Monday, December 13, 2004


Analogizing the role of Hamas

An editorial in today's Daily Star compares the situation of Hamas in the Palestinian political situation to that of the ultra-right Israeli parties (UTJ, NRP, etc.). Pointing to the recent shakeup on the Israeli scene, the editorial warns that Hamas could face marginalization, as UTJ and NRP did when Sharon dumped the smaller far-right parties from his coalition and pulled Labor on board.
Hamas needs to be careful not to be assessed in world opinion as the Palestinian equivalent of the Israeli ultra right-wing. Even though Hamas already has a more than dubious reputation in the Western world, unfavorable comparisons with its Israeli counterparts at this point in time could be particularly damaging. Sharon is setting a precedent by marginalizing the radical settler movement - it is a precedent that could be adopted by, or forced on, the Palestinian body politic in the lead-up to January's presidential elections.

Demonstrating maturity and responsibility and a willingness to be included, and to include, in all Palestinian socio-political processes in their broadest senses, could be more important now than at any other time in Hamas' history. The organization must take into account the way the world's mainstream media simplify and sensationalize - whether specifically American or not, "CNN world" is a powerful opinion-former, and labels stick. The way that American bungling in Iraq has been turned into "an Iraqi problem" and "a Sunni problem" is a case in point.
Taking into account media simplification and sensationalization is of course valid advice. But there are some problems with the analogy offered in the editorial. First of all, the ultra-right Israeli parties are small. They are not insignificant, but comparing them to Hamas, the second largest political faction in the Palestinian territories, doesn't work. If Fatah is to play the role of Likud, Hamas is Labor (in terms of size and influence). And if we fit Hamas into the Labor role (still an imperfect analogy in so many ways, but stick with me on this), then I think Hamas can look to Labor's previous stint as part of a coalition government with Likud. If you care to remember, Labor was weakened by that to the point that they became an ineffective opposition party (Sharon was able to form a coalition government that excluded them) and are now forced to enter into a coalition with Sharon essentially on Sharon's terms.

I do not hope that Hamas will act as a rejectionist and obstructionist force in the possibility of some kind of peace agreement, but I think that there is a certain logic to their acting outside of the Palestinian Authority, their emphasis on building a solid grass-roots support, entering political races at a local and even parliamentary level, and not being too concerned with cozying up to Abu Mazin. And trying to entice them with talk of a softer, gentler CNN image is not going to work, I don't think.

Thanks for the excellent commentary on one of my major interests. I'm going to link to you from here: Blog of Funk.D.
Thanks, Deek!
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