The Indian Analyst

Hamas's victory in Palestinian Territories


In the recently concluded elections, the terrorist group Hamas won 76 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian territories. The elections itself was mired in controversy over whether Hamas would be allowed to participate. Israel was adamant about not allowing the Hamas to participate in the elections because of their background in terror. But the United States was insistent that they be allowed arguing that a party with 33% of popular support should not be kept out of electoral process. The Hamas also tactically removed their call for the destruction of Israel from their election manifesto.

Fattah, the party of Yaseer Arafat, is the main political party running the Government. However, incessant infighting, corruption, and mal administration caused immense disaffection with the party that drove the peace process with Israel. This disaffection was more pronounced in the Gaza strip where the Hamas traditionally had the highest number of supporters and the area where the Fattah was most marginalized. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be inviting the Hamas to form the Government. The Hamas wants a “unity” Government with all Palestinian parties in it; the Fattah has politely declined saying that it will be a “loyal opposition.”

Israel has refused to accept Hamas as a partner to the peace process saying that the Hamas Government will be relegated to “irrelevance” if it does not disarm. The European Union and the United States have refused to recognize the Hamas Government if it does not recognize the right of Israel to exist and disarm. They have warned that about a USD billion will be withdrawn without these essential steps. 

The Hamas has been defiant in its stand. It has not only refused to disarm, it says that it will continue its armed struggle as long as “Palestinian territory is occupied.” However, they have offered long-term truce and negotiation through third parties to Israel which Jewish has promptly refused. The Hamas also rejected Western demands and the threat of aid cut saying “this aid cannot be a sword over the heads of the Palestinian people and will not be material to blackmail our people.” 

With recalcitrant positions adopted by the Hamas and the Western nations along with Israel does not augur well for the West Asian peace process. Ultimately, Israeli-Palestinian peace is foundation to several issues throughout the world. Terrorist movements based on Islam have been launched in the Palestinian name from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, and the all-encompassing al Qaeda. A worsening peace situation will greatly affect the oil prices and global economy. 

As always, Indian interests in that region must drive India policy on this issue. 

India has assiduously developed ties with Israel that ranges from military technology, agricultural and industrial equipment, information technology, and processing. The Israelis consider India as the only ancient civilization where the Jewish people were not persecuted. True to this belief, India has the oldest surviving and continual Jewish settlement in the world. Even though India had consistently voted against Israel during the Cold War, the Israelis continually tried to assist and develop relations with India through intermediaries. Most importantly, in all of Asia from West to Singapore, Israel and India are the only two stable and true democracies with a strong grounding in rule of law and due process.

India also has very strong relationship with the Palestinian people and the Islamic world. India has the second largest Muslim population in the world, is secular, preserves the right to worship, allows Indians to follow their individual faiths, and is democratic. It has a long history of contacts with West and Central Asia. India continued to entertain and politically support Yaseer Arafat, even when he was an ostracized individual. India has a large number of expatriates in West Asia and large investments in oil and natural gas. Further, India wants to increase its investments in oil and natural gas in West Asia to power an energy-deficient economy. 

Therefore, India has to actively participate in promoting peace in the region. Firstly, it must counsel Hamas to accept the right of Israel to exist. Secondly, it must encourage Israel to start a dialogue through a third party. India with interests, relationships, and trust in the region, can be that third party. After all, Hamas did win the elections in Palestine largely considered to be free and fair. Thirdly, it should encourage Hamas to unilaterally declare a ceasefire in return for financial aid. Despite the bravado shown by Hamas, international aid is essential for the survival of the Palestinian people. Fourthly, it must encourage the US and EU not to adopt a rigid policy on aid. As was seen in Iraq, cutting aid to the Palestinian people will end up starving the population, killing the children, increasing hatred of the West, and telling people that the West preaches democracy but does not respect it.  Therefore, it is important to use aid as a carrot and not a stick. 

In effect, the Hamas victory resets the whole West Asian peace process. Taking an active part in the peace process and not being drawn into one side or the other is the most important. Also, it is important not to be pressured into accepting one position or the other.

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