When Danny Yatom Meets Khaled Meshal

Democracy can exist under occupation and oppression, and it can be anti American, too.

This week, when Khaled Meshal arrives in Cairo for the fund-raising campaign for the Hamas Palestinian Authority, he will already have a new status. No longer the representative of a rebellious Palestinian faction that has to be persuaded to give up terror, but rather a leader of equal value to, say, the prime minister of Jordan or Lebanon.

Meshal, the head of Hamas? political bureau, and in effect the person who can be defined as the organization?s chief executive officer, is henceforth an important guest in Egypt. To his delight, he will be able to rely on the good relationships he has formed − especially during the past two years − with the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, and with President Hosni Mubarak.

In Egypt Meshal is considered to be someone with whom it is possible to do business: Despite his tough rhetoric, it was he who ultimately gave his agreement to the hudna (cease-fire) and later to the tahadiye (lull).

Now he is talking about the realistic approach, that is − the approach that holds it necessary to acknowledge agreements and to run a Palestinian state that belongs to all the Palestinians and not just Hamas supporters.

The election victory is also the personal shield of Meshal and the other Hamas leaders residing in Damascus. Since the elections, there has been not a single call − neither from Washington nor from Israel − for Syria to expel the Hamas leadership from its territory. After all, to where would they be deported? Jordan? That country is not prepared to take them back, and the only possibility is that they would go live in Gaza and start leading their country from there, as Yasser Arafat did in his day.

Perhaps this would be an opportunity for Labor MK Danny Yatom to meet with Meshal again, after the prior toxic meeting between them that engendered a huge fiasco, when Yatom was head of the Mossad.

But this could also be the start of a crack in the united front that Hamas has displayed until now. Although the gap between Hamas at home and Hamas abroad has not reached the dimensions of the conflict between the Palestinian Liberation Organization at home and the PLO abroad, and an internal revolt will not develop due to the existence of two leaderships, during the past years it has been clear that the power is at home. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Mahmoud al-Zahar and others knew that the effective leadership of the organization and its activities was in their hands.

Hamas abroad had to see to financing and was only a partner, not the sole party setting operational policy. The agreement was that the one whose blood is spilled is also the one who is in charge of the decision.

This distinction exists now as well. Meshal talks and conducts the negotiations with Egypt and other Arab countries, but there is not necessarily congruence between what he says and what Hamas representatives in the territories say.

Those representatives hope that if they receive the aid from Europe and the United States as well as the monies that Israel owes them, they will also be able to free themselves from the budgetary subordination to Hamas abroad and its ability to raise funds. This is also a good reason to allow the transfer of the funds to the Palestinian Hamas government.

And in the meantime Islamist philosophers are continuing to offer various kinds of advice to Hamas. One of them is the important Egyptian commentator Fahmi Huwaydi, who has published books and hundreds of articles about Islamic discourse and the policies that the Islamic streams should adopt. This week he reminded Hamas of a number of religious principles that would allow them to tiptoe between the raindrops − between the religious ordinances that guide them as a religious organization and the political and realistic necessities.

Thus, for example, there is the principle of ?necessity,? which stipulates that ?the necessity voids the prohibition.? This refers not only to the personal plane, but also to the public plane. Therefore, if Hamas needs to recognize Israel or adopt the road map, it can do so because ?the necessity voids the prohibition.? And what is the necessity? To enable the economic, that is to say − the physical − existence of a new Muslim state: Palestine.

Another principle, notes Hawadi, is the one that stipulates ?silence about a despicable thing, if the result of its uprooting is liable to cause something even more despicable.? It is better not to carry out the reforms that are needed in the Palestinian Authority all at once, but rather to wait, to be flexible and not to go running headlong into a wall, as a full and total reform is liable to bring about something even worse − a civil war.

This advice, it must be recalled, is given gratis by an Egyptian thinker, who has above all before his eyes Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood has won glory and now has to proceed with tremendous caution.

This is not the situation in Palestine. Here Hamas has won the government, in direct elections and in a democratic way, so much so that even the few protestations by Fatah members claiming election fraud vanished quickly. And this is exactly the problem that faces the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Islamic movements in other Arab countries.

?It turns out that democracy can work under occupation, and therefore of course under regimes headed by the leaders of independence,? wrote Egyptian commentator Khalil Muhammed al-Anani. This reality is not hidden from the eyes of those leaders who are liable to tighten even more their supervision and restriction of Islamic organizations.

But Anani also has another interesting insight. It emerges that ?the United States, too, understands the meaning of democracy. The meaning of this is that even a democratic Arab regime is liable to be, at the same time, anti-American.?

Perhaps this is the time to publish a revised version of Natan Sharansky?s book and give it to United States President George W. Bush to read.

And in Iraq people are getting killedIraq?s democracy has not yet completed its progression. A month and a half after the recent parliamentary elections, 20 days after the announcement of the winners, there is still no new government and it is not clear when there will be. The struggle is no longer only between the religious Shi?ite bloc and the non-religious Shi?ite bloc, or between Kurds and Shi?ites or between Sunnis and Shi?ites. Even within the winning bloc there are struggles over the appointment of the prime minister.

This struggle is making effective use of the statistics of death.This week the newspaper Al Hayat, which is published in London and has consistently supported the non-religious parties, took the trouble to report a strange statistic. According to this figure, it appears that during the term of the previous prime minister, Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi?ite þ(from January 2004 to the beginning of May 2005, when the prime minister was replacedþ), there were ?only? 3,724 civilians killed and ?only? 65 fatalities a month among the security forces.

In comparison, ever since the head of the Shi?ite religious bloc, Ibrahim al-Jaffari, took up the reins of government, the number of dead has reached 36,700 and there are 110 fatalities a month among the security forces. The number of abductions during Allawi?s tenure was 1,500, and under Jaffari the number grew to 11,000. Suicide terror attacks: Allawi − two a month; Jaffari − 50 a month.

These ?tables of mortality? and terror were aimed, ostensibly, at proving that a religious Shi?ite government is not capable of getting terror under control whereas a secular party, the one that Allawi headed, decreased terror. Even the economy looked better − thus, for example, according to Al-Hayat, ?the unemployment rate during Allawi?s period was 25 to 30 percent as compared to 40 percent during Jaffari?s tenure.?

These filtered figures are also directed at warning about the outcome of President Bush?s policy: Anyone who wants democracy in Iraq − or in the Middle East − would do well to notice that this democracy brings Islamist parties into power, and especially ones that cannot deal well with terror. There are also some sages of the East who would rejoice to hear this conclusion, as they have always said that Islam, Arabs and democracy do not go together.

How to get rid of foreign workersHere is a method for squaring the circle. The United Arab Emirates is one of the wealthiest countries in the Persian Gulf. Its income from oil is more than 30 percent of its total income.

This is a very good situation relative to the other Gulf states, where oil accounts for about 90 percent of the income. But the economic wisdom that engendered the variety in the sources of income through services, commerce, tourism and sport (such as golf, and horse, camel and automobile races) has also brought millions of foreign workers into the country.

According to the official figures, there are about 2.8 million workers in the country, of whom about 76 percent are foreigners. The many attempts to nationalize employment have not been particularly successful. When locals are not prepared to work at hard jobs or are not trained to work at jobs that require professional skills, there is no alternative to opening the gates.

And thus, the rise in the price of oil by about 32 percent during the past year and the increase in the country?s income as a result of this are now regulating the foreign work force. Many foreign workers can no longer cope with the high cost of living − which derives from the accompanying rise in the price of goods − and have to return to their countries of origin.

It is true that the average annual wage per capita is about $16,000, but this figure is deceptive − most of the foreign workers earn $150 to $250 a month while senior executives, who are of course citizens of the country, can earn about $15,000 a month. The result is that the foreign workers are no longer able to send home large sums and they are spending most of their wages in the Emirates.

To this must be added the high prices of real estate in the country, which have soared by 30 percent during the past two years and thus have added to the distress of the foreign workers, whose rent has gone up accordingly. Although the ruler of the country has determined that rent must not be raised by more than 15 percent, this regulation is not enforced. Thus, the foreign workers face a dilemma: Do they continue to live in the Emirates without being able to help their families, or return to their poor homelands and try their luck there?