and Diplomacy, Fire and the Sword
09 February 2006, 06h41
The proof of our democratic credentials is our
readiness to accept the will of the people, even when they make
choices that tempt us to fear that a majority means nothing more
than that all the dupes were on the same side. From this vantage,
the election of Hamas to outright control of the Palestinian
Authority's Legislative Council is as much a test for the West
as it is for the Middle East.
elections employ a system of multi-member constituencies, filled
by modified proportional representation, with mandatory gender provisions
on party lists, and reserved representation for the Christian minority.
It is fiendishly complex, and Hamas' ability to win 74 of the 132
legislative seats speaks to an astonishing, and entirely unexpected,
breadth of support amongst ordinary Palestinians.
pursuit of theocracy, its deployment of suicide bombers against
civilians, and its rejection of peaceful co-existence with Israel,
it is easy to conclude that Palestinian electors have opted for
fundamentalist confrontation. My sense, however, is that neither
religion nor violence were major considerations for Palestinians
as they marked their ballots.
Until the recent elections, the Palestinian
Authority was dominated by Fatah,
the party of late president Yasser Arafat and current president
Mahmoud Abbas. Fatah's long grip on power over embryonic Palestinian
institutions led to predictable results: corruption on an epic scale,
even as ordinary Palestinians subsist in grinding poverty. On 05
February, for example, Palestinian Attorney General Ahmed Al-Meghani
filed charges and warrants against 35 individuals associated with
the government for stealing literally billions of euros from public
In its fanatical zeal, Hamas is relatively free
of financial corruption, and it has long cultivated support amongst
the most dispossessed Palestinians by running a private welfare
In this context, the Palestinians' electoral
choice is, in my view, less an embrace of Hamas' violence, and more
a rejection of Fatah's corruption and failure to ameliorate basic
The crucial question facing Palestinians, Israelis,
and the rest of the world, is whether the democratic process can
now co-opt Hamas. Everyone with an interest in peace has an interest
in making it possible for Hamas to gain through diplomacy and politics,
just as we have an interest in making it inevitable that Hamas will
lose through violence.
For my part, in my professional role as CEO
of the Concordis Foundation, I will be assisting in a United
Nations conclave for new Middle East MPs, which will attempt to
augment their democratic insights and skills. Our hope is that MPs
will return to their parliaments willing and able to wield diplomacy
and dialogue, rather than fire and the sword.
We will deploy the meetings in Jordan during
March, under the aegis of the United
Nations University, and if security and technical facilities
allow, I will blog (if that is now a legitimate verb) daily from
Democracy is a creed for the brave, and it is
precisely when our faith in it is tested, that we have the greatest
responsibility to do everything we can to make it work.