What If Hamas Wins Again?
A flurry of activity in the Palestinian camp raises the possibility that elections for the Palestinian Authority will be held in the spring. President Abbas is planning to meet with Hamas political boss Khaled Mashal to discuss the elections. This projected meeting is being described as a sign of improving relations between Fatah and Hamas.
Elections were last held in the Palestinian Authority on January 25, 2006, elections were held for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the legislature of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). This was the first election to the PLC since 1996; subsequent elections had been repeatedly postponed due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian voters in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem were eligible to participate in the election.
Final results showed that Hamas won the election, with 74 seats to the ruling Fatah's 45, providing Hamas with the majority of the 132 available seats and the ability to form a majority government on its own.
Hamas party candidates received 41.73%, and Fatah party candidates received 36.96%.
The 2006-2007 economic sanctions against the Palestinian National Authority were economic sanctions imposed by Israel and the Quartet against the Palestinian National Authority and the Palestinian territories following the January 2006 legislative elections that brought Hamas to power. The international sanctions were terminated in June 2007 following the Battle of Gaza, while at the same time a new and more severe blockade was initiated by Israel against Gaza.
The sanctions consisted of the following: withholding of tax revenues collected in the Palestinian territories by Israel, cutoff of international aid to the Palestinian National Authority from the Quartet countries, restrictions by Israel of movement within the Palestinian territories and of goods moving in and out, and U.S. banking restrictions.
Israel and the Quartet said that sanctions would be lifted only when the Hamas government met the following demands:
- Renunciation of violence,
- Recognition of Israel by the Hamas government (as the PLO had done), and
- Acceptance of previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.
On June 16, 2007, the U.S. lifted the ban on direct aid to the emergency government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Similarly, the Quartet voiced support for Abbas and concern for the humanitarian situation in Gaza, though they did not announce any change in the ban on direct aid. Some Israeli officials said that $300 to $400 million in Palestinian tax revenues might be returned to the Palestinian National Authority, short of the $700 million Abbas was seeking. Indeed, on June 25, 2007, Israel agreed to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues it had seized to the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in order to support the Fatah government -- election results notwithstanding.
Why did Hamas take over Gaza?
Hamas spokesmen said the movement had no political goal in taking power in Gaza except to defend itself from a group within Fatah collaborating with Israel and the United States. They said they wanted to bring the security forces under the control of the Hamas unity government, in which Fatah agreed to play a part until the fighting erupted.
President Abbas, in Ramallah, on the West Bank, spoke to the Hamas political boss, Khaled Meshal, to try to ease the crisis. "This is madness, the madness that is going on in Gaza now," Mr. Abbas told reporters.
At that moment, at least 13 Palestinians were killed and 64 injured, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. They said 59 had died since the start of the violence. The dead also included two workers with the agency UNRWA, which helps Gaza refugees and their descendants. The agency announced that it was calling off its operations until the fighting stopped.
While Fatah blamed Hamas for the crisis, an Israeli analyst of Palestinian affairs, Danny Rubinstein, said the primary reason for the break-up is that Fatah has refused to fully share the Palestinian Authority's mechanism of power with its rival Hamas, despite Hamas's decisive victory in the January 2006 general elections. Fatah was forced to overrule Palestinian voters because the entire world demanded it do so, Mr. Rubinstein added. Matters have come to the point where Hamas attempted to take by force what they believe they rightfully deserve.
Hamas also stood to gain from the relationship. After the international community isolated the newly elected Hamas government in 2006, its leadership gravitated toward Iran for support. Hamas Prime Minster Ismail Haniyeh in December 2006 admitted that "Iran provided 'strategic depth' for the Palestinians." It has since been speculated (primarily by officials in the Palestinian Authority) that Iran helped plan the Hamas coup in June 2007 and its violent takeover of Gaza.
Hamas was able to waive [sic] its flag over Gaza after only one week long armed battle with the Mahmoud Abbas led Fatah. The fighting left 90 people dead. It also provoked President of Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to dissolve the Unity government in coalition with Hamas. After the Gaza takeover, Egypt accused Iran of smuggling weapons to the Hamas terrorists and also training them. The Palestinian intelligence chief, Tawfiq Al-Tirawi, corroborated those allegations.
Iran openly admits its support for Hamas but maintains that the assistance is only of a moral and spiritual kind.
Javier Solana, the European Union's Foreign Policy Representative, also said it was probably Iran who was behind the Hamas takeover of Gaza and ousting of the Fatah terror gang in June.
Did the U.S. and particularly then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice support a role for Hamas in the 2006 elections? The answer is unclear because U.S. policy and Rice's own opinion on this were never unequivocal.
All eyes were riveted on President George W. Bush during his joint press conference on October 20, 2005, with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmud Abbas. Would the U.S. insist on Hamas being excluded from the Palestinian legislative elections, scheduled for January 2006?
As Robert Satloff, the director of the Washington Institute, noted in The New Republic, the Bush administration had not agreed for some time with the Israeli position that Hamas be excluded from the elections. Indeed, Satloff notes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel to help the PA hold West Bank elections, with full Hamas participation: "This is going to be a Palestinian process and I think we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process."
"The era of justice and Islamic rule has arrived," Hamas spokesman Islam Shahawan said.
The comment obviously refers to Gaza only after the 2007 coup. But what will the Hamas terrorist leaders say if they win the Palestinian Authority elections again -- in the spring? If Abbas resigns, who will take his place as a strong Palestinian Authority leader ostensibly interested in peace with Israel?
Hamas eliminated its Fatah rivals in cold blood during the 2007 Gaza coup. So that's one scenario that won't repeat itself. But the Palestinian Authority's power in the West Bank isn't exactly written in stone. A Hamas victory in the spring elections will raise their flag threateningly over the West Bank Palestinian population. The unity government will be a Hamas unity government. Hamas's sights will be focused on extending their Islamic regime to the West Bank as well as Gaza, in which case the writing is on the wall -- namely, the threat of missiles from the West Bank into the center of Israel.
Hamas means Israel only ill. Their victory in the expected Palestinian elections will be another nail in the coffin for Palestinian-Israeli peace -- and another feather in the Iranian Islamofascist cap.