Hamas Would Rather Bite the Bullet than Swallow the Dollar.
By Farish A. Noor
It seems odd, to say the least, than any democratically-elected government
could be told that should it wish to remain in power it would have to
reinvent not only its own image, but also re-orient its foreign policy
altogether. Over the years we have seen many a loony government come and go,
but hardly ever was there a case when a government – no matter how
outlandish its ambitions were – was told by foreign powers that if it wanted
to stay in power it would have to allow itself to be controlled by others.
Israel, for instance, has been a case of a country that has been the
recipient of foreign (notably American) aid for ages. Over the past half a
century the country has had its fair share of right-wing bellicose
sabre-rattling leaders, some of whom were known to have been directly
implicated in the murder of foreign citizens and some of whom were even
accused of human rights abuses and acts of terrorism. But was the government
of Israel ever told that it should reinvent itself, or re-orient its policy
towards the Palestinians and the Arab world? And were the people of Israel
by extension told who they could vote for and which of its political parties
were seen as more palatable by the West?
Yet this is exactly what is happening right now in the case of Hamas, the
new and – it should be stated again and again – democratically elected power
in Palestine. The concert of nations has begun already, and as expected the
key players are the same old actors: America, Britain and their allies. At
the meeting held in London this week, American and European leaders have
already warned that Western – notably American and European – aid money to
Palestine would be cut off should Hamas not mend its ways and play the game
according to Washington’s set rules. Renounce violence, accept Israel, and
work within the framework of the peace agreement, Hamas’s leaders and
supporters were told: Otherwise face the music and the daunting prospect of
having aid cut off.
Yet the leaders and supporters of Hamas know exactly what this means:
Renouncing violence and accepting Israel means accepting the fact of
occupation as a reality that will not go away. It means accepting that the
only kind of democracy that the West will allow in the middle-east is one
that ensures the reproduction and perpetuation of pro-Washington regimes
that will toe the American line. And it means democratically voting for lame
duck parties and leaders who will turn a blind eye to the
less-than-democratic realities of Israeli occupation of Palestinian
The fiasco that is the aid-for-complicity deal brokered by the so-called
‘quartet of peacemakers’ made up of the USA, EU, Russia and the UN
demonstrates in the clearest terms the extent to which global diplomacy
today is not based on ethics or values, but on dollars and cents. The US and
EU are fully aware of the enormous clout they wield in relation to the
domestic politics and future of the Palestinians: The EU has given some US$
600 million while the US another US$ 400 million to Palestine, on the
agreement that this money should be spent on basic welfare and social
services like security, education and healthcare.
Needless to say, the contribution of other countries from the Arab world,
South and Asia has been a trickle in comparison, even if a comparison can be
made at all. Muslim states are inclined to spend more time on empty rhetoric
about Muslim solidarity but less inclined to invest in other Muslim
countries unless they absolutely have to. ‘The Defence of Palestine’ has for
decades been the rallying call for beleaguered Muslim leaders and
governments from Morocco to Malaysia, but little else has come from all this
huffing and puffing, save more bombast and flotsam.
The leaders of Hamas like Khaleed Meshaal are therefore right when they lay
down the gauntlet and challenge the countries of the OIC to come to the help
of Palestine now, when it is needed more than ever. Regardless of the
political differences between Hamas and other Arab political, nationalist
and religious movements in the region and beyond, one fact stands clear
above the rest: Hamas’s victory was its own and not the result of
vote-buying, cronyism, corruption or even intimidation. Here was a political
party, albeit one with a discourse founded on religious absolutes, that came
to power on the promise of radical institutional change and to undo much of
the damage incurred by the ineptitude governance of the Fatah party earlier.
We may not agree with Hamas’s religio-political agenda, but we cannot deny
the fact that it has won power through democratic means which was – after
all – what the West wanted to see in the Arab world as a whole.
So will Hamas’s fate be the same for other Arab-Muslim governments in the
region from now on? In Iraq, as in the case of Palestine, the promotion of
democracy has led to the election of political parties and agents that were
previously thought to be off the political map altogether. Iraq’s
Shia-dominated politics with its equally strong Islamist flavour may not
suit the taste of the Neo-Cons of Washington either, but it cannot be denied
that theirs too was a political victory won through the democratic process.
Will Iraq, Palestine and other Arab-Muslim states suffer the same fate in
the months and years to come, with threats of withdrawal of aid or even
trade being used as the heavy stick to beat the heads of the electorate,
until they finally vote for the US-trained, backed and funded proxy leaders
Washington wants to see put in their rightful places?
The threats meted out to Hamas, and the Palestinian people as a whole, would
show that gunboat diplomacy is alive and well and making a loud comeback.
‘Do as we ask or starve’ seems to be the subtext of the message, in blazing
red letters. But the defiance of Hamas’s leader Khaled Meshaal who insisted
that ‘Hamas is immune to blackmail or intimidation’ should remind us that
even the almighty US dollar does, after all, have its limits. Despite the
precariousness of the situation, it would appear that Hamas would prefer to
bite the bullet rather than swallow the dollar. So who, in the end, is the