Our naked Emperor had some thoughts on the issue in his press conference today:
So the Palestinians had an election yesterday, and the results of which remind me about the power of democracy. You see, when you give people the vote, you give people a chance to express themselves at the polls -- and if they're unhappy with the status quo, they'll let you know. That's the great thing about democracy, it provides a look into society.
Maybe somewhat off-topic on the issue, but it gets so very tiresome listening to Bush explain the most basic concepts in his press conferences, as though the American people are small children unable to mentally process the most basic concepts of society and government. I suspect it's because Bush himself is a little shaky on just what democracy is and how it works. I also find it either charmingly naive or disturbingly cynical that Bush claims to believe that voting changes the status quo. If only that were true.
And yesterday the turnout was significant, as I understand it. And there was a peaceful process as people went to the polls, and that's positive. But what was also positive is, is that it's a wake-up call to the leadership. Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo. The people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find health care.
Bush is probably partially correct here. The level of corruption in the Fatah party is widely known, or at least assumed. However, I think he's really missing the elephant in the room, which is the nation right next door. The Palestinian people seem to be voting on their perception of Israel as a partner for peace in the region. The dynamic changes once the militant fringe group becomes the mainstream political party. The support of the Palestinian people for Hamas could very well be indicative of a backlash against a potential rightward shift in Israeli politics. Certain hardline Likud members, such as Benjamin Netanyahu, have already used harsh language to condemn the Palestinian vote.
I like the competition of ideas. I like people who have to go out and say, vote for me, and here's what I'm going to do. There's something healthy about a system that does that.
Some more off-topic sniping at the President, but Bush saying he likes the competition of ideas deserves a loud snort of derision. Bush has demonstrated his love of competing ideas by listening to ideas from both the conservatives and Neo-conservatives. Plus, if Bush has so much respect for campaign promises, maybe he could try keeping a few of his own. I'm still waiting to see him restore dignity to the Oval Office, practice a humble foreign policy and be a uniter instead of a divider. I won't hold my breath...
I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform. And I know you can't be a partner in peace if you have a -- if your party has got an armed wing. The elections just took place. We will watch very carefully about the formation of the government. But I will continue to remind people about what I just said, that if your platform is the destruction of Israel, it means you're not a partner in peace. And we're interested in peace.
Finally, the President gets to the heart of the matter, though his hesitation about the formation of a new Palestinian government is an attempt to dodge a substantive answer. The new government is certain to be Hamas controlled, given the party's win and the resignation of the Fatah-controlled government. The question of the status of Hamas in the eyes of the United States and Israel is a difficult issue for the White House.
On the one hand, the United States has been right to place Hamas on its list of terrorist organizations. They've supported and perpetrated violent acts throughout the Middle East for many years. Though their political platform doesn't mention it, the group's stated aim has always been the complete destruction of the state of Israel. It also seems very unlikely that Hamas will be willing to disarm anytime soon, either, especially given the continued tit-for-tat violence between the two peoples.
A more optimistic look, however, could give indications of some real progress towards the peace process and the two state solution. Legitimate political power and a role in the administrative side of governing could bring about a change in the way Hamas operates, much in the way the IRA changed over time. It's also possible that a change in the Palestinian Authority away from the remnants of the Arafat regime could help engender trust between the two parties. Some ethereal hopes at best but all still possibilities.
Again, though, as with Iran, U.S. credibility when dealing in this issue has been badly tarnished by the Bush Administration's hawkish policies. Bush's stubborn insistence on compartmentalizing the entire world into "good guys" and "bad guys" along shifting lines of political expediency, not to even mention the invasion & occupation of Iraq, has left other nations wary of U.S. intentions in the region. The White House may, in fact, have to scale back its terrorist rhetoric a bit and give Hamas the chance to re-establish itself as a legitimate player. Continued marginalization could just exacerbate possible tensions between the PA and Israel, especially with bellicose warhawks like Netanyahu spoiling for a resumption of the hardline policies of Sharon's Likud government. Bush Administration foreign policy has the potential to move the process in both directions, for good or ill.
Whatever else the Palestinian elections may be, they are certainly a harbinger of change in the region, hopefully for the better. But some tense days likely lie ahead for all involved. Like the Israelis electing Likud, the Palestinians have chosen a harder line approach, and the mixture of the two could be explosive.