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Denied Legitimacy by Vote, Hamas Wins it by Force

June 23, 2007 by  


Courtesy New America Media, News Analysis, Jamal Dajani

NAM Editor’s Note: Though Hamas won elections in January 2006, its efforts to govern have been stymied by sanctions, an Israeli siege and Fatah’s attempts to discredit it, according to commentator Jamal Dajani. With Hamas’ recent victory over Fatah in the Gaza Strip, Israel and Washington may now have to do what was once unthinkable: recognize Hamas as a legitimate political party. NAM contributor Jamal Dajani is a producer and the Director of Middle Eastern Programming at Link TV.

“We are now like a group of wild cats that once were spoiled and dignified but now caged in and starved. On the political level, our leaders look like small players while the big ones are living somewhere else, like Washington, Tel Aviv and Tehran,” wrote Dr. Eyad El Sarraj in an email to friends living in the outside world on the current crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Two years ago, Sarraj invited me to his home in Gaza for tea and sweets. He had just returned from a swim in the Mediterranean.

“The sea is my only escape…of course I can only do that when the Israelis are not shelling us,” he said while drying his hair. At that time I interviewed Sarraj for a documentary I was working on. He spoke to me in detail about the effects of the occupation on the mental health of Palestinian children, an area of expertise that he developed while running the only mental health clinic in the Gaza Strip.

The situation in Gaza has changed since. The fighting is now between Fatah and Hamas; brothers from the same family have turned their guns on each other.

What happened in Gaza has been attributed to the result of a coup d’etat, the spread of radical Islam in the Middle East and, by some, to Al-Qaeda. But none of these theories is correct.

So what went wrong in Gaza?

Though Hamas won elections in January 2006, its efforts to govern have been stymied by international sanctions against the Palestinian government and a crippling Israeli siege. Fatah, instead of responding to its electoral loss by bringing in new leadership and weaning itself away from corruption, has spent its time conspiring to overthrow Hamas.

Denied the legitimate victory it won in the elections, Hamas was not allowed to govern. Now it has won a military victory — with bullets. Yet what led to this was a prolonged Israeli occupation and siege, the international community’s indifference to a starving Palestinian population, and the systematic weakening of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza last year, it left almost 80 percent of the population dependent on foreign aid agencies and the United Nations. Since the election of Hamas, the United States, the European Union and most Arab countries have abandoned the 1.4 million inhabitants in Gaza, driving many of the young population to take up arms. Gaza has become nothing but a large jail with dilapidated neighborhoods and external forces pitting different groups against one another and playing on their fears. The situation is not that different from the creation of the Crips and Bloods in East Los Angeles.

Back in 2005, when I was traveling between different neighborhoods I was able to recognize who was in control by the flags and the different insignias: Fatah, Hamas, PFLP, Islamic Jihad and so on. Kids my son’s age — who was then in the 11th grade — were toting guns on their shoulders instead of being in classrooms. The writing was on the wall.

Interestingly, since the battles with Fatah, Hamas has been careful not to provoke the Israelis. Rocket attacks in southern Israel have almost ceased; Hamas has also ordered the militias that kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston to hand him over, a possible first step towards his release. Meanwhile, there are talks that Hamas has been negotiating with the Israelis about freeing its kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit. Israeli pragmatists in the country’s intelligence circles have started to propose the unspeakable: that Israel may have no choice but to deal with the new lords of Gaza.

Today, the Palestinian territories are effectively split in two. Gaza is now controlled by Hamas, which has close ties to Syria and Iran. The West Bank is dominated by Fatah, which has ties to Israel and the West. For the past several years, we have been hearing about George W. Bush’s vision of a “two-state solution,” an Israel and a Palestinian state living side-by-side. The new reality on the ground is that we have three states on historic Palestine, a Hamas-run state in Gaza, a Fatah-run state in the West Bank, and Israel in between.

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