A year after elections, Hamas riding high


Marking the first anniversary of their landslide victory in the Palestinian Authority parliamentary election, Hamas leaders on Thursday had every reason to be satisfied.

Political and financial sanctions imposed by the international community have failed to bring down the Hamas-led government. Moreover, efforts by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party to undermine the government of Ismail Haniyeh have also been unsuccessful.

Many observers today admit that they were mistaken in their earlier assessments that Haniyeh’s government would collapse as a result of the local and international pressure. Their predictions that Hamas’s popularity would drop have also proven to be wrong.

In a speech in Gaza City, Haniyeh boasted that “Zionist schemes” had failed to topple the “elected” government or force Hamas to abandon its principles. “The government did not collapse after one year,” he declared. “Nor did it make compromise the rights of the Palestinians.”

Addressing the international community, Haniyeh said the financial sanctions imposed on his government have proven to be “ineffective.” The sanctions, he added, are a form of “collective punishment” against the Palestinians for choosing Hamas. “Those who decided on the sanctions are no longer able to justify them from a moral point of view,” he said, noting that Hamas has been able to find other sources of funding.

Almost immediately after the results of the January 2006 election were announced, many Fatah leaders were quick to declare that Hamas would not stay in power for more than three of four months. The Palestinian public, they explained, would soon discover that Hamas would fail because of its inexperience in running a government, its extremist policies and financial sanctions imposed by the Americans and Europeans.

But as the months passed and Hamas continued to cling on to power, Fatah, with the backing of the US and some European countries, embarked on a public campaign aimed at overthrowing Haniyeh’s government.

Millions of dollars have been invested in an unprecedented media onslaught aimed at discrediting the Hamas-led government, but to no avail. Dozens of spokesmen employed by Fatah over the past year seem to have failed to convince the majority of the Palestinians to turn against their government.

Reports that the US and Israel are providing Abbas’s security forces with rifles and ammunition with the hope that they would fight against Hamas have only damaged the reputation of Fatah, whose leaders are now being accused by Hamas of conspiring with foreign powers to topple a democratically elected government.

Abbas’s recent threats to call early elections don’t appear to bother anyone in Hamas. “Hamas will win another election, provided that it is free and democratic,” said a Palestinian editor in Gaza City. “They will win mainly because most Palestinians still don’t regard Fatah as a better alternative.”

Fatah’s failure to reform itself in the aftermath of its defeat in the parliamentary vote is one of the main reasons why most Palestinians remain disappointed with the party. Fatah lost the election because of the involvement of many of its senior officials in financial corruption and abuse of power. Most of these officials continue to hold senior positions in the party and are responsible for denying young leaders a say in decision-making.

The future appears to be even more promising for Hamas as its political and military power continue to grow. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has become such a significant player in Palestinian politics that countries like Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are inviting him for talks with top government officials.

Last week’s summit in Damascus saw Mashaal being put on equal footing with “president” Abbas. On the military level, Hamas has managed to smuggle tons of explosives, rifles and missiles into the Gaza Strip since the IDF abandoned the border with Egypt. Last month, in yet another message of defiance, Hamas announced that it would double the number of its “Executive Force” from 6,000 to 12,000. The move was taken in response to Abbas’s decision to outlaw the force.

Having run out of options, Abbas is now seeking to persuade Hamas to agree to a unity government with Fatah – something that has thus far proven to be an extremely difficult, if not impossible, task.

Hamas will start thinking about making concessions only if the pressure comes from the Palestinian street. And since the Palestinian masses still haven’t taken to the streets to demand regime change, pressure from the US, Europe, Israel and Fatah will not help.

January 26, 2007 | Comments Off on A year after elections, Hamas riding high

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