Shifting ground
Shifting ground

By Laurence McKeown (for Daily Ireland)

Palestinians went to the polls last week for the first time in a decade. Hamas, who had not previously contested elections, secured a resounding victory and a majority of the seats.

Palestinians had grown increasingly intolerant of the inefficient, ineffective, corrupt and abusive practices of Fatah who previously dominated the Palestinian Authority. Hamas works on the ground with the Palestinian people, providing much needed medical and educational services as well as carrying out a military campaign against Israeli occupation. The fact that the US indirectly funded Fatah’s election campaign to the tune of $2 million, as reported by the Washington Post, did Fatah no favours either once it was discovered.

Former US President, Jimmy Carter, in the region to observe election procedures had predicted that Hamas would do well. He didn’t have a problem with that democratic outcome. A reporter put it to him that Hamas vowed to continue their resistance whatever the result of the elections. Carter replied that resistance did not necessarily mean armed resistance. The reporter responded that the Israeli government probably wouldn’t recognise the mandate of Hamas anyhow so it would not be good for either Israel or Palestine if Hamas were successful.

Carter then referred to the origins of the state of Israel and to Menachem Begin, the leader of Israel’s opposition in Parliament from 1948-1977. Prior to that he was leader of the Irgun armed organisation which carried out a military campaign against the British occupation of Palestine. It was Begin who ordered the bombing of the British administration offices in the King David hotel which resulted in 91 dead and 45 injured. The reporter inquired: “Surely you’re not comparing Menachem Begin with Hamas?” There was a momentary pause before Carter replied: “Yes. Yes I am. The same principles apply.”

It’s refreshing to hear those simple words, especially when spoken by a former US President. Usually a collective amnesia is evident among commentators about the origins of most modern states. An assumption made that change, development and new borders arose out of dialogue, democratic procedures, enlightenment, inclusivity and consensus. Unfortunately violence, in all its forms, has most often been the dynamic.

It would be nice to hope that Israel will recognise the outcome of the ballot box and engage with the new political leaders of the Palestinian people. Experience tells us different. But whatever about Israeli policy, it’s clear there’s been a significant shift in the Palestinian outlook.

Laurence McKeown was a republican prisoner for 16 years in Long Kesh and spent 70 days on the 1981 hunger strike. He is the author of a doctoral thesis, co-author of the feature film H3 and plays The Laughter of Our Children and A Cold House.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News