9 March 2006 Edition

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International: Israeli policies led to rise of Hamas at expense of secular forces

Hamas mandate ignored

Hamas leaders have announced that they are ready to talk peace as soon as Israel ends its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. Meanwhile Israel and the US have indicated that they will not deal with a Hamas-led government because of its views on the use of force and on the Israeli state. Hamas has largely observed a unilateral ceasefire against Israel for more than a year, despite a series of assassinations of suspected Hamas leaders by Israeli forces.

A number of key reasons have been put forward to explain the electoral victory of an Islamic party such as Hamas at the expense of the secular Fatah. Amongst these reasons are; the pro-active role of Hamas in the development and assistance to communities under occupation; the perception of an inoperative Palestinian Authority (mostly caused by Israel's active undermining and demonisation of Yassir Arafat); the continuous policy of repression against Palestinians and the failure of Israel to maintain committments under the Oslo Agreement.

Faced with what was perceived as endemic corruption and incompetence in areas of the West Bank under the control of the Palestinian Authority led by Fatah's old guard, Palestinian voters apparently felt they had little to lose in electing Hamas.

The secular democratic and progressive opposition to Fatah was divided into five different competing factions. Also, the network of schools, medical facilities, and social services provided by Hamas for a population suffering from repressive military occupation, proved popular.

Clearly, Israeli policies have sustained and promoted Hamas over the years by maintaining the horrors of occupation, not engaging fully in a real conflict resolution process and driving increasing numbers of Palestinians to a desperation that only Hamas can articulate politically.

Many believe that, over an extended period, Israel wanted to build up Hamas as a counterweight to the all-powerful Yassir Arafat and his Fatah movement, as the Israeli establishment believes that anything that makes it harder for Palestinians to unite politically, blocks the path to a viable, vibrant, independent Palestinian state.

Despite the fact that the Hamas victory was a result of fair elections, the support of the US for democratic adminsitrations in the Middle East does not appear to stretch to the Palestinian Authority. Both the US Congress and the Bush administration are on record insisting that Hamas's position on Israel and the history of activities by its armed wing, the Al Qassam Brigades, gives Israel the right to refuse to engage or negotiate with the Palestinians.

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