President George W. Bush’s push for democracy and freedom across the Middle East backfired dramatically on Jan. 26, as the Palestinian people went to the polls and voted to give the terrorist group Hamas a majority of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The victory sent shock waves around the region as Palestinian citizens felt frustrated with the corruption and continual disconnect of the ruling Fatah party. With the victory, Hamas now controls 76 out of the 132 seats in the legislature.
The bigger problem for the United States, as well as the world, is the growing threat in the Middle East.
Hamas has already been linked to over 425 attacks against Israel, resulting in the deaths of over 377 Israeli citizens and soldiers as well as injuring 2,076 civilians. If Hamas is allowed to establish rule in the Middle East, it will erase not only the potential of a stable democracy in Iraq but also diminish the peace relations between Israel and Palestine.
Israeli President Ariel Sharon helped establish peace negotiations with the Palestinians by pulling out of the Gaza Strip in August of 2005. Yet, with his recovery very unlikely after Sharon’s massive stroke and the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, it seems the Middle East is headed down a slippery slope which will erase the progress made by their two respected former leaders.
Yet, what options are left for the United States? With the military stretched to the limit with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems unlikely that the Bush administration would be able to attempt military action if Hamas continues to launch terrorist attacks or renew its vow to seek the destruction of Israel.
The president has already asserted that the United States would not engage in any diplomatic relations with Hamas until it renounces terror and acknowledges Israel.
Bush has also rightfully threatened to cut off millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinian people unless some changes are made in the region.
Yet, the Hamas victory is not a new win for terrorist organizations. Terrorist groups have capitalized on their new democracy by electing many anti-American terrorist members. Hezbollah, a well-known terrorist group who is suspected of helping bomb the U.S. embassy and a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, won 23 new seats in the Lebanese parliament in 2005.
Hamas’ victory has also placed many Palestinians in precarious situations. They are grateful for the social programs and money Hamas provides them to carry on with their daily lives, but also acknowledge the radical and malicious side of the party.
They felt that the Fatah party did not care about their everyday needs, but believe Hamas might take their anti-Israel view too far. With the election, Palestinians must now face the reality of being isolated from the rest of the world because of Hamas’ extreme views.
One can only hope that Hamas gives up the terrorist wing of their party and make useful the political power they have won. Trading in their guns and suicide bombers for diplomats and peace negotiations would be an encouraging first step. Moreover, the election will give Hamas the opportunity to become more moderate in their political views for the first time in history; they now have the power in the Legislative Council. The entire world, including fellow Palestinians, will be watching.
The lessons of the Hamas victory are very clear to Palestine and many Americans.
Democracy is very fragile and can have its backlashes when the ‘people have spoken.’ Also, in a two-party system, the best party does not always win as the election usually results in lesser of two evils in power. Finally, a democratic process does not always secure peace in the world. Let’s not forget that Germany voted in the Nazi party through a democratic process.
Bhavik Patel is a second-year political science major and can be reached at email@example.com.