A struggle for Palestinian society

This Monday, March 27, the dream of many Palestinians and the nightmare of many others will materialize when a Hamas majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council grants a vote of confidence to a Hamas government that will probably lead the Palestinian polity for the next four years.

This new reality has many significant implications for all aspects of life for Palestinians as well as for their regional and international relations.

While there is some confusion internationally as to the level of diplomatic support and contact the international community will now maintain with Palestinians, certainly there will be a regression in the tremendous strides Palestinians have taken internationally in past years. This will favor Israel.

On the economic and financial front, however, the international community, despite internal differences, at least seems to be seeking out new methods and approaches to maintain "humanitarian" support of Palestinians. This is happening out of fear that otherwise the Palestinian Authority will face imminent and total collapse and a corresponding and consequent humanitarian crisis will ensue.

There is also no doubt that Palestinian-Arab relations will be negatively affected. The regional trend is for Arab governments to follow US-led international attitudes when it comes to aid to the Palestinian people and their authority. There is, however, an irony here, because most Arabs appear to identify with the elected Hamas government, contrary to their regimes.

The most interesting change will be on Palestinian-Israeli relations. Israel has declared its intention to boycott the PA. It will, however, undoubtedly maintain indirect contacts so as to avoid the possible collapse of the PA.

A Hamas government works to the advantage of Israel in that Israel will claim itself released from any political obligations to the Palestinians. This will be used by the Israeli government to further justify its unilateral strategy, which was started by Ariel Sharon and appears set to continue under Ehud Olmert and the next Israeli government.

The most significant and dramatic consequences of the new Hamas government are internal. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that usually prioritizes the need to change the mentality, ideology, way of thinking and way of life of individuals, communities and society at large. Hamas has always believed that the successful pursuit of national aspirations can only be undertaken once a "real Islamic society" is in place.

For those many Palestinians who are ideologically secular and/or politically in favor of a solution based on two states in accordance with international legality, the political consequences of the Hamas government are not the main problem. An anti-peace process government in Israel has been firmly in place for the past several years, so there is nothing to lose on that front. What is at stake is the shape and direction of Palestinian society.

That fear is only magnified by the fact that all non-Palestinian anti-Hamas forces are concerned primarily with the security issue. This in turn gives Hamas the leverage to make a trade-off whereby it gives concessions on security and politics in order to have free reign on the social agenda.

The fact that Hamas seems to have stopped its military activities against Israel since the elections is an indicator of this direction, and there is no doubt that this is the primary concern of Israel. From previous experience, the American attitude and behavior is directed by the Israeli position.

It’s likely that this Hamas government will survive. While it’s true that the PA is dependent on foreign aid, it is possible that the new government will buy its survival with security and political concessions. With the current security behavior of Hamas, Israel is likely to reciprocate with positive gestures that are echoed by the international community.

Israel is only interested in pursuing unilateral steps and this might suit the new Palestinian government. This government would like to expand the space in which it can operate without having to get involved in negotiations or contacts with Israel that might contradict its rhetoric.