, almost abject eagerness to be admitted to the club of people who are allowed a history, a context of their own: see, look, I’ll give you everything I have if only you’ll let me exist the way you exist, take pride in my name and my religion and my country the way you do. I don’t want to feel ashamed to defend myself anymore, and so I won’t. Take it all.
Well, the situation could be worse. Hamas could be lying. While it is disappointing that they are the Palestinian people’s choice, it is a good thing that that choice has been made so absolutely clear, and that Hamas is not massaging its message to suit the palates of outside observers. As Andrew Sullivan put it,
On the negative side, we have a clear indication that a majority of Palestinians elected a government dedicated to the destruction of Israel. On the positive side, we have a clear indication that a majority of Palestinians elected a government dedicated to the destruction of Israel. In other words: we’re done with the minuet with duplicitous, double-dealing crypto-terrorists claiming to want a negotiated peace.
The Hamas victory is a positive development because it finally reveals the reality of Palestinian political preferences. With that reality now transparent, the various actors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can finally proceed to establish realistic policies.
Hamas might well find that the job of governance doesn’t leave a lot of time for jihad (see my earlier post about the Hamas-run constituency of Kalkilya for a possible case-study). Anything is possible. In the meantime, the situation is what it is. Our immediate neighbors have elected an administration that, in its current incarnation at least, wants me and everyone I know dead. That’s a pretty clear reality. Let’s not muddy it up with nonsense.