This week in the Middle East: political chaos, democratic turmoil and further tension in the Palestinian/Israeli relationship. … Surprise, surprise.
A couple that has been involved in a tiresome, violent and extended divorce due to an unfortunate shotgun wedding some 58 years ago, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories continue to butt heads. In a situation that has always been a microcosm of the greater schism between the Judeo-Christian West and the Muslim Middle East – excuse my oversimplification – what has caused the uproar this week is the issue of democracy.
The New York Times, on April 10, 2006, published an article entitled, “Democracy in Arab World, a U.S. Goal, Falters,” that proclaimed the demise of democracy in the Middle East. Dissecting the current political situations in a number of countries, the article provides clear examples of why democracy is failing from Egypt to Iraq. What saddens me most is that where democracy has seemed to work, as in the Palestinian election of the Hamas Party, the results have become too dangerous for Western political interests to fully accept. The West can’t seem to make up its mind. Clearly – and I believe it’s what we’ve been fighting for – the U.S. government is on a mission to bring democracy to the Middle East. Where it can, Europe also helps. Well, when all is said and done, why the hell can’t the U.S. government and the EU make up their minds as to whether they can fully accept the consequences of letting Middle Easterners actually choose their leaders?
The U.S. and the EU have recently suspended all aid to the Palestinian National Authority. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh – through a government spokesman – referred to the move to convince the Hamas Party to recognize the state of Israel as “blackmail.” Yeah, good luck with that one. Though Hamas, for most Westerners concerned with the issue of Israel, is by no means a welcome guest as the acting head of the Palestinian government although it was the one elected democratically. And, if the U.S. and the EU are really pressing to spread democracy in the Middle East, especially in the wake of a war waged on that principle, acting in such a hypocritical manner seems counterintuitive to the cause.
When looked at head-on, it comes as no surprise that the U.S. and the EU cannot support Hamas. These two political entities cannot support a terrorist organization that threatens, denies and wishes to exterminate the very existence of Israel. Israel remains the pocket of strongest Western influence in the region, but one cannot deny that Hamas was elected democratically. And, if this is the direction the Palestinians are headed in, instead of putting a road block or – dare I say – checkpoint on the political progress of the Palestinian people, why not do the opposite and foster the birth of Hamas as a political actor instead of a militant, guerilla, underground unit? Politically, Hamas should not carry out or support any more terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens because, if such an event were to occur, the action would be seen as an act of war, not terrorism.
The definition of a terrorist act is non-governmental violence against innocents and/or government organizations. Hamas would be declaring war if it were to attack or support an attack, and Israel would have just reason to fight back hard and, at this point in time, probably win the battle. The Palestinian cause would lose all foreign support – even more than it has now.
So, the strongest message I wish to convey is my lack of support for the brash actions of both the U.S. and the EU. It’s more than obvious at this point that the United States supports Israel. Europe is different from country to country, but, as a whole, many of its most powerful governments also support Israel. The Israeli government has carried out some pretty sketchy policies, making the lives of most of the Occupied Territories’ over 3 million Palestinians unbearable. No one wants to live under constant curfew, military control and complete lack of a centralized government. Hamas – though it does not possess the greatest track record – does give the Palestinians a chance to try something fresh, new and unheard of. If the U.S. and the EU would back off a little, let the gears run and see where the machine takes itself, all we can hope for is a little change. And, if not, hell, it’s not like both parties aren’t more than used to it at this point.
Eliezer Sherman is a freshman Middle Eastern studies major.