Fatah No Más, Hola Hamas

What the foreign papers are saying.
Jan. 27 2006 6:32 PM

Fatah No Más, Hola Hamas

The international press analyzes the Palestinian elections.

Hamas trounced the ruling Fatah Party in Wednesday's Palestinian parliamentary elections. While no one disputes the results, the terrorist organization's victory has sparked a firestorm of concern across the globe. The international press adds fuel to the flames.

France's Le Monde reports that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wants to keep the peace process alive, but the paper worries that Israel could be "tempted by a reinforcement of unilateralism … dismissing sine die possible negotiations for a final resolution to the conflict."

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As part of its extensive coverage—the most thorough in the French-language press—Le Monde provides a special edition, as well as a concise backgrounder on Hamas and its history. In an editorial titled "Destabilization," the paperproclaims that, "The two reasons for Hamas' success are known": Israel's unilateralism and Fatah's corruption. However, "no official can forget for one second" that Hamas is determined "to see the state of Israel disappear." But the grosses têtes on the editorial page have no solutions, lamenting that, "After the war in Iraq, the nuclear threat in Iran, the Palestinians' vote … worsens the worries" for the Middle East.

The paper does give a shrewd analysis, however, of the position in which Hamas finds itself. It is "more powerful than it thought and [is] confronted earlier than it had envisioned with the challenge of managing power. This management and the ties they imply with Israel and the West place it in a delicate situation with its words and official orders. On the other hand, Hamas can only congratulate themselves on Israeli declarations excluding all negotiations. Such negotiations don't figure, in fact, among the priorities of this organization."

By far the best and most entertaining article is a colorful piece examining women in Hamas, who comprised 20 percent of the organization's candidates in accordance with election rules. The article features several interviews, including chats with the widow of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi and Islamist cartoonist Omaya Joha, who proclaims: "If polygamy is good for Islam, it is good for me."

Former Bill Clinton adviser Robert Malley encourages "gradual and conditional political engagement" for Hamas, making the well-worn fix-potholes-not-bombs argument.

The right-leaning Le Figaro leads with the violence that the Hamas win sparked; three Fatah sympathizers were wounded in the Gaza Strip. The paper's editorial wags its finger at the Bush administration for refusing to negotiate with Hamas: "Perhaps they should have put conditions on the participation of Islamists in the elections rather than on their exercising of power."

Libération vividly describes the joyous celebrations in Gaza after the Hamas win and points out the "paradox" that "Hamas finds itself having to run the Palestinian Authority, an institution emerging from the Oslo accords, which the movement always condemned."

A disclaimer for l'Humanité's coverage: Its online stuff is rather out of date, so don't rely on the Communist paper for up-to-the-minute news. Online at least, the publication adds little to the coverage, merely recounting the timeline of events and, not surprisingly, blaming Israel for Hamas' landslide.

France's Catholic newspaper La Croix declares that "the Palestinians showed that their priority was to finish with the occupation." According to the paper's analysis, "Before, what was important for the Palestinians, was the construction of a state and the creation of institutions. But for the last five years, it's [been] the occupation of the territories that affects their everyday life with hardships, increasing unemployment, rationing, and especially the impossibility of getting around." The paper also provides a special edition.

Even though soccer and Davos get top billing on the Web site of Le Temps (Geneva), the paper provides hands down the best reporting and analysis in the French-language press. They write, "The shock is not only enormous. It is numerous and heralds other upheavals," such as the long-term changes that eventually made the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt a viable political force.

Le Temps has little love for President Bush: "When he opens his eyes on 'the liberty that spreads across the Middle East,' as he said yesterday, he sees a very aggressive Islamist power in Iran, religious leaders dominating in Iraq, the progress of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Risk of the ballot box? Perhaps, but the victory for Hamas creates a more acute problem for the United States than anywhere else."

A column in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz predicts that the Hamas victory not only means trouble for Israel, but for Hamas, too, since the organization finds itself up the creek without a paddle: "Its work until now has been easy, because it has never had to bear responsibility for the daily existence of the Palestinian people in the territories. Its leaders understand that without cooperation with Israel it has no chance to ensure a minimal existence for the masses." A Jerusalem Post analysis brims with optimism, sort of. Applauding the elections as a "great success," the author suggests it's time for Hamas to throw down: "Now for the first time Arab Islamists will have to match their ideology with their life practice." This course of events might be the perfect opportunity for Hamas to "clear its name from terrorism, exchange bombing for talking, and show that a religious Muslim government does not necessarily mean forcing religion on people, nor does it mean using violence as a means to get justice." Another analysis says the victory spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E for the United States: "Hamas's victory has put the Bush administration in a very difficult position, not only because it deprives the US of its partner for promoting the two-state solution, but also because of the devastating affect the results will have on Bush's foreign policy worldwide." However, all is not lost if Abbas remains a linchpin: "The US can always keep on negotiating with Abbas and with Fatah members of the future cabinet, and at the same time avoid any contact with ministers representing Hamas."

While many are fretting over Hamas' terrorist tendencies, many of the editorials in the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent advise the United States, Israel, and Europe to get over it. An opinion piece in the Middle East Times predicts that cooler heads will prevail when the storm dies down: "Hamas will state that it is ready for negotiations and find some religious basis for this. The Israeli government (probably headed by Ehud Olmert) will bow to reality and American pressure. Europe will forget its ridiculous slogans. In the end, everybody will agree that a peace, in which Hamas is a partner, is better than a peace with Fatah alone." Lebanon's Daily Star strikes a similar chord with an editorial titled, "Hamas: A reality Israelis, Americans and Europeans will have to accept." It advises world leaders not to consider the past as prologue and points out that "during the past year the militant arm of the party has demonstrated considerable pragmatism and self-restraint. And despite provocation, Hamas has remained committed to a cease-fire with Israel since last February." Pakistan's News International warns world leaders that if they don't respect the self-determination of the Palestinian people, the repercussions can be severe: "The Palestinian People have spoken their choice must be respected. There can be no formula for greater turmoil in the Middle East than for that choice to be rudely rejected."

British editorials are decidedly foreboding and cautionary. The wisdom dispensed by the Guardian is surprisingly balanced: "[T]he right response to this result is to insist that Hamas make clear that it is committed to negotiations with Israel. The new parliament should pass and implement a draft political parties law requiring armed militias to disband. By the same token Israel must meet its obligations under the internationally backed 'road map' for peace, including the cessation of all settlement activity." The Times argues that Europe should not buy into the talk about democracy taming Hamas' violent proclivities and should deal with the party on its own terms: "As the largest provider of funds for the PA, the European Union has, for too long, turned a blind eye to embezzlement. If Hamas can provide cleaner government while abjuring violence, Europe can continue support. If it does neither, both funding and acceptance should be promptly withdrawn. The EU funded Arafat's corruption. It must not finance Hamas terrorism." The Daily Telegraph expresses similar sentiments: "If Islamists want to take part in democratic life, then they must learn to live by its rules. The question is not whether Muslim radicals should be elected to power, but what they do in office and whether they can be voted out."

Zuzanna Kobrzynski is Slate's executive assistant.Amanda Watson-Boles, who studied in France, is a Slate copy editor.

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