You predicted earlier this week that Abbas would resign if Hamas won and he seems to have done just that today. What is your reaction to this? and Who is running the PA now?
The results of the elections do not affect the status of President Abbas, although his own party was defeated. The key to your question now is the kind of government that will be formed. Hamas faces a terrible dilemma. Their victory has very little to do with people’s anger at Israel and more with people’s frustration with the poor performance of Fatah in government (incompetence and corruption). Now Hamas has to deliver. But how will they do this when more than 50% of the PA’s budget comes from international donors who have discarded Hamas as an interlocutor for being a terrorist organization? This dilemma explains why Hamas is now so keen to have a coalition with the people of the “old regime”. In this way they can present a more moderate face internationally without changing the fundamentals of their policies. There is now a debate going on within Fatah on whether to join such a coalition.
President Bush calls this election “a wake up call” and Silvio Berlusconi called it “a very, very, very bad result.” Do you agree with these statements?
These elections have exposed a major fallacy of President Bush’s drive for the democratization of the Arab world. Contrary to what he thinks, the real option in the Arab world is not between dictatorship and democracy but between the secular and corrupt dictatorships that exist throughout the Arab world and Islamic democracies. If you would have today really clean elections in Egypt the winners would undoubtedly be the Muslim Brothers. This is even the case in Iraq where America came to depose a secular dictator only to enthrone a Shiite majority and unleash a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites which is really what we have now in Iraq.
From the viewpoint of Palestinian democracy what happened is in my view very positive. It is a victory for democratic accoutability. Since the creation of the PA in 1993, Israelis have changed their government about seven or eight times. Israeli governments were punished by the electorate for failing to deliver on peace. But throughout this period those Palestinian politicians who failed their people time and again, and on top of it were corrupt and incompetent, remained in office. Now democratic justice has been done. The puritans come into office now, along with those who reached out to the people when the inefficient PA let them down.
These results have definitely brought an end to the peace process, however. I have said repeatedly in recent years that since our failure to reach an agreement with Arafat in 2001 the peace process was for all practical purposes non existant. Now, it should be clear to everyone. Hamas cannot change overnight its Covenant rejecting the existence of the State of Israel, nor can they be expected to accept a peace deal along the lines that was rejected by Arafat and Abbas in 2001. In fact, Hamas understands that very well, and has already made it clear that negotiations with Israel are not on their agenda. Oddly enough, what they would expect now is another Israeli unilateral withdrawal, this time from the West Bank. They will then claim, as indeed they did in the wake of the Gaza disengagement, that the “Zionist enemy” only understands the language of force, and will run away from the territories without negotiations. Sharon’s legacy – unilateral disengagements and no negotiations- is exactly the policy prefered by Hamas. and indeed neither Sharon nor Hamas expected peace or an “end of conflict.”
With an election coming up in Israel, how does the Hamas victory change Israeli politics?
Hamas’ victory is another severe blow to the Israeli left which kept saying to the Israeli electorate that there is a partner on the other side with whom a peace deal could be reached. This platform that even before Hamas’ victory was extremely lacking in credibility is now officially under chapter eleven, in other words, in a state of political banckruptcy. All this will serve the parties of the right, and Sharon’s party which under Olmert started to move slightly to the left of Sharon’s legacy ( Olmert said he would strive for a negotiated settlement…) will rush inevitably back to the road paved by Sharon.
Shlomo Ben-Ami is a former Foreign Minister of Israel and has been a key participant in many Arab-Israeli peace conferences, most notably the Camp David Summit in 2000. President Clinton says that his new book, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy, “should be read by everyone who wants a just and lasting resolution” to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.