- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas’ decisive victory in Palestinian elections Wednesday provides a sobering reminder of what democracy can and cannot achieve. It gives people the opportunity to govern themselves and select their leaders — at least once. But, as Palestinian voters illustrated, it also enables people to elect a violent jihadist organization to govern them.

The victory of Hamas probably deals a death blow to the road map for peace. At least in the short term, it signals the end of any possibility of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

To be certain, many Palestinians did not vote for Hamas because they want more suicide bombings against Israelis; they did so because they were sick of the anarchy and corruption that characterized the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah movement, and because of Hamas’ reputation for incorruptibility and its success in providing social services. But the reality is that one cannot separate Hamas’ social-service and terrorist operations. Money is fungible; every dollar that Hamas raises for education or welfare — which are themselves part of the organization’s efforts to inculcate a new generation of jihadists — is one less dollar that Hamas needs to raise for bombing another Israeli bus or pizzeria.

Even before Hamas’ victory at the polls, there were a spate of stories in the U.S. and foreign media suggesting that Hamas was willing to negotiate with Israel, that it was dropping its call for Israel’s destruction and that, as the London Sunday Telegraph put it, “a new pragmatism was entering its outlook.” Hamas leaders are attempting to feed these delusions by making ambiguous statements hinting that they might be willing to talk with Israel.

In essence, it’s much the same kind of spin job that took place in an effort to rehabilitate the images of Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization during the late 1980s and early 1990s — a PR effort that ultimately worked. The fact is that Hamas’ own charter still declares that eliminating Israel is “an Islamic goal,” blames Jews for bringing about World War II in order to prepare for the establishment of Israel, and blames “the Zionist invasion” for the use of drug trafficking “to wipe out Islam.”

In fact, Hamas is the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fiercely anti-Western Sunni Muslim organization whose leader has denied that al Qaeda was behind September 11 and termed the United States a “Satan” that will soon collapse.

The victory of Hamas is a warning that President Bush’s policy of democracy promotion is frought with uncertainties. We don’t know in advance what the outcome of free and fair elections will be. While Afghanistan and Iraq have made great strides away from dictatorship in recent years, the Palestinians are moving in the opposite direction.

Hamas’ victory also serves to remind us that important as democracy is, it can conflict with even more pressing U.S. policy goals. For example, if we push Russia too hard for domestic liberalization (which is not wanted by the Russian people, and will not happen in the foreseeable future), we may dissuade it from cooperation on more pressing concerns, like Iran. Similarly, elections that bring jihadists to power are no less damaging to U.S. interests.

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