The World Is Watching

Danny Rubinstein
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Danny Rubinstein

"There is nothing to be so afraid of - it is possible that something good will come of all this," said Hanna Siniora of East Jerusalem, a veteran public figure who was once close to Fatah, and one of the losing candidates in last week's elections. According to him, there is no danger of a civil war because of the elections. He hopes that all Palestinian security service heads and government officials will learn to be loyal public servants, who from now on will take orders from a Hamas-led government. Siniora is even proud of the possibility of the Palestinians proving that they are capable of carrying out a democratic, nonviolent transfer of power.

"In Israel, people were always claiming that there is nothing to talk about with Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] because he is weak, and Hamas controls the street," he said. "So now, you can speak directly with Hamas."

It is hard to know whether such statements accurately reflect the mood of the general public in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But similar views could be heard over the last few days from almost every nook and cranny of the territories. Arabic and foreign-language radio and television stations conducted hundreds of interviews in the streets of Rafah to Jenin, and most people expressed the opinion that Hamas' victory was deserved. People said that Abbas was weak; that there was no one who could stand up to Israel boldly and courageously; that they are sick of the corruption; that for the last five years, there has been a complete diplomatic freeze; and that since Yasser Arafat died, no one has taken the Palestinians seriously. They said that there is no reason to be afraid of what will happen now, because Hamas will be forced to become more moderate in order to run the government, manage the economy and pay salaries - and there are already signs that this is happening.

There were even some who argued that if in Israel, only the Likud can make peace, similarly, among the Palestinians, only Hamas can. In other words, it is even possible to be optimistic about the chances for an agreement. Almost all of those interviewed expressed confidence that Hamas will now agree to a long period of calm.

However, there were also quite a few opposing views - people who saw Hamas' victory as a disaster. "Not a disaster for you, the Israelis, but a disaster for us, the Palestinians," said Ghassan Al-Khatib, the outgoing Palestinian planning minister. In his view, Hamas' victory was an inevitable result of the policies adopted by Ariel Sharon's government, which left Abbas with no achievements. Al-Khatib fears that a Hamas government will cause tensions and rifts within the delicate fabric of Palestinian society. Extremist Islamic laws are liable to undermine the nature of society in the West Bank and Gaza. Even more important, however, is the serious harm that will be done to the Palestinian cause throughout the world.

The Palestinian public and its leaders already know that the struggle against Israel for the attainment of their national goal is not a military one. For decades, neither the Palestinians nor the Arab states have had any possibility of taking, or willingness to take, military action against Israel. The weapon of terrorism is even ineffective, and it is condemned by virtually the entire world. The only possible battlefield for the Palestinians is the diplomatic realm. Only the understanding and support of the international community, first and foremost Europe and the United States, can lead the Palestinians to victory. And, of course, only financial aid - money from other countries - enables them to exist.

Hamas' victory severely undermines the Palestinians' diplomatic campaign. Their international status will suffer. They will be compared to Afghanistan and Iran, and aid will be withheld. Against this background, Palestinian public opinion in the territories has been swinging like a pendulum ever since last Thursday, between despair and hope, fear and pride. The future, from their standpoint, is already here. Within days, the new parliament must convene, a government must be formed, and this inexperienced government must start coping with unfamiliar situations - at a time when one can state, with little exaggeration, that the eyes of the region and the world are watching to see how it will behave.

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