Democracy has been a method practiced by the Palestinians in the most difficult circumstances which they witnessed. This is under the Israeli occupation which attempted and is still attempting to confiscate the freedom of the word and opinion of the Palestinians. The Palestinians practiced democracy in the elections of professional unions and workers’ unions. It has been practiced by university students and civil society bodies. It is important to point out that all national forces and political movements participated in these elections. Since the Palestinian Liberation Organization assumed the Palestinian authority, there had been legislative and presidential elections in 1996 twice, first the elections in which the late leader Yaser Arafat won and the other in which the current president Mahmoud Abbas won. In all the mentioned cases, the elections were impartial and they occurred in quiet and civilized atmosphere.
In 2005 Palestinian municipal elections occurred in several stages. All the people respected us because of the maturity of the democratic Palestinian thinking and practicing it with rationality and objectivity.
It is important to indicate here that the results of the municipal elections indicated a rise in the power of “Hamas” on the level of the Palestinian homeland.
Despite the Israeli suppressive practices, the assassination of members of our Palestinian people and tightening the noose on their daily life, the Palestinian President and the Palestinian Authority respected the date of conducting the legislative elections which were appointed on 25/1/2006, and this was what actually happened.
The winning by Hamas of 74 seats out of 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council was a great surprise for the Hamas movement before the others were surprised by these results, both locally and internationally.
There has been local and international consensus as well as consensus from all the international monitoring teams that all legislative elections were conducted in an organized way and with democratic practice which is flawless. The second consensus was the recognition by all of their surprise by the victory of Hamas and its winning of the majority of the Legislative Council seats, and this was contrary to all expectations.
Hamas, the other national movements, public opinion polls, and Israeli, American and European intelligence services expected a relative winning by Hamas in the elections and that Hamas would not get more than 40 seats in the Legislative Council.
It is worthwhile to point out that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people represented by political movements and parties did not object against the results; rather they respected them and congratulated the leadership of Hamas for its victory. This indicates national awareness and a respect for the will of the people and for the democratic process.
The results of the Legislative Council elections took all by surprise. The questions which we have to posit are many, but the following questions suffice me with brief answers:
• Why did Hamas movement win?
• How will Hamas deal with this winning?
• How will Israel and the West deal with Hamas, and Hamas with Israel the West?
• Hamas and the peace process?
• How will Hamas deal with the Christians in Palestine ?
Hamas won in the Legislative elections because of several reasons, and I shall mention some of them in the following points:
• Because the Palestinian Authority and for more than ten years was not able to realize any political achievement for its people due to Israeli intransigence, its flimsy pretexts and the lack of seriousness on the part of the United States and the European countries in concluding a just solution for the Palestinian question; rather, the opposite is true. For there has been a regression in all matters of life and services because of the continuous incursions, the liquidation of political and military leaders, throwing more young men in jail, swallowing more Palestinian land, destroying the infrastructure and building the racial segregation wall.
• I believe that the voting by the Palestinians was a protest against the international and Israeli policy and against the method of the Palestinian Authority as well. It was an emotional and vengeful voting and a reaction against Israeli and Western threats which did let an occasion pass one month before the legislative elections without threatening the Palestinian people by saying: “If Hamas wins, we will not cooperate with it and we will cut the aid from the Palestinians.” The response was: “Yes for our freedom and our choice. No for the threats of the West and Israel . We are a people who is not sold and bought by the money and aid of whatever party.” Yes, what the Palestinian people wants is its dignity, freedom and independence, and not fooling him and procrastination in putting an end for the occupation and double dealing with the international legitimacy.
• The social and humanitarian services of Hamas and its help for its people during the times of crises when there were siege, curfews and incursions were not forgotten, and the people rewarded it in the voting boxes.
• We should not forget that the election motto of Hamas was “Change and Reform.” This attracted many Palestinians who became fed up with the excesses of followers of the Authority and the followers of Fatah in all fiscal, administrative and ethical issues. Voting for Hamas was in the hope that there would be administrative and fiscal reform and adjustment in the authority of the judiciary and the law because the people got tired of anarchy, security laxness and lack of stability and from favoritism and dealing not seriously and sarcastically with the daily concerns of the citizen.
• There is another important reason which is the utter discipline in the Hamas movement, the strong coordination among its leaders and dealing on the basis of trust and respect with its people. This is in addition to the religious factor which gathers the public at a time in which it is more easily exposed than any other party or national movement specially at a time when Islam and the Muslims are exposed to pressures, criticism and carelessness by the Westerners and the greater countries.
• Among the reasons for the winning of Hamas were also disintegration inside the Fatah movement, weakness of the leadership in gathering Fatah members and their lack of respect for the results of the internal elections of the candidates. This led many members of the movement to enter the elections with independent lists. They were more than seventy lists on the level of the homeland, and they caused the loss of about two hundred thousand votes. This is in addition to the fact that the election was for lists on the level of the homeland and for this lists on the level of the districts. This led to confusion and the loss of votes here and there.
Thus what the Palestinian leaders could not express was expressed by the people in poll boxes. It sent a protest message to the international community for its dealing with the Palestinian question and another message for all the politicians and national and religious movements in Palestine that if will hold into account everyone who slackens in dealing with the national issues and that the future is not guaranteed for the Fatah movement of for Hamas because the people will hold into account those who are in the authority and that there will be questioning for anyone who assumes an administrative or political position. In other words, these Legislative elections have been like a popular uprising against the status quo which exhausted the big and the small and made every glimmer of hope for a just solution for the Palestinian question remote.
I believe that Hamas will deal seriously and responsibly with its overwhelming winning, knowing that it did not expect this winning or shouldering the responsibility to form the next government. However, with the new reality, Hamas will take the decision to form the government and it will attempt to invite all Palestinian forces to share with it the governance in a national unity government. If it does not succeed in this, it will form a government in which some of its ministers are professionals and the others are from Hamas movement. The days will judge its administering of the Palestinian affairs.
The important question is how will Hamas deal with the political reality which the Palestinians live specially with Israel and the West? I believe that the Hamas leadership will be cautious in every step it takes and that Hamas after the elections will not be Hamas before the elections. Assuming governance is a big responsibility and there are several important daily matters for the Palestinian people which the Authority has to deal with Israel because of them. I shall mention some of them not exclusively but as examples: What about the crossing points? What about the inhabitants of Jerusalem ? What about electricity and water? What about communication networks? What about medical services? What about food stuffs? What about work permits? What about external aid? There are Israeli issues which need to be dealt with by the Hamas government. So, what shall Israel do? Thus I believe that in the beginning there will be cold relations between the two authorities, but it is inevitable that there be marriage between both or an irrevocable divorce. We hope that there will be no divorce between the Palestinians and the Israelis and that the two parties be patient, accept this new political reality and deal with it on the basis of the interest of the two peoples.
However, if Hamas insisted on its not recognizing Israel , renouncing violence and accepting the policy of dialogue and negotiations, the age of the Hamas government will be very short and there will be early elections for the Legislative Council during 2006. I believe so because the refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel and to negotiate with her will isolate Hamas internationally and its government will be besieged politically and economically. The people will not be able to put up with this siege for more than a short period of time because the people is exhausted from the long years of the Intifada and the economic siege which came with it. This will lead to pressure from the popular base on the Hamas government and it will definitely result in its resignation and declaring new elections. The one who believes that the Arab and Isalmic governments and countries will help the Hamas government materially and will support it economically is not objective because the United States and the European countries will put pressure on these countries and prevent them from granting the Palestinian government the funds required to manage the affairs of the state.
It is important to point out that the demand by the United States of America and the European countries that Hamas recognize Israel and renounce violence is not out of love for the Palestinian people and for the peace process; rather it is also out of the desire of these countries to weaken the Islamic tide in Palestine and make it fail, and this is by devoiding it from its original contents and form its mottos which it held for many years.
On the other hand, the failure of Hamas in Palestine will definitely weaker the political movements and parties in the rest of the Arab countries in the Middle East . This is what the United States and the European countries are seeking in order to maintain their economic interests and their political strategies. Otherwise, the escalating power of the Islamic movements and their assuming governance will lead to a complete divorce with America and a large number of European countries and peoples get rid from imperialist and colonial policies.
The second problem which Hamas will face is an internal problem, that is, a Palestinian one. This is so because the Hamas government will not recognize Israel while the president of the state of Palestine recognizes Israel . The Hamas government will not deal with Israel while the president of the state of Palestine deals with her. The Hamas government will not negotiate with Israel and the president of the state of Palestine will negotiate with her. There are many internal contradictions and the question is: How will the one Palestinian body be able to live with two heads while each head pulls in a different direction? The answer, according to my conceptualization, is that it is difficult for this body to live long in this condition. Thus either it will be torn into two parts and this is what we do not want, or it will move with one head only. If its moving force is the head of Hamas within its current vision and concept, this body will not develop and it will remain paralyzed in movement and development. If this body is moved by the head of the president of the state alone without taking into consideration the second half of the body, this will also harm the national interest and the unity of the people. Thus, I conceptualize that the president of the state will continue in his political work, he will keep the door of dialogue open with Israel and the international community and he will gave Hamas the opportunity to form its government. The age of such government will not be very long if it insist on adhering to its method of rejecting recognizing Israel and renouncing violence. At that time, the decision will go to the people in holding new legislative elections towards the end of 2006.
Thus in front of the political reality in which we live, it is not enough that the Hamas movement and the Palestinian people put the blame and censure on the international community and on Israel; rather they have to throw the ball in the court if these countries and embarrass them because of their policy and strategy for peace. This will not occur unless Hamas recognizes the state of Israel and her boundaries as they were prior to the 1967 War. These boundaries because the Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 demand that Israel completely withdraw from all territories she occupied in the six day War of 1967. So if Hamas recognized Israel, adheres to international legitimacy and demands Israel’s commitment to complete withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 as a basis condition for any negotiations for achieving peace, this will disconcert Israel and the international community and there will no longer be any excuse or pretext for boycotting Hamas or for imposing collective sanctions against the Palestinians. The second matter which discomfits the Arab countries and the international community is the acceptance by Hamas of the resolutions of the Arab summit specially the Beirut summit which demand Israel to withdraw completely from the territories occupied in 1967 in return for complete peace with the Arab countries.
As for the peace process, our people today does not know about which peace process the West, the United States and Israel are talking. Our people does not live a peace process but suppression and persecution. Israeli tyranny has increased since Oslo more than it was before it. We say this because the peace process did not bear perceptible fruits in our daily life which give answers to the most important issues among which are: What about Jerusalem ? The prisoners? The right to return? The withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories? What about the land, air and sea crossing points? The building of the Wall?
Therefore, about what peace process are the American president and the European countries talking? About what road map? What about the letters of assurances to the Israelis? All these questions and others emphasize that the peace process is no longer in the revival room but rather it was transferred to the morgue. Thus, I believe that the results of the elections for the legislative Council cannot be considered as a Palestinian dilemma but rather as an exit from the crisis in which the Palestinians exist. This means that the results are a message from the Palestinian people to Israel and the world in which the Palestinians say either a drastic change occurs in the policy towards the Palestinians in the peace process or the region will not know tranquility.
Despite all of this, the majority of the Palestinians are ready for peace with Israel in return from the complete withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and finding a just solution for the question of the refugees. I hope that Hamas will agree with this positing because other positing if it is not possible it is impossible.
As for the Palestinian Christians, their situation and status is not different from the situation and status of any Palestinian. We are a native part of this people and our reality is one and our future in one. We accept every democratic decision. We are not afraid of living with Hamas; rather, the opposite is true. I am utterly confident that the Palestinian government headed by Hamas will not distinguish between a Christian and a Muslim. All citizens will be equal before the law and their religious freedoms will be respected as they are respected until now. Hamas will cooperate with them for the good of the homeland and the citizens. We are not afraid of those who believe in God the compassionate the merciful, but rather we are afraid of all those who wrongly exploit religion, politicize it and interpret it according to their interests. This is what is practiced by many religious Jews. I am certain that we as Christians that our prophetic voice will not be silent under any Palestinian government. Rather it will remain loud demanding right and justice and critizing falsehood. We will not be silent if injustice is done to anybody be he a Christian or a Muslim. At the same time we have to cooperate with the authority and to help in building the bridges of religious and cultural dialogue with the Western societies and with the Christians in particular.