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Electoral Victory of Hamas

From Tikkun

News Release:

Electoral Victory of Hamas

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine: A bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture and Society, and national director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, issued the following statement upon hearing of the electoral victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections:

Just as the election of previously Israeli terrorists Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon set the backdrop for the possibility of peace negotiations with Israel's enemies in the past thirty years, the election of the murderous terrorists of Hamas may ultimately make it more likely that a peace agreement entered into by a Hamas dominated government would actually amount to something lasting and substantial.

We at Tikkun have no sympathy for Hamas' terrorism, and we are distressed that the new government of the Palestinians will be a government collaborating with those whose hands are drenched in blood. But this does not distinguish them, for example, from Ariel Sharon's government or George Bush's government, which have both been responsible for the deaths of more innocent civilians than Hamas (though always excusing themselves because these death were "only collateral damage"). So Israel and the US ought to get off of their moral outrage at Hamas and recognise that this election provides them, in the long run, with opportunities to make peace with their enemies. But that will only happen if Israel and the US stop using the lame excuse that they won't negotiate with terrorists, a position that would have led the US to remain in Vietnam to this day, refusing to talk to Vietnamese terrorists.

We'd be even more distressed if we believed that the vote for Hamas represented a rejection of a two state solution and endorsement of "endless war till Israel is destroyed." But there is little evidence of that. That was not the central idea put forward by Hamas in its electoral bid. Rather, it challenged the corruption in the Palestinian Authority and its failure to have made real progress in improving the life conditions of the Palestinian people.

Hamas would not have won without the conscious decision of Ariel Sharon to foster that possibility. From the moment that Sharon rejected negotiations with Arafat, who had explicitly recognised the existence of the State of Israel, and ended the Fatah call for Israel's destruction, Sharon was strengthening the credibility of Hamas. If Fatah was too radical to be negotiated with, what would the Palestinian people be losing by voting for Hamas? And then when Arafat was replaced by a Palestinian president Abbas who implemented an end to the Intifada and preached non-violence and negotiations, and he too was rejected as a viable partner for Israel by Ariel Sharon, and Sharon instead went ahead and unilaterally withdrew from Gaza (as opposed to withdrawing in coordination with the Fatah's Palestinian Authority government) he was clearly sending the message that the Palestinian Authority could deliver nothing for the Palestinian people.

Had Israel wanted a peace-oriented party in control in Palestine, it would have joined with the Palestinians in a massive effort to rebuild Gaza and end the near-starvation faced by close to 60% of the population there, and it would have dismantled some of the roadblocks in the West Bank to signal its willingness to ease the life conditions of Palestinians. Without being able to provide any reason to believe that it could deliver an improvement in the conditions of life of the Palestinian people, the Fatah party seems (according to early reports) to have been decisively rebuked by the Palestinian people. But this was not a vote for endless war with Israel, but repudiation of the non-performing government of Fatah.

We continue to believe that a solution is easily at hand--an accord along the lines of the Tikkun Resolution for Middle East Peace or along the lines of the Geneva Accord. But, as we've argued in two recent books (Healing Israel/Palestine, and The Geneva Accord and other Strategies for Middle East Peace, both published by North Atlantic Books), no political arrangement will ever be sufficient unless it is accompanied by a reconciliation based on a recognition that both sides have been unnecessarily cruel and hurtful to the other and both sides need to do real repentance and atonement.

We believe that such a recognition could be fostered by a Truth and Reconciliation commission working inside both countries, but that may require first a withdrawal of Israeli troops to the pre-67 borders with minor border adjustments outlined in the Geneva Accord. Till then, the most we can hope for is that both sides stop posturing, and stop believing that they can teach the other side a lesson through violence. Such a commission would undoubtedly expose not only the immoral acts of the Israeli government, but those of both Fatah and Hamas as well.

The only way to peace is through non-violence, and we urge that on both sides of the conflict. Deeply committed to the survival and flourishing of Israel, Tikkun recognises that the only path to peace is one that actively helps secure fore the Palestinian people the same well-being that Israelis seek for themselves. Indeed, the only way this world will ever be secure is when we in the countries with greater military and economic power recognise that our interests will best be served by ensuring the well-being economically and politically of everyone else on the planet as well. WE ARE ONE should no longer be the slogan of the Jewish people alone, but of all people on the planet--and from that recognition, and policies that stem from that recognition, we will achieve peace and social justice for all. Our prayer is that the human race quickly comes to this recognition, and a beautiful place to start would be for a transformation in the consciousness of both Palestinians and Israelis so that both sides could recognise the humanity of the other. Whatever contributes to that transformation we welcome; whatever undermines it must be challenged. We pray that the Divine Spirit quickly becomes the shaping force in our political consciousness and in the consciousness of all.

There are three good reasons to bewail the victory:
1. If it leads to greater violence
2. If it leads to an Iranian-style repressive regime for women and for culture and politics. This is not inevitable--Islamic states like Turkey show a very different and more liberal possibility within the framework of Islam. It is not yet clear which tendency will predominate in Palestine.
3. If it leads to Hamas becoming more closely aligned with Iran and becoming a vehicle for Iranian visions of politics and culture, certain to produce greater resistance within Israel to making an accommodation with Palestinians. We are deeply troubled by the Holocaust-denying, anti-Israel government of Iran, and we wish to see it isolated rather than duplicated on the West Bank. Hamas rhetoric of the Iranian sort would almost certainly lead to Israel being harsher toward the Palestinian people, the opposite of what is needed to build peace.

None of these are inevitable. If the US and Israel act on the assumption that the Hamas political leadership might be flexible and shift in relationship to their new power, that might provide a prod for liberalisation. As Palestinian Hanna Siniora, an independent Palestinian newspaper publisher told the Jerusalem Post after the election:

"Now that they are in power, Hamas will have to take responsibility for the future. They will have to become more moderate. Now they are part of the democratic game and they will have to play by the democratic rules,"Siniora said.

"Once they are in power, the Hamas will have to pay salaries, create jobs and provide health and education services. They know that to do all of this, they need stability. In order to be in charge of the government, they will have to become responsible leaders, if they want to stay in power," he predicted.

Siniora said that Hamas has already begun this process of moderation. "Hamas was responsible during the cease fire with Israel - in fact, they were in better control of their people than Fatah was. And they moderated their rhetoric, especially the positions that were anathema to the United States and Israel, such as calling for the destruction of the State of Israel."

"Hamas, which was elected fairly by the Palestinian people, has the legitimate right to lead the Palestinian national council."

The international community and Israel, he continued, can help to determine Hamas' future directions.

"There are two models of Islamic ruling parties - the radical Iranian model and the moderate Turkish model. I want to send a message to the United States, to Europe and to Israel: You have the means to shape Hamas in a constructive way.
If you act correctly, then Hamas will move in the direction of moderation. But if you push Hamas into the corner, they will act irresponsibly and become violent."

In order to make themselves more acceptable to the international community, Siniora predicted, Hamas will make use of prominent independent political figures, such as Salam Fayad and, he hopes, Siniora himself.

Siniora called on Israel to put a stop to unilateral disengagement and to negotiate directly with the newly-elected Palestinian government. He called on the European parties to help to normalise relations between Hamas and Israel.

In order to achieve the stability it needs to rule, Siniora observed, Hamas will have to confront the militant armed groups that currently undermine stability in Palestinian society. He fears that some groups, such as disgruntled groups allied with Fatah, who will now lose their power, will most likely resort to violence against the Hamas-led administration.

"Abu Mazen was afraid to disarm the Hamas and the other groups,"Siniora observed with irony. "Now, Hamas will have to do the disarming. Hamas will have to show that they can control the extremists. They will have to use the big stick that Abu Mazen was afraid to use."

We at Tikkun are not so optimistic about Hamas--their legacy of violence is deeply troublesome. But then again, we tend to be very critical of anyone who relies on violence, including the Israeli government and the United States government, and also the gangsters now running Iran, China, the Soviet Union, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan and the list goes on and on and on. It is without compromising our critique of these governments that we simultaneously support steps for peaceful accommodation rather than military escalations.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine: A Bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture and Society and author of The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right (HarperSanFrancisco, Feb, 2006).


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