Monday, January 30, 2006

Hamas Uber Alles

The obligatory stream of punditry retailing explanations of and prognostications about the Hamas electoral victory in Gaza has been depressingly eurocentric. Some analysts argue that the Hamas victory was in large measure the result of a general distaste for Fatah's corruption. However, all Arab governments are inevitably corrupt by Western standards. Every Arab country consists of tribes and clans competing with one another to get more than their fair share of everything while enhancing their power and prestige. The special welfare of tribal coalitions trumps the general welfare.

Yassir Arafat was a master at dispensing money favors in a way that insured that competing tribes would not bite the hand that fed them. He was no less masterful in his use of Arab shame and honor rhetoric to soothe the wounded pride of Palestinians. Furthermore, he had perfected the art of emptying the pockets of those credulous foreign governments who swallowed his lip service to peace and ignored his prosecution of terrorist war against Israel. The same cannot be said of his successor, Mahmoud Abbas.

To understand the dynamics of the last Palestinian election one must disabuse oneself of the notion that there is a major Palestinian political constituency that favors a peaceful, two state solution to the conflict. Approximately 30% of Palestinians are pessimistic enough to accept a two state solution but it is unlikely that there is single Palestinian who would prefer that outcome to the annihilation of Israel. There is a profound difference between grudging acceptance and endorsement.

Eurocentric pundits perceive the political conflict amongst Palestinians as one of practical secularists versus idealistic Islamists. In fact, it is a confict between tribal coalitions for privileged access to the public trough and the honor of continuing the forever war against Israel. Behind the scenes are foreign contributors and Hamas has cornered the Saudi and Iranian markets. Furthermore, Hamas will soon have at its disposal funds from the European Union. Those monies will be used to purchase the support of additional clans and tribes in order to consolidate Hamas' power. The remainder will be used to finance the continuing war against Israel with a smidgeon spent on conspicuous public works to maintain the illusion of responsible government.

The best way to weaken the Hamas tribal coalition is to starve it of funds and the Bush administration appears to favor this approach. Although this will not fill the pockets of the Fatah tribal coalition it will nonetheless help preserve it thereby setting the stage for a Palestinian civil war. It would not be a war between ideologies but instead a war between factions. It matters not who wins. It matters greatly that Palestinians be sick of war when the struggle is concluded.

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