Thursday, January 26, 2006

The End of the Peace Process?

I just read this article from the Christian Science Monitor, and it scared the hell out of me. I don't even have a response at the moment. Hamas has just won the Palestinian election. They now legally control that territory. A fundamentalist Muslim terrorist group is now a legitimately elected government!!! Does this undermine democracy? Perhaps not, but it does undermine the theory that the spread of democracy in the Middle East will help the United States' standing in the region.

Alas, I don't have anything constructive to say, except that if ever there were a time for prayer...


goddess_rl said...

The question is though is Hamas the terrorist cell or is it a party that has a militia? Can it move beyond violence and into fighting with words. I know that the moron is saying our government won't work with them while they push for Isreal's destruction. Maybe they will sink under paperwork and blathering. They also arn't the sole government. I think they only have a fair number of seats; they still have to form a collition government

Sandalstraps said...

Good question, and an important one.

However, alas, they do habe enough seats that they don't have to form a coalition to govern, which means that there won't be many internal checks on them to deradicalize them.

Brian Cubbage said...

I'll need to look at this morning's papers again to make sure, but I believe that Hamas won enough seats in the parliamentary elections to avoid having to form a coalition government with other parties (e.g. Fatah). Hamas nonetheless was making conciliatory gestures towards Fatah yesterday, talking about "cooperation" and all that, but it didn't seem to be making any specific promises to Fatah either.

To the question "What is Hamas?": It's difficult to answer because Hamas does more things than a political party would do in the United States (or, for that matter, in most Western democracies). Since the Palestinians lack a state and hence don't enjoy the benefits that citizens of a state might enjoy (e.g., security, social welfare programs, etc.), parties like Hamas stepped into the breach to provide them. Hamas' political platform is indeed hard-line (destruction of Israel through violent means), but Hamas also functions as a rather benevolent charity and relief organization in Palestine in a way that gets virtually zero coverage in the West. Plus, they're not seen to be corrupt in the same way that Fatah was.

It seems to me that Hamas' victory might present as many or more risks for Hamas than it does for Israel. Now Hamas has to prove that it is "ready for prime time" and able to maintain its image of integrity among the Palestinians themselves against the tendency in a democratic/parliamentary government to bargain and compromise. If that happens, many of Hamas' political base might become disaffected with the political process entirely and decide that violence is the only way to achieve their goals.

Tom said...

I'm tempted to quote an REM song here. I'll bet you could guess which one. Only time will tell what this really means.

Yes, Hamas won enough votes. I don't believe that they are that interested in a coallition government no matter what they might say to the contrary right now. But we won't know until they take power.

Oddly enough, it may very well be the end of the world as we know it, but I feel fine. The Middle East was unstable prior to the Palestinian election. The Middle East is unstable now. This could be a round-about path to some stability, or it could lead to an even more open hostility between Palestine and Israel forcing the US's hand in defending Israel and further undermining our standing in the Middle East.

But we won't know anything until we know.

Brian Cubbage said...

Well said, Tom-- too early to tell what might happen. Just the election results alone, though, make U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy harder to conduct, which is reason enough to worry now. As I see it, the election catches the Bush administration between a rock and a hard place.

The rock: Hamas was elected by a landslide in an internationally observed and refereed democratic election. If the U.S. meddles with that, the Bush team's stated goal of "promoting democracy abroad" would appear patently hollow.

The hard place: If a Hamas-led government remains militant (especially if it radicalizes even further as a result of being frozen out by Israel and the U.S.), then a key premise of the Bush team's argument for promoting democracy abroad would fail: Namely, the premise that democracy as a form of political organization inherently fosters peace and values of tolerance and mutual respect regardless of other social or cultural facts. (Call this the "Democracy = Love" premise.)

Since right after 9/11, this premise has been one of the guiding ideas of American foreign policy; it was already a popular idea among the denizens of neoconservative think tanks long before that. (See the first few chapters of George Packer's book _The Assassin's Gate_ for a good discussion of this.) Events in Iraq have already put it to a severe test, but this could stretch it to the breaking point.

Intellectually, I find the "D = L" premise dubious, but I nevertheless worry about its demise for two reasons. (1) Dropping it means overhauling the last several years of American foreign policy, which itself creates global security risks; since the U.S. is the last remaining superpower, changing its stance in the world opens up the possibility of a power vacuum. (This is about the only element of Dick Cheney's worldview that actually matches up with reality.) (2) Although I'm no foreign policy expert, I certainly can't think any alternatives to the "D = L" premise floating out there that are any more compelling and any more useful for policymakers. (The old options, like Nixon-Kissinger realism, seem tired and out of place now that the Cold War is over, and none of them deal very well with "soft" (i.e. non-state) threats.) That's why the Republicans keep winning the policy debates in Washington and in the country over national security; the Democrats don't have a replacement for the "D = L" premise that is nearly as constructive and optimistic.

So yes, it feels like the world is ending, but I myself don't feel entirely fine.

Sandalstraps said...

Personally I see here only doom and gloom, so I'm forcing myself to write at least hope hopelessly optimistic forecast. Here it is (in keeping with some neo-con assumptions, though not quite as strong as Brians D = L):

Hamas, having been legitimately elected to lead (and represent) Palestine, decides that they need to compromise some in order to gain some external legitimacy to match their overwhelming internal legitimacy.

The US and Israel, seeing Hamas' dedication to their own people (and, as such, their willingness to cooperate more with the peace process) decide that it would be unwise to categorically rule out negotiations with Hamas.

Peace talks resume, with willing (if leery) partners in Isarel, Hamas, and the US (along with whoever else wants to/is able to join). During the peace talks, encouraged by their newfound participating in both the democratic and diplomatic process, Hamas grows less militant and more diplomatic. The learn, in other words, how to be a legitimate governing body.

This is not probable, but it is possible. It is made more likely by the overwelming nature of Hamas' victory in the election, because now everyone knows that when Hamas speaks they speak for Palestine, and so they (if we are wise) cannot be excluded or frozen out.

At least now we know where we stand, and that is one positive. We also have demonstarted to Hamas that democracy "works" at least in the sense that if you participate in the democratic process your voice will be heard more clearly than if you bomb busses.

In other words, the D = L hypothsis could be ammended to D = moderate tolerance without sending the Middle East into chaos.

That said, this election does show one fundamental flaw in democracy: "the people" do not always know what is in their own interests. While democracy gives many potentially marginalized people a voice, it does not, by itself, help them use their voice with any wisdom. So, in the US we have (at least the second time) a legitimately elected president of questionable (at best) wisdom.

Now in Palestine Hamas has been legitimately empowered by the election, but they are not obviously in the best interests of Palestinians (though they do "take care of their own" and, as the cliche goes, "all elections are local"). I say this because Palestinians should know that it is ultimately in their best interests to make peace with Israel, and Hamas does not seem too interested in peace, unless that peace is brought about by the destuction of Israel.

But I said I would present a more optimistic picture. So, maybe this victory will encourage Hamas to participate in the peace process, and maybe the nature of this victory will teach the US and Israel that there is no way to get around dealing with Hamas.

Tom said...

This entire process reminds me somewhat of the culture war (particularly in light of new comments posted by our beloved dissenter).

How can you peacefully coexist with "infidels" who have stolen your land, which is rightfully yours according to the God you know (not just believe) to be on your side? How do you get along with those who take your "sacred" and treat it as a lie? There is no common ground or good will here.

When we're protecting our homes and families we will stop at nothing. When we're defending our land (or ideology) in the name of (and according to the will/with the help of) our God, what can stand against us? Think of the power of a passage like Romans 8 (beginning at verse 28). Religion (especially the absolutist religions practiced by conservative Christians and groups like Hammas) spurns the worst thoughts and deeds performed by all of humanity. There is no common ground when defending what is absolutely right.

I see no room for or hope of peace from both fronts.

(Maybe I'm just having a bad day, and will return to optimism soon. Who knows?)

Brian Cubbage said...

I share your optimism, Chris-- there's a sense in which I feel like I have to share it. But I am not optimistic about this as a matter of general political principle; rather, I am optimistic because I feel that, on balance, there are reasons to think that events might exert sufficient pressure on Hamas to tame its radicalism and get it to engage constructively with the peace process. The Bush-neocon "Democracy = Love" thesis, however, IS a principle. I think that it is overly naive, dangerous because of its naiveté, and likely to wreak even more unintended, well-meaning havoc before it joins New Coke and phlogiston in the dustbin of history. But it is still, at bottom, an optimistic principle. My complaint (aimed at myself as much as at anyone else) is that all of us non-neocons can't find an alternative principle or set of principles that captures the public imagination. (Of course, if you're right, Chris, that sometimes majorities in democracies are fundamentally misguided about their own interests, the public imagination might not be worth capturing in the first place?)

I wonder, too, about how we can in general determine what is and is not in fact in the best interest of others, especially when those others are geographically and culturally distant from us. Why, exactly, do you (Chris) deem acceptance of Israeli statehood as being in Palestine's best interest? (I'm not trying to get you to change your mind-- I fundamentally agree with that conclusion myself-- I just want to hear your reasons.) I ask this because Tom raises some of the reasons why someone (especially a Palestinian) might disagree.

P.S. E.J. Dionne's column in today's Washington Post makes some of the points I raised earlier. He spends a bit more time running down the Bush administration than I would, but even so. Here's a link (free registration required to view story):

Sandalstraps said...

I did not say that it is in Palestine's best interests to recognize and accept Israel's statehood, nor did I say (as has not been claimed yet) that it is in Israel's best interests to recognize and accept the eventual statehood of Palestine. I did not say that, yet... So let me say it now.

It is in the best interests of both Palestine and Israel to recognize and accept each other. This is not the case just as an end, but also as a means to a more obviously good end: peace.

Israel isn't going away just because Hamas wishes it would (and acts on those wishes); and, now that Hamas is now legitimately in control of Palestine, it isn't going anywhere just because the US and Israel say they won't negotiate with Palestine under Hamas leadership.

For there to be true and lasting peace the hardline elements calling for destruction of the "other" need to realize that the destruction their aiming for is a mutual destruction.

Now that Hamas has to hold Palestine together, my innate (and often repressed) optimism says that perhaps they'll realize that for Palestine to prosper there must be peace (and cooperation), and that peace can't be brought about by their violence. They simply aren't capable of destroying Israel, no matter how many suicide (homicide) bombers they send out.

And maybe, now that Hamas controls Palestine, Israel and the US will also realize that they must cooperate with the "other" (Hamas) in order to bring about that true and lasting peace which is in the best interests of all parties.

Brian Cubbage said...

OK, OK, you didn't say the exact words "recognize Israeli statehood"; you said "make peace with Israel." But they amount to the same thing, almost by definition; you can't make peace with a state whose existence you refuse to acknowledge. And to the best of my knowledge, Hamas does, in fact, refuse to acknowledge that Israel is in fact a state-- a point that goes beyond simply saying that it is a state they find objectionable, a rogue state, or some such. Hamas officials refer to Israel not as "Israel," but as "the occupation"-- like a squatter occupying someone else's apartment.

(Of course, this only heightens the diplomatic problem of how to manage the peace process. Diplomacy is full of fog and doublespeak, but some of it is actually rather significant.)

Now that you have explicitly stated your position and your reasons, they sound like pretty good reasons to me. Of course, that a group of people currently resides in a place doesn't by itself establish that they are politically or morally entitled to continue to stay, but for practical purposes settled residence does set limits on legitimate expectations.

I confess to being deeply, deeply divided on what is ultimately at issue over Israel/Palestine. A lot of lefty types like me are. On the one hand, Israel, a relatively open liberal democracy, is a state that, as far as its internal politics and organization go, most Americans would prefer to live in over, say, an Islamic state like Iran. But on the other hand, the creation of Israel was one of the last explicit acts of colonialism, and it's hard to defend colonialism, even when it produces liberal democracies.

(I know that many, including many in the Muslim world, blame Zionism for Israel's existence, but that's way too facile, I think; for that, you have to believe that the British in 1948 were all crypto-Zionists. Zionism might be a rationale for Israel's continued existence-- I'll let others debate its merits as such-- but it isn't much of an explanation.)

After almost sixty years, the only way out that can come closest to balancing the scales of historical justice (discounting the Zionism of Israel's ultra-orthodox) will probably be a two-state solution. I suspect that history, like the law, doesn't have a remedy for every wrong.

goddess_rl said...

Okay, so I was wrong, probably got the polls and facts mixed up. I did find it interesting in today's (Saturday's) Herald-Leader the topic was mostly about how Hamas is not prepared to govern. They are still talking about forming a government with anyone who will have them, mostly because they don't know how to govern. They were hoping that they could be a strong minority party. They ran folks who could be cabinet members but no one who could be a leader. In fact since their leadership may not be Palastinian or at least can't show their face in public for fear of being arrested or shot.

They are facing having to turn to the Islamic world for financial support as they can't guarantee that even taxes collect for them by Isreal will be handed over. (And as I read that they look at Israel as an occupying force then can one really blame Isreal for putting the money into a savings account for future governments.)

I think my prediction is close though they will sink under paperwork. I just hope the people understand. They will suffer for who they elected (Joining the Americans in that joy.) Democracy is amazing, but people are stupid and get what they ask for.

Sandalstraps said...

Yes, well all suffer for our foolish choice to follow fools.

As Obi-Wan once asked (in what was once simply Star Wars, and is now Episode IV: A New Hope):

"Who's the more foolish: the fool or the fool who follows him?"

But, as we've seen in America, the results of the democratic process in one country can be disasterous in many others. Much of the world has suffered because of American elections. Now much of the world stands to suffer because of the Palestinian election, and the decisions that very well could be made as the US and Israel respond to that election.

Those of us who wish to follow less foolish fools must make our voices heard, and soon! As Brian Cubbage has noted here before, we all stand (to a degree) condemned when those elected by our fellow citizens (and by extension us, even if we voted for "the other guy") do stupid stuff.

Brian Cubbage said...

I must give credit where credit's due-- the idea of shared political responsibility stems from Karl Jaspers, who wrote a book right after World War II, The Question of German Guilt, that argued that Germans as a whole shared responsibility for the Third Reich. The Bush administration is nowhere in the same league as the Third Reich, but Jaspers' framework is generalizable.