After Hamas’ unexpected landslide victory last week, the international community has been struggling to formulate a realistic response. The United States, the European Union, the United States and Russia have urged the Palestinian Islamic movement to renounce violence and to recognize Israel’s right to exist. The members of the so-called “Quartet” agreed that financial assistance to the new Palestinian government would be contingent on meeting those conditions.
Palestinian journalist Omar Karmi, Ramallah correspondent for the Jordan Times, said Palestinians themselves were initially shocked at the size of Hamas’ victory. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Karmi said the defeat of the ruling Fatah party ought not to have been such a surprise because most Palestinians see the Palestinian Authority as having failed to provide a stable economic environment and to protect its people. Furthermore, it is often accused of financial mismanagement and corruption.
Correspondent Akiva Eldar of Ha’aretz agreed that most Israelis have given up on the peace process and lack confidence in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. So they have embraced unilateralism and championed the construction of a wall separating the two peoples. But Mr. Eldar said he can’t understand how “intelligent people don’t see the linkage” between unilateral withdrawal, the deterioration of the peace camp, and the rise of Hamas.
However, Western governments regard Hamas as a terrorist organization and are skeptical that its military wing, responsible for many suicide bombings of Israeli civilians, can be subordinated to a new political agenda of reform and social responsibility. Mona Eltahawy, columnist with the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, said she shares those concerns, but she thinks pragmatism may ultimately prevail. She said Hamas is bound to change if it wants help either from Fatah in forming a coalition government or from Arab governments that are allies of the West.
On the other hand, Omar Karmi noted what he calls “sophistication” in the Quartet’s response because it did not set a timetable for Hamas to meet its conditions of recognizing Israel and renouncing terrorism. Mr. Karmi said Hamas would not change overnight. But he warned that withholding aid to the Palestinian Authority won’t cause Hamas to collapse, but it might cause the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, which would be in no one’s interest. All the journalists agreed that what the Palestinians do between now and the Israeli elections in late March would influence their outcome.