What democracy wrought

By MARK JURKOWITZ  |  February 2, 2006

A parade of lawmakers and officials — from Democratic senator Joe Biden and Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist to White House counselor Dan Bartlett — made the rounds to hammer home the idea that, in Biden’s words, “not a penny” of aid would be heading to a Hamas-led regime that did not renounce its desire to do away with the Jewish state.

On CNN’s Late Edition, Wolf Blitzer’s interview with Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar was an ominous-sounding throwback to the days before the Oslo Accords. Israel’s acceptance of a two-state solution is a “fabricated story” and a “political threat,” Zahar declared. Its real goal, he asserted, is to establish a state between the Nile River in Egypt and the Euphrates River in Iraq.

As Israel’s interim government responded with its own increasingly tough talk toward a Hamas regime, the January 30 New York Times included Rice’s admission that the White House had been surprised by the election results. Providing further evidence for John F. Kennedy’s observation that victory has a thousand fathers, while defeat is an orphan, the Times piece cited unnamed “American officials” blaming Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for allowing elections to proceed without first disarming Hamas.

Be careful what you wish for
Two days after the Hamas win, Boston Globe cartoonist Dan Wasserman depicted an Israeli, a Fatah member, and a Hamas follower all reading newspaper headlines that said HAMAS WINS, WILL FORM MAJORITY, and MUST GOVERN. “Oh, No!” fretted the concerned Israeli. “Oh, No!” wailed the defeated Fatah man. “Oh, No!” gulped the victorious Hamas operative.

The idea that the outright capture of a majority of seats was not Hamas’s fondest wish has been a frequent if more nuanced theme of the analysis since last week. Writing for the National Review online, Emanuele Ottolenghi, who teaches Israeli studies at Oxford, said, “Hamas’s favored outcome was not victory, but a strong showing” that would leave it in opposition but able to exert effective veto power over Fatah negotiations with Israel. “What victory does to Hamas is to put the movement into an impossible position.”

Even the prescient New York Review of Books analysis by Hussein Agha, a long-time participant in Palestinian-Israeli affairs, and Robert Malley, Bill Clinton’s special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs, concluded that “Hamas has neither plans for immediate rule nor answers to the basic questions that governance would entail.... Should it assume power, an international backlash is likely to occur and Palestinian living conditions are virtually certain to suffer. Hamas does not wish to be blamed for either.”

But if the message for Hamas was “be careful what you wish for,” that went double for the United States.

As his principal rationale for invading Iraq — Saddam Hussein’s possession of WMD — has proved illusory, Bush has increasingly relied on a vision of the US as the Johnny Appleseed of Mideast democracy. It is a view that pits him against so-called foreign-policy realists who believe more in stable alliances than in ballot-box surprises. As the Washington Post pointed out on Saturday, that vision has been put to the test by the electoral success of “Islamic parties hostile to US interests” in Iraq, Iran, and Egypt.

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Maybe Bibi?
Former Israeli prime minister and current Likud Party leader Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu was quick to try to capitalize on the Hamas victory, dubbing the new Palestinian entity "Hamastan." Israeli elections are scheduled for March 28 and the conventional wisdom is that Hamas's win could be good news for hard-liner Netanyahu, whose party was badly trailing Ariel Sharon's new centrist Kadima faction - now led by Ehud Olmert - going into last week's Paelstinian balloting. According to one Israeli poblication, a new poll released this week after the Palestinian election showed Likud winning 16 seats (up from 13 last week) in the 120-member Knesset.

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