Saturday, January 28, 2006

Legitimate Terrorists?

Here's a political dilemma for you - how do you react when a terrorist group actively engages in democratic politics, and actually gains power? This is, of course, the challenge facing Bush, Blair, the EU and the UN after Hamas' election victory in Palestine last week. Regardless of what happens over the next few weeks and months, some strange politics is likely to take place.

Of course, what everyone really wants is for Hamas to take it's new political role to heart, renounce violence and undertake a political end to the violence in Palestine. This is not going to happen. But whilst Hamas remain an armed group, actively using violence to free their country, can they really be compatible with western democracy in an age which considers dealing with terrorists to be political anathema?

The fact is though, Hamas has been democratically elected to 80 of Palestine's 132 parliamentary seats on a UK-shaming turnout of 77%, in an election praised by the UN for its fairness - indeed they have also stated that where the election was restricted, it was because of Israeli intervention, rather than anything to do with the Palestinians.

It strikes me, therefore, slightly unfair to call sour grapes on the election results after what appears to be a perfectly legitimate election in Palestine. You open yourself up to a democratic way of thinking, you accept the fact that it may not bring to power exactly who you were looking for. Yes, Hamas now need to work inside of politics, and I'm sure that continued use of violence wont help that; but at the same time they represent the will of their own people, who want to believe that Hamas really can make a difference, and the west must respect that point of view. For the US, the UK and the EU to say they wont deal with Hamas is basically saying to the Palestinian people "we don't care what you think, you got it wrong" and that's only likely to plunge the peace process even deeper into turmoil than it is right now.

Unfortunately, I cannot see how this situation will ever work itself out; Israel will almost certainly refuse to have relations with Hamas, even if the rest of the world does give them a chance. And Hamas, although they may scale down their physical attacks on Israel, will continue to call for the end of the Israeli state - not too useful when you then need to negotiate with a state who's legitimacy you do not accept.

And at the blunt end of all this will be (as ever) the Palestinian people, their voice now heard in the political arena, but then subsequently ignored. Democracy it may be, but fair it definitely isn't.


ken said...

I was going to do a post on this dilemma, it is as you say very difficult if you do happen to belive in democracy. Let us hope that Hamas sees a better future using diplomacy instead of the bomb.

Marco said...

What do you do if terrorists get elected?
Blair has experience of this, of course, with Sinn Fein. If he stays true to previous form then we can expect him to give Hamas everything they ask for and more ASAP!

Katy Newton said...

I agree that the elections were democratic. The people wanted Hamas to be in charge and now they are. There's your democracy. But I don't think that democracy demands that other countries must deal with a regime that they find repugnant simply because that regime was democratically elected. To ask Israel to negotiate with a regime whose stated aim is Israel's destruction is asking too much. As for the peace process, if Hamas don't recognise Israel then it's hopeless anyway. How can any "peace process" continue when one side refuses to accept the other's right to exist?

There I go with the comments boxes again...

Katherine said...

I was going to say the same as Marco (i.e. the parallel with Sinn Fein is quite obvious), but come to a slightly different conclusion. Drawing Sinn Fein into the political process rather than excluding them from it arguably forced them to take on the rules of democracy - i.e. talk, not shoot.

If, rather than refusing to talk and refusing to deal, Western governments (and Israel) show Hamas that they have more to gain from diplomacy than by suicide bombs, might that not draw them in in a similar way? After all, if no one talks to Hamas, might their conclusion not be that they can get more done by blowing people up than by talking to them?

Just a thought.

matgb said...

Katherine, I pretty much agree, the hope has to be that political power for them persuades/forces them to moderate and control the radical/violent elements; perhaps even integrates their militias into the security forces of the nascent state.

That's the optimistic view anyway, the other issue of course is how the rest of the world reacts anyway; spreading democracy is the neo-con agenda, do they/will they have the guts to stick to their principles or whether US domestic politics forces them to give into the hawks in their support base.

Optimism? Well, everyone else is putting the pessimistic view...

PaulJ said...


Quite right, the aim of spreading western ideals such as democracy around the globe are that they will hopefully change things for the better. Drawing people into the democratic fold seems to me like a much better way of engaging with them them pushing them away, especially when the stakes are as high as they are in Palestine.


Spreading western liberal democracy might be the stated aim of the Neo-Cons, but then at a very basic level this is no bad thing. With the example of Hamas, they have chosen to participate in democratic elections, they have chosen to use rather than attack politics. The Neo-Con agenda falls down when it tries to impose itself on other countries/cultures, but where it is willingly embraced by other countries, it will also be willingly embraced by me - we need more, not less democracy to create a more stable world.

Katy Newton said...

I just posted the link to the Hamas Covenant (Hamas' statement of its beliefs, methodology and aims) on DK's page. It's a good way of understanding what Hamas is about and how it feels towards Israel and the Jews, so I thought I would post it here as well.