The surprising thing about Hamas' municipal victories is that they surprised anyone in the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah movement. And that some of them are comforting themselves by saying that the reason for the Hamas victory is the rift in Fatah - that there is a new, almost formal, reason, rather than the cumulative evidence of the failure of the official leadership. And a democracy is a democracy: if the ruling party doesn't deliver the goods it promised, the voters will try a different party.
The Fatah movement and the Palestinian Authority had promised the Palestinian people precious goods over the last 12 years: an independent state on all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, personal security, economic stability and prosperity, the evacuation of the settlements, the flags of Palestine hanging on the mosques and churches of Jerusalem. According to their interpretation, these goods are the latent promises of the Oslo Accords, both in wording and substance.
The Palestinian Authority and the Fatah movement were not the only ones who understood the Oslo Accords in this way. They were joined by Arab leaders who warmed their relations with Israel based on a similar interpretation, European countries who deepened their economic ties with Israel due to the Oslo Accords, and a great part of the Israeli camp, which spoke of the "dynamics" of the agreements and preferred to think that the occupation was over and that peace was possible with the settlements.
There's no need to describe what happened to the goods and the promises: They are buried in monstrous checkpoints, in districts and villages that Israel has transformed into prisons, in injunctions to expropriate land, in settlements and outposts whose construction has only accelerated parallel to negotiations.
There are some who comfort themselves by saying that the Hamas victories are only in the local elections, on the level of municipal services. Fatah officials were saying this week that in the general election set for the end of January, political considerations and support for a realistic two-state solution will increase among the public. Perhaps.
But the Fatah movement is gauged not just by its major political failures; those can always be explained by Israel's might and imperialist America's support of it. Rather, the Fatah movement as a ruling party is assessed also by its performance and behavior in the maneuvering room it does have, even under the limiting conditions of the choke hold of Israeli occupation. In this maneuvering space, the relationship between the leaders and those led are gauged to the extent which the leaders and their institutions have clean hands, are honest, and care about their constituencies. The local authorities were an important test for the ruling party, and it failed.
Hamas' victory in the local elections bloomed in fertile soil. People have had enough of the lies that have accompanied their lives over the past 13 years: that Oslo is peace; that the establishment of the Palestinian Authority is an accomplishment and a symbol, neutralizing all its failings; that the PA is a state. But does Hamas tell only the truth? In effect, its self-confident participation in the general election is based on three lies.
The first lie Hamas has disseminated is that the Gaza Strip has been liberated. In its boast that Gaza is no longer under Israeli occupation, Hamas has an important partner: the Israeli government. Israel has an interest in hiding the facts - like the fact that it controls Palestinian freedom of movement and the Palestinian population registry. Israel has an interest in severing Gaza's fate from that of the West Bank. But what interest does Hamas have in doing so, other than victory in the election?
The second lie is that Gaza was "liberated" thanks to the Palestinian armed struggle, especially that of Hamas, and that this is the surefire formula for the West Bank as well. The Palestinians, including Hamas, consider the suicide bombings in Israel as part of the "armed struggle." In its propaganda, Hamas ignores the fact that it and other groups carried out attacks in the occupied territory itself specifically because of the difficulty in getting into Israel from Gaza to carry out suicide bombings. The suicide bombings in Israel only strengthened Israelis' support for all forms of a takeover of the West Bank.
Hamas has an interest in exaggerating its "dangerousness" and militant capability, just as Israel has an interest to do so. That's how Israel enhances its control over the West Bank, with the assistance of the world's silence, and that's how Hamas wins the internal Palestinian competition over leading the resistance.
The third lie is that the upcoming elections, in contrast to the 1996 elections in which Hamas refused to participate, have already been cut off from the Oslo framework and are therefore "kosher." But it was the Oslo Accords that determined that Palestinian leadership elections would take place in Gaza and the West Bank (and not, for instance, among the Palestinian diaspora as well). It was the Oslo process - even if not the language of the agreement - that defined the PA council as a "government." And it was negotiations with Israel - which Hamas refuses to recognize - and the mediation of donor nations that led to the establishment of governmental institutions, whose positions the Hamas movement is now planning to fill.
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