Democratically elected terrorists to lead Palestine
The apparent victory of the Hamas movement, which won 76 of 132 seats in the first election in a decade for a parliament in the Palestinian territories, could serve as a warning to be careful what you wish for.
For several years now, as the fallback justification for the war in Iraq once it became apparent that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were not to be found, the Bush administration has proclaimed its devotion to increasing “democracy” in the Middle East.
Insofar as democracy is simply a method of choosing rulers, through elections rather than overt violence, this was always a misguided goal. The desirable goal in any part of the world, allowing for cultural differences, is not simply elections devoid of outright corruption, but governments that respect the human rights of the inhabitants they claim to represent, recognize the central role of civil rather than strictly political society, that are devoted to, or at least respectful of, the individual rights of inhabitants and that are not devoted to aggression against their neighbors.
To be sure, most Americans implicitly mean all or most of those attributes when they use the word “democracy.” But invoking democracy without emphasizing or even mentioning the conditions that make ongoing democratic processes possible puts the cart before the horse. A violence-free election is nice, but it's a means rather than end for those who cherish liberty.
Thus the Palestinians have conducted an election that by the accounts of international observers was reasonably clean, bringing to power a group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States for the past eight years and by the European Union for the past three years. Whether those designations are fully justified, Hamas since 1989 has claimed responsibility for more than 100 terrorist attacks that have killed at least 500 people. It is still officially devoted, as a religious as well as political goal, to eliminating Israel (the “Zionist entity”) from the face of the earth.
One may point out that Fatah, the late Yasser Arafat's party, started with similar goals, but eventually came to endorse the Oslo “peace process.”
One may hope that Palestinian voters were rejecting the widespread corruption that had become characteristic of the Palestinian Authority under Fatah rather than the militant Hamas program.
One may hope that Palestinians saw Hamas grassroots charitable activities, many of which were genuine, as the real face of Hamas.
One may hope. The likelihood, assuming there is no Fatah-Hamas civil war, is that whatever faint hope remained for a peaceful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has evaporated. That might not be as catastrophic as it sounds, but the United states should recognize reality and withdraw aid from all sides until they begin to settle matters for themselves.