The results of the Palestinian elections reflected the will of the majority of Palestinians, but the factors contributing to the election of Hamas were not all or even mostly political. However, Palestinians have started to realize the potential political implications of Hamas’ victory and there is a great deal of worry about the future.
Most Palestinian politicians and analysts are warning against an Israeli attempt to exploit the new reality by reaffirming Israel’s previously declared intention to unilaterally determine the future of the occupied Palestinian territory. This would entail the confiscation and annexation of significant parts of occupied Palestinian land, including occupied East Jerusalem and surroundings, the Jordan Valley and areas on the western borders of the West Bank.
In addition, Israel seems intent on dividing the Palestinian territories in such a way that it will prevent any possibility of an integral, viable and independent Palestinian state ever emerging. The West Bank is separated from the Gaza Strip with no possibility of movement between them, while movement within the West Bank is getting harder and harder, whether for persons or goods.
It is unfortunate that with this going on, the international community and the sponsors of the peace process, particularly the Quartet, have been so preoccupied with whether, and if so how, they should continue financial support of the Palestinian people or the Palestinian Authority, that they have neglected to address this blatantly illegal Israeli plan.
Israel has, of course, contributed to the confusion. It has justified refraining from any kind of political engagement with the Palestinian side because of Hamas’ election victory, conveniently obscuring the fact that Israel refrained from any political engagement with the PA long before Hamas’ victory.
Indeed, the reality is that the gradual radicalization of Palestinian public opinion that led to victory for the opposition to the peace process is a direct result of systematic Israeli policies and practices that aimed at preventing any prospect for a politically negotiated solution on the basis of international legality. These also led to economic deterioration and unmanageable levels of unemployment and poverty.
Those local or international forces and players that are concerned with the defeat of the peace camp in Palestinian elections have to coordinate their efforts toward reversing this reality. First, the international community should work to improve the economic situation, not worsen it.
Then, clearly and with unshakeable commitment, the international community must offer the Palestinians a real option: that a peaceful negotiated process can lead to the fulfillment of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people in line with international law.
If that option is viable and that road is open, the Palestinian people will respond. Post-Israeli elections and under the continued leadership of Mahmoud Abbas is the time for the international community to step in and provide an opportunity for the re-opening of political prospects. Such prospects, together with economic improvements, should re-empower the peace camp and the secularists and reverse the radicalization of Palestinian society.