American Enterprise Online
January 30, 2006
Alan W. Dowd

A year ago this time, it appeared as if freedom, at long last, was working its miracles in the stubborn sands of the Arab world. The Purple Thumb Revolution was sweeping through Iraq; Palestinians had given Mahmoud Abbas a resounding democratic mandate; and the Cedar Revolution was primed to push Syria’s puppets out of Lebanon. With a mix of worry and wonder, Fouad Ajami played Middle East meteorologist and concluded, “Now, the Arabs, grasping for a new world, and the Americans, who have helped usher in this unprecedented moment, together ride this storm wave of freedom.” 

Last week, the storm ripped through proto-Palestine, leaving in its wake a democratically blessed Hamas in firm control of the Palestinian parliament—and realists and idealists alike shaking their heads in shock.  

But should we be surprised by the results? As Robert Kaplan observed in 1999, “If a society is not in reasonable health, democracy can be not only risky but disastrous.” Impoverished by corruption, deformed by terror and victimized by the dreadful decisions of its own leaders, proto-Palestine is the epitome of an unhealthy society.  

Typically, some blame Washington for letting loose these unpredictable, uncontrollable storm clouds. The AP, for instance, concluded that the Hamas victory “raised questions about the U.S. policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East.” UPI added, “Hamas’ new victory will upset the established order…it will also present a new dilemma to the Bush administration that has been calling for democratic reforms in the Middle East and cannot ignore the outcome of a democratic election.” (Of course, those who blame Washington for this unwelcome democratic outcome never credited Washington when the storms yielded freedom-loving leaders in Kabul and Baghdad.)  

For his part, President Bush argues that the Palestinian people were voting not for a terrorist group, but against the corruption-plagued remnants of Arafat’s Fatah organization, which controls the public services and (foreign largesse) of proto-Palestine. “People are demanding honest government,” he said. “People want services; they want to raise their children in a decent environment.” 

While there’s much truth to the notion of an anti-corruption backlash, it’s disappointing and distressing to think that the only vehicle for good government in Gaza is driven by mass-killers. “I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform,” Bush observed. Added Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “You cannot have one foot in politics and another in terror.” 

Indeed, it pays to recall that Hamas is responsible for scores of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. Perhaps its most infamous attack was the Passover Massacre in March 2002, which saw a suicide bomber kill 26 Israelis as they celebrated the Seder.  

Moreover, according to the U.S. State Department, Hamas’ stated aim is not neighborly cooperation, but rather “establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel.” It is no surprise that its patrons include Iran.  

Its credo, known as the “Martyrs’ Oath,” includes such venom as this: “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious...The Movement is but one squadron that should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realized…It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine…There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.” 

Not exactly Locke or Jefferson.

But all hope is not lost. Four decades of rule by one party—and by one man until very recently—are finally over for the Palestinian people. Likewise, as one Israeli strategist said after the vote, “the era of the pretend peace process” is over. Perhaps an era of realism can now begin.  

As for the idealists who believe free government is a key ingredient to solving terror, we should look for silver linings as the storm passes. “The onus is now on Hamas to choose between democracy or violence,” as British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the BBC. Hamas could yet put down the sword of terror to wield the gavel of government. That may seem unlikely, but its leaders and followers are arguably closer to that pivot point now than they have been for some time.  

To extend Rice’s metaphor, one foot in terror and one in politics is just a step away from both feet in politics. If Hamas takes that step—and that’s far from certain—this democratic disaster could become yet another democratic miracle.