Democracy or Hypocrisy?

The consensus in the latest news reports about the fighting in Gaza cannot be understood only as Palestinian factional infighting. The direct intervention of foreign actors, has reshaped events by aiding in training and arming Fatah loyal forces in order “to take on Hamas,” a U.S.-led plan reported by the Israeli newspaper Haarretz on Oct. 31, 2006.

The violence that erupted in Gaza this June is another failed attempt to impose a government aligned with Western powers. Iraq and Afghanistan were the first recent experiments by which the United States tried to establish democracies loyal to a U.S. style system of government and a U.S. military presence.

But a report released Jun. 18 by the US magazine Foreign Policy and the US-based think tank Fund for Peace debunked the democracy rhetoric as a miracle cure for governance, and rated Iraq and Afghanistan among the top ten failed states.

On Jan. 26, 2006, Hamas swept the parliamentary elections held in the occupied territories by winning 76 out of the 132 seats in parliament. The result vexed both president Mahmud Abbas and the U.S. as it sidelined the planned “road map” negotiations with Israel, which favors the two-state solution for the conflict with a deadline for establishing the Palestinian state by 2005. This plan was put on hold as the tit-for-tat violence between Palestine and Israel continued.

Hamas, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Party, “favors the creation of a Palestinian nation on land that now includes Israel,” according to a Jan. 26, 2006, story by The Washington Post. Hamas is also set in its decision not to recognize the state of Israel, the main thing that put it at odds with the international community.

Democracy has become a buzzword, a paradigm, a magic solution talked about in international political forums. But the victory of the Islamic movement challenged this rhetoric – a set of guidelines often broken in practice because of other interests.

The success of Hamas in the parliamentary elections of January 2006 is not an isolated event, in which non-secular and movements not aligned with the tenets of the West have won ballot victories.

Other Islamic movements in the region such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Alliance of Islamic Parties (officially know as United Iraqi Alliance) in Iraq, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have shown that it is not secular western institutions and ideas that represent the aspirations of a great many Muslims, but Islamic ones.

Through its takeover of 76 out of the 132 parliamentary seats, Hamas presented an almost up-front challenge to the plans for establishing a secular democracy in Palestine which backed from Western powers.

That is the main reason why the Quartet Powers of the US, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations imposed an embargo on the Hamas-led government.

According to the BBC website on the conflict in Palestine, “the embargo had a devastating impact on the Palestinian economy and meant that many of the Palestinian Authority’s 160,000 employees have not received full pay in over a year.” In the meantime, ordinary citizens have depended on aid handed out by the UN.

Under pressure from the embargo, the situation became untenable and in March, Hamas and Fatah agreed on a coalition government, hoping to lift the economic sanctions. According to a Feb. 9 story by The Guardian, the Quartet made it clear that it would do so only if the coalition government would renounce to violence in and out of Palestine, recognize the Israeli state and accept previously signed peace agreements.

So why did Hamas attack Fatah this past month if it was the western block that enforced the blockade? Because of the clear favoritism: The embargo did not stop the flow of resources to Fatah. Even before the elections, the Israeli Newspaper Haaretz reported on Jan. 23, 2006, that the “United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has made available some $2 million toward bolstering the image of the Palestinian Authority by indirectly supporting the Fatah movement.”

It seems the Quartet by-passed both the people’s will and the Palestinian politicians strategies to govern themselves.

The struggle against Fatah could be seen as a struggle against the Western powers intrusion in the democratic will of the Palestinians. And on June 14, after days of fighting and Hamas’ subsequent takeover of the National Security headquarters and Fatah’s  security compounds in Gaza, the coalition broke up.

But a Fatah government, having ignored the popular will, may find it hard to govern even with the support of the West. The more the Quartet supports Fatah, the more discredited it may become in the eyes of Hamas supporters, and the more violence may escalate. If the west, with the US at its head, fails to understand that they must start to negotiate with Hamas, they could face a fiasco in the Middle East greater than the one they are facing now in Iraq.

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