Democratic accountability in Gaza


Democratic accountability in Gaza

Jan. 28, 2009

Nearly two years after Hamas won a large majority in the new Palestinian parliament, and in return started a new round of terror that triggered an IDF military operation in Gaza, a fragile cease-fire has set the last word of another chapter in this tragic conflict. The airwaves are still filled with footage of war and carnage, with crying women and children and with debates about body counts. Yes, there is a tragic story to be told. War, even when justified, brings much injustice with it. But there is also an important lesson to be learned, and a hope that this time it will not be completely missed by the rioting Arab street.

Two years ago, the then Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei, one of the old guard Fatah leaders, acknowledged in submitting his resignation that Hamas had earned the right to form the next cabinet. “This is the choice of the people,” Qurei told reporters. “It should be respected.” Qurei was correct. Choices should be respected – but not without acceptance of their consequences.

Democracy, of course, is more than just accepting the choice of a given majority on a single occasion. It has to be ongoing. One test of democracy lies in the freedom for a minority view to become that of the majority and the tolerance of the elected party toward democratic attempts to replace it. Otherwise the most brutal regimes can claim that it was “the will of the people” that gave them the unlimited right to power. Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin, the Khmer Rouge and Khomeini, to name a few, did just that.

HAMAS TOO was voted into office by the majority of Palestinians who were frustrated and tired of corruption and old-guard Fatah leaders. In that sense, Hamas’s legitimacy should be respected.

Tariq Ali, a frequent writer for the Guardian of London, argued recently and went as far as demanding, that this legitimacy should be accorded to Hamas and produce solidarity with it. He criticized “the moth-eaten Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt and NATO’s favorite Islamists in Ankara” who “failed to register even a symbolic protest by recalling their ambassadors from Israel,” and he complained against “China and Russia” for their failure to “convene a meeting of the UN security council to discuss the crisis.” “Western enthusiasm for democracy,” he bitterly stated, “stops when those opposed to its policies are elected to office.”

Ali has the right to demand solidarity, but his stand for democratic principles should be further refined. The recent rounds of escalation started following the withdrawal from Gaza that left the Palestinian government with unprecedented autonomy. That opportunity was used for the hostile takeover of Gaza in June of 2007 which took the authority of another elected leader – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas, which killed hundreds of Fatah supporters and innocent bystanders on its way to power, refused to recognize the previously signed agreements by the elected PA government that addresses, among other issues, the right of Israel to exist. It also chose to intensify the missile campaign aimed at civilians, a campaign that eventually brought the IDF back to Gaza following a count of more than 9,000 rockets.

TOWARD THE end of World War II it was mostly women and children that became the primary victims of the allied bombings of Berlin and other German cities. In the aftermath of the war, nearly a million German civilians died of famine alone.

In 1999, during NATO operations in the Balkans, civilian casualties were at least three times the number of Serbian forces’ casualties (500 to 170). Interestingly, NATO forces suffered no combat casualties due to the fact that NATO decided to conduct high-altitude aerial attacks and not risk ground troops.

Yet most reasonable people around the world, Germans and Serbs included, realized that what they went through was the natural consequence of their support for such leaders as Hitler and Slobodan Milosevic.

Unfortunately, such responsibility is tragically lacking when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Palestinian discourse often fails to address the question of responsibility and accountability for Palestinian choices, decisions and leadership. Israel, although not free from mistakes and wrongdoing, is always there as the sole accused.

Josiah Charles Stamp once said, “It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.” For too long, the Palestinians have been dodging their responsibilities, while blaming others for the consequences of their own leadership’s actions.

For the sake of the Palestinians and the future of peace and stability in the region, let us hope that after the latest round of death and destruction this lesson won’t be lost. Choices need to be respected, and so do their consequences. But to create a different future, let us hope that the Palestinians will take at least some responsibility for their past. A different choice may yield a different future.

Nir Boms is vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East. Shayan Arya is an Iranian activist, member of the Constitutionalist Party of Iran and associate researcher at the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education.

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